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The Official Baldrige Blog

Using the Baldrige Framework to "Save More Lives than Ever Before"

Donor Alliance collage of people on video each holding a sign saying Donor Alliance continues to save lives through organ and tissue donation. Our work doesn't stop. The waitlist can't wait! Donate Life
Credit: Donor Alliance
Photo of Jennifer Prinz.
Jennifer Prinz
Donor Alliance
2018 Baldrige Award Recipient

Donor Alliance is a nonprofit organization based in Colorado that earned the Baldrige Award in 2018. Serving Colorado and most of Wyoming as one of 57 independent Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donor Alliance is dedicated to a mission of saving people’s lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. To achieve this, Donor Alliance employs an effective family-focused approach and recovery programs in more than 100 hospitals.

In 2019 and 2020, Donor Alliance achieved record highs in the number of lives saved through its work. For several years, the organization has been consistently been ranked as one of the top 10 OPOs in the nation due to its high rate (more than 80%) of converting donations into transplanted organs and tissues.

At the Baldrige Program’s virtual Quest for Excellence® Conference in April 2021, Donor Alliance Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Prinz will share highlights of her high-performing organization’s plans, experiences, and best practices in using the Baldrige framework to improve organization-wide performance. Following are Prinz’s responses to a few questions about her presentation, which will be available on an on-demand basis during the virtual conference. 

Please briefly describe or highlight what you’ll cover in your upcoming conference session on the topic “Saving More Lives than Ever Before: Continuing the Quest for Excellence.”

My session during the Quest for Excellence Conference will focus on Donor Alliance’s cycles of learning and improvement for each [Baldrige Criteria] category and the associated results. I will also share the organization’s future focus—Vision 2025—and the importance of strategy to maximize all donation opportunities and end deaths on the transplant waiting list.

Would you please share an example or two of Baldrige-based practices that have helped your organization to save lives of organ recipients?

Donor Alliance is dedicated to continuous improvement because our life-saving work impacts thousands of patients in need, here in our community and across the country. 

The Baldrige [framework’s] systems perspective has helped us answer hard questions about organizational systems, allowing us to continue advancing our operational and organizational processes. This is crucial in our mission to save lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. 

Additionally, the Baldrige core concept of valuing people is central to Donor Alliance’s work. Anchored by our core value of “People First,” we are committed to the engagement, development, and well-being of our workforce members. They are the heart of our organization and paramount to aligning complex logistics and processes to maximize the gifts of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Through compassionate support of donor families, building relationships within our local community and hospitals, and being mission-driven, our workforce provides a second chance to organ and tissue recipients and gives hope to the thousands of others as they wait.

What are your top tips for introducing or sustaining use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework (including the Criteria for Performance Excellence) to promote an organization’s success (perhaps including what’s relevant to recent challenges in the pandemic)?

  1. Create a culture of excellence and commit to it at all levels of the organization. 
    Creating a culture of excellence and committing at all levels ensures our ability to sustain our use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Introducing this framework and Criteria for Performance Excellence is not a one-time event. It has taken discipline and intentionality to weave the [Baldrige] framework into our business model. Our approach involves ongoing education of our workforce members in Baldrige principles, engaging them in aligning and integrating processes through participation on [Baldrige Criteria] category teams, and completing Baldrige-based assessments every one or two years.

  2. Use the Baldrige Excellence Framework.
    This resource assists the Donor Alliance team in our intention to remain focused on aligning and integrating processes for leadership, strategy, customers, performance measurement, workforce, and operations, which has promoted our organization’s success.

In addition, thoughtful planning, as well as a continuous focus on maintaining our mission-driven culture, are key to organizational sustainability and our ability to carry out life-saving work in the face of change and other disruptions. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, our mission has remained at the forefront of every decision we’ve made, allowing us to continue to maximize the gift of life and save more lives than ever before through donation and transplantation. 

In 2020, we experienced a 13 percent increase in heroic organ donors and a 4 percent increase in organs transplanted, equating to more lives saved, in comparison to our record high in 2019. Despite delays in a variety of surgical procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was still a strong year for tissue donation and transplantation in Colorado and Wyoming.

What do you view as key reasons or ways that organizations today can benefit from using the Baldrige framework (e.g., based on Donor Alliance’s experience as a Baldrige Award recipient)?

Organizations can benefit from using the Baldrige framework by focusing on organizational systems, processes, and measurement.Using the Baldrige framework has helped Donor Alliance improve organizational systems, including our leadership system, strategic planning, and operational processes. Establishing, evaluating, and improving our processes for setting objectives, goals, and action plans drive us to meet our mission and vision of maximizing all donation opportunities. An ongoing focus on performance, combined with action plans and a strong work culture, have led to satisfied customers and our ability to meet the needs of and give hope to those who wait for life-saving and healing organs and tissues.

When did you first hear about the Baldrige framework? What were your initial thoughts or “aha” moments as you began learning about it?

We first heard about the Baldrige framework in 2008 from our colleagues at Mid-America Transplant, a 2015 Baldrige Award recipient. As we began our journey of performance excellence, we quickly realized we were engaging in a marathon, not a sprint. As difficult as it was to receive a [Baldrige] feedback report informing us that, for example, we didn’t use data to drive performance, it was valuable feedback that has helped us focus on the right things to measure and improve. Baldrige feedback has helped us better define our performance measurement system, leading to better outcomes, with the laser focus on saving more lives through donation and transplantation.

The “wow” moments along our journey have included record years for organ and tissue recovery and transplantation. In 2020, together with our customers and partners, Donor Alliance honored the gift of donation from 215 organ donors and 1,899 tissue donors, provided over 142,425 tissue grafts, and saved the lives of 622 people through organ transplantation!

What is your “elevator pitch” about the Baldrige framework and/or assessment approach? In other words, what would you say to a group of senior leaders in your sector who are unfamiliar with the Baldrige framework if you had 1 to 2 minutes to tell them something about it?

Baldrige helps organizations improve at both micro and macro levels. In Donor Alliance’s case, it has helped us save more lives than ever before. For us, the performance excellence journey is not primarily about the [Baldrige] Award—which is a nice mile-marker along the journey. The performance excellence process is about getting better every day, and ensuring alignment of processes and systems so that Donor Alliance can achieve our mission of saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation.

The [Baldrige] framework helps organizations holistically assess themselves through the non-prescriptive criteria for excellent performance. Using the framework in self-assessing [our organization] is valuable in identifying gaps that we otherwise may not have detected ourselves and has helped us prioritize improvements, leading to higher levels of performance.

When people from other organ procurement organizations, health care organizations, or other industries ask me if or how the Baldrige framework has helped Donor Alliance improve, I immediately say “yes” and share our results. When they say things such as, “We are already a great organization,” I wonder quietly how much better their organization could be if they used Baldrige.

For organizations that are beginning a journey of performance excellence or are already using the [Baldrige] Criteria, I say, “CONGRATULATIONS! You will enjoy the journey, have many learnings, and make a huge difference in your organization along the way!”

Join us for our first-ever virtual conference! 

The Quest for Excellence Conference April 3-6, 2022 - Register Today!

Quest for Excellence® Conference

Monday, April 12–Thursday, April 15, 2021

The three-day virtual showcase will feature the 2019 and 2020 Award recipients, former recipients, pre-conference workshops, senior leader plenary sessions with live Q&A, more than 70+ on-demand concurrent sessions, conference keynote, and more!

Register Today! 

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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