George Washington University Spotlight: Engagement in the Capital

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations! A special congratulations to George Washington University for receiving the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification this year. 

The GW Experience

George Washington University, located in the political epicenter of the United States, maintains a strong focus on the civic world. This civic interest characterizes the students who choose this campus as their home. “GW students come to DC because they are excited about being in the city and being in the nation’s capital,” says Jovanni Mahonez, Assistant Director of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service at GWU. “We are an academic community where civic engagement and public service are integral to the ‘GW experience.’”

GW provides students “with opportunities to learn through experience and to test the theories that they have learned in the classroom with the real world around them.” 

Opportunities to engage with a vibrant community enhance this experience. Mahonez believes that in order to “appropriately educate individuals,” GWU “must provide them with opportunities to learn through experience and to test the theories that they have learned in the classroom with the real world around them.” This creates benefits that extend beyond student success — academia as a whole benefits greatly from scholarship purposefully engaged with the non-academic world. Mahonez notes that research “designed to address and provide solutions to real world problems often benefits from reciprocal relationships with people outside academe: those in the community.” 

From Local to International

Washington, D.C., like many cities, offers a rich variety of opportunities for such scholarship and engagement. Here, “within just a couple of miles — and sometimes a few blocks —  we can work on the one hand with powerful, highly resourced institutions and organizations and on the other, collaborate with communities with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with attendant illiteracy, health disparities, social exclusion, and neighborhood violence.” 

“Within just a couple of miles… we can work on the one hand with powerful, highly resourced institutions and organizations and on the other, collaborate with communities with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation.” 

Students are offered extensive opportunities to learn and engage in this community. Whether through internships on Capitol Hill and at the White House, work with national and international NGO headquarters, or service and research in schools, community organizations, foods banks, and shelters, students can find a wide variety of options through which to put their skills and interest to work in the community. 

A Robust Community Engagement System

Keeping track of this disparate and yet deeply interconnected work requires a robust community engagement  system, which GWU has found in GivePulse. Prior to GivePulse, GWU used myriad of other solutions for volunteer management, to help match people to service activities and to track these activities. Some departments and organizations used spreadsheets, Google forms, and Word documents to track this information. Mahonez says that “GivePulse is easier to use and many organizations on campus have switched to GivePulse instead of tracking by spreadsheet!” The benefits from this switch go beyond ease: “We get so much more data now… We have greater success in uptake even than we expected!” 

“We get so much more data now… We have greater success in uptake even than we expected!” 

This is largely because GivePulse provides a one-stop-shop for GW, community partners, and the broader DC community. In addition to sending students to GivePulse to engage with community partners, GW uses GivePulse for events and programs such as the annual Community Service and Engagement Fair. GWU uses the subdomain GWServes for their GivePulse page, a simple and clear way of describing their aims: “GWServes — it’s what we do. This describes the many forms of community and civic service: direct community service, social innovation, community engaged research, advocacy, and more. GW serves.” 

Generating Excitement

When asked about her advice for others hoping to set up GivePulse for their institution, Mahonez stressed the importance of working with all of the stakeholders at the very beginning — students, partners, and faculty. To help faculty learn about the program, GW pre-populated their courses and provided specialized PowerPoint presentations for them. They also worked with faculty in-person through small meetings and one-on-one conversations, as well as using screen share to guide faculty through the steps. 

It is important, Mahonez adds, to also share the impact of the new platform: “This August we are presenting to faculty on how great the data is they can get out if they are more cognizant about what they (and their students) put in. As onboarding is more streamlined we are hopeful the data collected this year will paint a bigger and more detailed picture of community engagement.” 

“We are hopeful the data collected this year will paint a bigger and more detailed picture of community engagement.” 

For students, GW hosted a kick-off event, complete with cupcakes, to generate excitement about GWServes. “While cupcakes can get anyone excited,” Mahonez said, “the ease of use and variety of uses with GivePulse has proven to be a plus for student participation.” In addition, GW helped students to onboard at the start of the semester, and show them how to see the affiliations of their courses with community partners. “We use it in real time at our end of semester symposium on community engaged scholarship to have students reflect on their course walls and often faculty give them extra credit for this.”

By helping to get key stakeholders set up with GivePulse, GW has been able to use the platform to its fullest potential. But this takes time; they point out that new users should not expect perfection right away, and should be willing to go slowly in setting up GivePulse. Once it is set up, however, the results speak for themselves. With all the data available, Mahonez says, “Our challenge now is to decide the most important things we want to know about engagement.” Not a bad challenge to have. 

