Radiance Blog

How Insights + Strategy added up for Donor Alliance

In looking back over Corona’s two decades of work, there may no better example of a client that has utilized the full breadth of Corona’s services than Donor Alliance, the federally-designated, non-profit organ procurement organization serving Colorado and most of Wyoming.

Corona has worked with Donor Alliance, and with Donor Awareness Council, before the two merged, for over a decade. In fact, they were one of my very first clients – perhaps the first – at Corona, 13 years ago. In our weekly staff meeting Kevin had noted the potential project and upcoming meeting with them. As my brother had received a double-lung transplant more than a decade earlier, I had a strong connection to their goal of inspiring the public to register as organ and tissue donors and asked to join the project. Thirteen years on and countless projects later (ok, I counted: 8 projects with Donor Alliance and 8 projects previously with Donor Awareness Council), we’re proud of the work we’ve done and we’re thrilled to see all that they have accomplished.

On one important metric, donor designation rate, which is the percentage of people registering as organ and tissue donors when getting a driver’s license or ID, Colorado ranks in the top three states! This ranking is a testament to Donor Alliance’s hard work at all levels to keep the public informed and engaged in registering as donors.

If you’re a resident of Colorado or Wyoming, learn more about registering here.

I recently sat down with Sue Dunn, President and CEO of Donor Alliance, to catch up, reminisce about our work together, and get an update on where they’re at today.

The value of strategic planning

Donor Alliance recently won a prestigious national award for performance excellence (more on that below), and according to Sue, a key component of that success was their effort in strategic planning. As Sue said, “at the front end of the [award] journey, we couldn’t write our way out of a paper bag.” Their strategic planning wasn’t systematic nor robust. Early on, Donor Alliance actually took a year off from the [award] journey to “get strategic planning right.”

To help them in that effort, Sue turned to Karla because she had been impressed by Karla’s strategic planning work and her “solid process and involvement of stakeholders.”

“[In relation to the Baldrige Award] One of our strengths was strategic planning – it started with you all those years ago!”

Corona provided strategic consulting to Donor Alliance from 2012 through 2014. The firm aided Donor Alliance in completing its 2013 annual strategic plan and transitioned the organization to a 3-year strategic plan.

A cornerstone of the 3-year strategic plan was its focus on the organization’s highly dynamic external environment. Organ and tissue donation crosses the fields of medicine, science, and technology and connect with human issues such as differing social norms. As Karla recalled, “The Donor Alliance board and executive team realized they needed to focus on external trends to craft an intentional strategy. We created a custom trend analysis tool to zero-in on the forces with the greatest potential to drive their strategy in the near-term and the long-term. It was a very rewarding process as the board and staff were highly attuned to this forecasting work and were able to bring their diverse expertise to frame the truly strategic issues.”

The resulting plan with its clear strategy, optimized business model, and high-level success measures was highly effective in setting direction. “It is so rewarding to know that our co-created process put Donor Alliance on the path to achieving their Baldridge Award,” remarked Karla.

To execute their strategic plan, Donor Alliance relies strongly on data-informed decision making, and Corona has long served as an external research partner for them, gathering data about public perceptions, as well as input from professional partners, to help guide their efforts to best serve the needs of the community, their customers, and their professional partners. While Corona has conducted many research studies for Donor Alliance, a few stood out to Sue.

One was a study that measured public perceptions and attitudes towards a possible change in the law regarding how people give consent to be an organ and tissue donor. The current system was and remains an opt-in system where you register to be a donor. The proposed system was an opt-out system, where you would be automatically considered a registered donor unless you opted-out. Donor Alliance was not behind the proposed changed, but obviously had an interest in the outcome. To gather public opinion, Donor Alliance turned to Corona to conduct a large, representative survey of residents to understand public perception. This survey was done quickly to inform the pending legislation and, in the end, helped validate some of the concerns around the legislation – that people want to make their own decisions.

In another study, Corona collected feedback from a very different audience, county coroners, whom Donor Alliance works closely with. Having an independent third party collect the feedback gave the results credibility and helped lead the way to a better working relationship.

And with yet another unique audience, Corona gathered opinions and feedback from driver’s license office employees. These are the frontline employees and the ones who actually ask each resident getting or renewing their license if they’d like to be a registered donor. Among other findings, we found that asking the question was actually a very positive part of the job and contributed to their job satisfaction (which is a nice perk in what can be a pretty thankless job!).

Finally, Corona has conducted ongoing tracking studies of public perceptions over time, including tracking broad perceptions of organ and tissue donation, reasons for designating oneself as a donor, and barriers to registering among non-registered donors.

As a research partnerf, Sue noted that she appreciates Corona’s ability to quickly understand the business needs, provide findings based on real data, and provide useful executive summaries of the results.

Check out a case study of one of our projects with Donor Alliance, which also won an award in 2013 from the Colorado American Marketing Association.

Recognized Quality

From left-to-right: Walter G. Copan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director; George Benson, Chairman of Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; Sue Dunn, CEO of Donor Alliance and President of the OPTN Board of Directors; and Jennifer Prinz, COO of Donor Alliance

Donor Alliance’s success was recently recognized with a 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The Baldrige award is a Presidential-level honor and recognizes exemplary U.S. organizations and businesses that demonstrate an “unceasing drive for radical innovation, thoughtful leadership and administrative improvement.” It is the highest level of national recognition for performance excellence that a U.S. organization can receive.

The award is the culmination of a near decade-long performance excellence journey that doesn’t just recognize internal improvements, but also external results. In addition to having one of the highest donor designation rates in the country, as noted above, Donor Alliance has increased the number of organ transplants steadily over the past five years. Furthermore, they have a 100% satisfaction rating among donor families and transplant center and tissue processor customers. Revenues have also increased and while realizing organ donor cost savings between 63 and 73 percent.

They were also the only nonprofit organization to win in 2018, the second ever organ procurement organization to have won, and sixth Colorado organization to have won.

A big congrats to Donor Alliance and their successes and a big thanks for being such a great client for all these years!


Throughout 2019, to help celebrate our 20th Anniversary, we are profiling our staff and select clients. Click here to view all of our interviews. 

Sue noted that she keeps up on the content posted to our Radiance Blog via the Corona Observer Newsletter. You can check it out and sign up yourself on our website.



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