Deep Dive into the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification

On January 24, 2020, 119 campuses were notified of receiving the Elective Carnegie Community Engagement Classification in this year’s cycle. Of these 119 campuses, 44 were first-time applicants. The Carnegie Foundation has been classifying higher education institutions since the 1970s, when they organized institutions according to degree level, specialization, and more. The Elective Carnegie Community Engagement Classification was introduced in the early 2000s, with the first classification cycle occurring in 2006. Further information about the history of the classification can be found in “The Elective Carnegie Community Engagement Classification: Constructing a Successful Application for First-Time and Re-Classification Applicants” edited by John Saltmarsh and Mathew Johnson of the Swearer Center at Brown University.

Institutions choose to apply for the classification for a variety of reasons. It is a prestigious classification, based upon a rigorous application process with a foundational framework to challenge institutions to think forward. Many institutions apply to receive the classification — and by applying, institutions will put themselves into a process of evaluating  their institution-wide community engagement commitments. The by-product of going through this framework will be a chance to get a multi-faceted deep dive and reflection on community engagement commitments and practices at your institution. Institutions who do not receive the classification receive feedback to inform their community engagement roadmap, and can reapply in the next classification cycle. Institutions may also recognize areas in which increased efforts in data collection will improve their strategic plans, shifting their operations to gather this data before the next cycle.

The Elective Carnegie Community Engagement Classification is a prestigious classification, based upon a rigorous application process with a foundational framework to challenge institutions to think forward. 

Moving forward, the classification is renewed every six years and reclassification is available every two. Between the 2015 and 2020 classification cycles, a total of 359 institutions are now classified as Community Engaged campuses. Of the 119 campuses that were either newly classified or reclassified in the 2020 cycle, 67 were public and 52 private. 3 were two-year institutions, while the remainder were four-year. Institutions that received the classification were wide-ranging in their research interests, program offerings, and location, with 47 of the 50 states represented. 

GivePulse is excited to have provided tech and platform support to the Carnegie Management Team, housed in the Swearer Center at Brown University, as they revised and streamlined the process. Georgina Manok, Assistant Director of Research and Assessment at the Swearer Center at Brown University, says that having everything together in one online portal allowed real time evaluation. Updates to the online Carnegie framework included the creation of a review process to evaluate and maintain reviewer notes on an application, an improved workflow, and access to data critical to the evaluation process. For Manok, “to access all this information and be able to analyze it in real time with all sorts of metadata has been amazing.” “Now we are beginning to think about how to use this technology to maximize transparency and participation in the review process for the 2023 cycle,” says Mathew Johnson, Associate Dean of Engaged Scholarship and Executive Director of the Swearer Center at Brown University. 

“To access all this information and be able to analyze it in real time with all sorts of metadata has been amazing.” 

Revision of the application process has gone well beyond the application portal. According to a document created by the Swearer Center, the revision process considered “both changes in the field and gaps in the framework.” Oversight of the framework revision process was led by Manok, Johnson, and Saltmarsh. Primary goals of the revision were to incorporate input from scholars in the field, to review current literature, to listen for emergent fields at national convenings, and to solicit formal input on identified issues. These revisions incorporated changes proposed by members of the National Advisory Committee. In her informational work for campuses, “So You’re Carnegie Classified, Now What?”, Manok suggests that classification is the moment “to plan what the next chapter of community engagement looks like on your campus.” Many campuses who receive the classification use this recognition to guide strategic planning for the institution, particularly looking forward toward reclassification in ten years’ time. The momentum of the classification process can be used to create sustainable infrastructures and to educate a campus (its departments, programs and institution) about the importance of the classification and commitment to it. 

The momentum of the classification can be used “to create sustainable infrastructures and to educate your campus about the importance of the classification and your commitment to it.” 

The collective community engagement data captured through GivePulse from the applications in this 2020 cycle as well as earlier ones, has benefits beyond those to individual institutions. The aggregate dataset can help tell a national story about how community engagement ebbs and flows, particularly regarding how engagement continues to evolve and be prioritized by in institutions as a way to develop the next generation of citizens and leaders for our communities.

The continuous improvement exemplified by campuses who continue to evolve their practice will be embodied in the revisions for the 2023 classification cycle. Those revisions are  already in the works. The 2023 revision cycle will open an online portal for contributions to the revision process in the next month. The classification is also piloting internationally. “It’s been really enriching to see the context of community engagement in different places,” Manok says. “This brings a lot of great learning back to the US.” They are halfway through the pilot project, with representatives from institutions in Canada and Australia doing their midpoint convenings this month. Looking forward, we hope to do more collaborations in the global south and in non-English speaking countries.”

“We are learning a lot from the reciprocal process we have been following in the international pilot that will undoubtedly be iterated onto the 2023 revisions,” said Mathew Johnson. ”We are grateful for the tech support that GivePulse volunteered for this round of application submissions and look forward to utilizing their tech expertise to also add to our continuous improvement.”

Campus Kitchen at UGA Spotlight: Building Sustainable Food Rescue

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

Fighting food waste and hunger

University of Georgia has been affiliated with the Campus Kitchens Project since 2012. While the project’s national arm, DC Central Kitchens, recently announced that they will be moving on to their next phase, UGA’s close relationships with community partners will help them to continue fighting food insecurity.


UGA students deliver food to the home of an individual served by the Athens Community Council on Aging.

Their operation is shaped by the seven years working alongside the network of Campus Kitchens. Brad Turner, the Campus Kitchen Coordinator with the Office of Service Learning at UGA, says this has given students different perspectives on the commonalities and differences of fighting food insecurity in different parts of the country. He believes that the benefits are mutual: the Campus Kitchen at UGA hopes to  “give people encouragement that really wonderful things can happen when you’ve got people all rowing the boat in the same direction.” 


“Really wonderful things can happen when you’ve got people all rowing the  boat in the same direction.” 

In the case of the Campus Kitchen at UGA, this direction aims toward food security for senior populations, particularly for seniors raising grandchildren. This focus came about after an assessment conducted by the Athens Community Council on Aging and a group of Women’s Studies students as part of their service learning project. The assessment found that among the families served by the ACCA, 78% were food insecure. The Campus Kitchen at UGA focuses their efforts on this population. Turner notes that UGA, the 33rd Campus Kitchen to be established, was one of the first to focus on senior hunger. 

An interdisciplinary project 

UGA’s motto, “To teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things,” is well suited to the university’s Campus Kitchen. Turner says that Campus Kitchen certainly fits these three models of what service learning aspires to do. Students volunteer with the Campus Kitchen at UGA for a variety of reasons. Some want to combat food waste, and in doing so learn more about older adult issues; others are invested in issues facing senior communities and ultimately learn more about food justice. In its nature, this is an interdisciplinary project. No matter what the reason, all students engage with Campus Kitchen, Turner says, “in the spirit of not only growing professionally, but also serving their community, meeting a need that affects the public.” 


UGA student carries bags of produce to be delivered with Campus Kitchen. 

This service can change the lives of students involved. The interdisciplinary nature of this work prepares students for careers that may require them to work on teams that involve many different roles. “That’s something we’re seeing more around the country,” Turner notes. “You need a diverse range of experiences, especially if you’re in a nonprofit or direct service sector — you need to understand the context in a lot of different factors (societal, interpersonal) that are impacting the needs and assets in a community.” 

Feeding the community

The Campus Kitchen at UGA influences volunteers in another way — it teaches them to cook. “We’re getting people who are learning how to peel a potato or dice an onion for the first time at Campus Kitchen,” Turner says. “That wasn’t at all our intention, but what that tells us is that people are willing to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of love and for the sake of their community. You get students who might not want to go to a cooking class, but they are interested in serving their community. It’s a really humbling, great privilege to be a part of that for a student, and to honor their humility by giving them this great experience.” 


“People are willing to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of love and for the sake of their community.” 

The actual kitchen of the Campus Kitchen at UGA has made a conscientious shift to avoid seeming like a commercial kitchen, while still maintaining, first and foremost, health and safety standards. They must manage operating at an economy scale while creating an environment where people have room to be novices. “We’re trying to balance both feeding the community and making the student experience one that’s going to have a regenerative effect on the student’s life on campus,” Turner says. To do so, UGA has implemented a model in which each shift has less students and more time. In these two hour slots, Campus Kitchen provides a tangible outlet for students to explore an issue that they may be learning about in class. 


The Campus Kitchen at UGA helps students learn to cook as well as learning about food waste. 

The students get the chance to learn about food waste firsthand, as the Campus Kitchen at UGA must work to avoid waste in their own kitchens. One method they use is composting vegetable scraps, which they can then take back to the campus garden that in turn grows vegetables for Campus Kitchen. For items not suitable to the garden, Campus Kitchen uses the university’s bioconversion plant, which converts these items into usable forms. 

Waste avoidance will continue to be a challenge as the Campus Kitchen at UGA grows. Turner notes that the larger the scale of operation, the greater risk there is for waste. However, food waste is not necessarily something to be pessimistic about — Turner considers it an untapped asset in the fight for food justice. Through asking grocery stores to donate food and ingredients that otherwise wouldn’t be eaten, Campus Kitchen is using food that typically might be wasted to combat food insecurity.

A commitment people are willing to make

This, of course, relies on a number of partners in the community who can provide food that Campus Kitchen uses. Their main partner for food recovery is a local Trader Joe’s, which donates anywhere from 500 to just shy of 1300 pounds of food per donation day. They provide goods that are cosmetically imperfect or are nearing expiration. Other donors include the UGArden, the Foodbank of Northeast Georgia, Athens Farmers Market, and Collective Harvest.


Trader Joe’s donates food that will be cooked and delivered through the Campus Kitchen at UGA. 

The Campus Kitchen at UGA also works with the Athens Community Council on Aging to ensure that the program is sustainable and safe. The UGA Campus Kitchen works with 54 of the ACCA’s clients and their families; because of this close relationship, the Campus Kitchen complies with ACCA’s trainings and background checks. Turner says that this organization has been incredible to work with, particularly in the mutual trust and willingness to take risks that has allowed their Campus Kitchen to grow.  


All of these partners have had to be willing to trust that Campus Kitchen was going to work in the best interest of their community. “When people hear that it’s a food recovery network run by students, the knee-jerk reaction is to question,” Turner says. “It’s a well-founded concern to wonder about the sustainability. We just made it a point that when we establish a relationship, we quickly document how the shift is best done and recruit students to serve in a specific role for a semester at a time. And students just want to be a part of this. They love having a clear role, seeing how this connects, so it’s a commitment people are willing to make.”

Managing growth

The Campus Kitchen at UGA uses GivePulse to schedule and track student engagement with their organization, and has found that the organization has grown to 372 students, with more and more referrals coming through word of mouth. 


As they grow, the Campus Kitchen at UGA utilizes GivePulse’s reflection features to incorporate student feedback and ensure that the program remains productive for everyone involved. They can also use this to better verify volunteers even as their numbers grow. Prior to GivePulse, they often had service-learning students that were using paper sign-in forms and requiring signatures, which Turner says was difficult to manage centrally. But with GivePulse’s verification system, Campus Kitchen “transitioned to coaching students to report impacts and share that data with their professor, knowing that any verified impact has already been signed off on by the staff of our program. That has been great for improving efficiency, particularly as we’ve grown and incorporated more students.”

Doing everything they can

As they grow, the Campus Kitchen at UGA plans to continue looking into ways to address the underlying issues that lead to food waste. Turner is confident that given the right inspiration and connection, people are going to find innovative solutions. He believes the role of the Campus Kitchen at UGA is “to give people encouragement that it can be done, that you really can do amazing things in your community, that incredible trust is built through food.”


“Incredible trust is built through food.” 

The Campus Kitchen at UGA also wants to help supply other organizations engaging in food security, doing more work with homeless shelters, food kitchens, and similar organizations. 


Food waste is an untapped resource for fighting food insecurity. 

Turner doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture — solutions need to occur at a higher tier. “The data suggests that the further up the supply chain you go to reduce food waste, the better the savings, reduced environmental impacts… the producers are gonna be getting smarter, it’s in their best interest to cut food waste from their stores.” 

Because of this, he sees reason to hope: “It’s my belief that a time could come when there won’t be as much waste in grocery stores. The question that remains for us, what are we gonna do until that day comes? I’m convinced that we need to do everything we can. People are still literally hungry and in dire need, so we have to do everything we can while today is still today. Our goal right now is to do as much as we can for the time we’re graciously given, and do the best good we can.”


“Our goal right now is to do as much as we can for the time we’re graciously given, and do the best good we can.” 


Dominican University of California Spotlight: Sustained Relationships

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

Sustainable Relationships

Dominican University of California, located in San Rafael, is a small school (just over 1300 undergraduate students) with a big mission: Dominican “educates and prepares students to be ethical leaders and socially responsible global citizens who incorporate the Dominican values of study, reflection, community, and service into their lives.” The university’s dedication to this mission is affirmed by its receipt of the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching “in recognition of the University’s exemplary institutional focus on community engagement.” 

Indeed, Dominican University of California is deeply focused on community engagement, as evidenced by the institution’s approach to service-learning. Dominican defines service-learning as “an educational approach that integrates meaningful community engagement with academic curriculum emphasizing critical reflection and analysis.” Dominican has built a service-learning program that create sustainable, reciprocal partnerships. These “deep, long lasting partnerships in the community” have emerged from a focus on quality over quantity — a focus that Dominican purposefully maintains. 


Dominican University volunteers encourage creativity in their work with students


These “deep, long lasting partnerships in the community” have emerged from a focus on quality over quantity — a focus that Dominican purposefully maintains. 

“Even if our students are only there for fifteen, sixteen weeks a semester, we have more students coming the next semester,” says Julia van der Ryn, Executive Director at the Center for Community Engagement. “A lot of times we do retain students, but this way it’s not about getting students to stay at a partner — it’s about us being able to sustain the partnership by constantly sending students to work with the partners every semester.” 

Reflection and Retention

While Dominican has created a system in which the partnership lasts beyond individual involvement, retention of students is certainly important, and van der Ryn says that use of GivePulse correlates to student retention at a given community partner. Use of GivePulse suggests “something very indicative about the organization — their effectiveness and the culture they’re interested in creating.” The partner sites at which “students have really the most sense of belonging and really are excited to be there, making strong connections” are “the same partners that really value reading the GivePulse reflections of our students.” Indeed, some partners even print out the reflections; reflections are a key tenet of community partners’ learning about how community members are engaging. 


Community partners with whom “students have really the most sense of belonging… are the same partners that really value reading the GivePulse reflections of our students.”

Dominican University of California thinks that this interest in student reflections might point to “the particular people who are supervising our students, and their approach, and the culture they want to create at their site.” The sites with cultures that support sustained student involvement are the same ones “who tell us how interesting it is to get the insights of the students.” The benefits are mutual; these same partners say that they “take ideas back from the students” to their organization and leadership. 

Dominican plans to “form a group of our community partners” to talk more about the culture they can create: “We know it creates more sustainability in terms of our students wanting to return to those partners, which translates to more success in helping the people they’re serving in their community.” GivePulse, according to van der Ryn, has “helped strengthen these sustained relationships — they’re more relationships than just partnerships.” 

Becoming Part of the Community

The degree to which community partners were using GivePulse came as something of a surprise to Dominican. Dominican “had no idea the extent to which they were accessing or reading” reflections. 

This extensive use of GivePulse shows how much it has helped community partners. Community partners see the value of this system. It “inspires them to hear from students,” particularly given that they “welcome feedback to improve their programs.” Additionally, nonprofits are able to use the data gathered from GivePulse for grant applications, and are able to build program capacity through the influx of Dominican University of California students. 

This is crucial given the many ways that partners engage with the community. Some partners, like Canal Alliance, have a variety of aspects, including “adult ESL, middle school and after school programming, legal services, a food pantry — all these multiple, wrap around services.” 


Community partners often engage with a variety of causes

With GivePulse, the university becomes “part of the community” working toward these varied goals. Before using GivePulse, an Excel spreadsheet that needed regular manual updates was used to maintain an accurate record of student involvement. Now, Dominican can keep track of student engagement “in real time,” and can know exactly where students are engaging.

With GivePulse, Dominican can keep track of student engagement “in real time,” and can know exactly where students are engaging.

Dominican can also keep track of any issues or “things that need to be ironed out,” both by accessing student reflections and by accessing logistical information about which students have registered for courses and site placements. This provides an “overview of where the [service-learning] class is at any time.” In this way, GivePulse provides a snapshot of engagement.

Beyond Mandatory

Faculty members appreciate this snapshot in their service-learning classes, describing GivePulse as a “go-to” for making sure that their classes are “on track.” Faculty incorporate GivePulse in different ways — some ask only that students record their hours, while others use the platform as a repository for prompts, essays, and other qualitative forms of information. 

In all of these cases, student usage is mandatory; faculty include GivePulse usage in evaluating students, incorporating grades for both hours and for impact reflections. 


Faculty members describe GivePulse as a “go-to” for making sure their class is “on track.”

Student participation sometimes starts at this mandatory level and grows into individually motivated use of the platform. One student, Michael Gomez, began using GivePulse to record his hours for a service learning course. From this course, he was hired for a service-learning job, and ultimately took over the position that trains students for service-learning at Canal Alliance. 


Dominican University students paint with community members


Another student, Karla Hernandez, also works with Canal Alliance. She took a service-learning class and “just became so impassioned” that she declared the Community Action & Social Change Minor and became an SL student leader in the organization. Her belief in the importance of using GivePulse’s capabilities is palpable: when in charge of verifying student hours, Hernandez refused to verify reflections if students did not write enough or were “vague and slapdash,” writing to tell them that they “need[ed] to write more.”

Service Learning Opportunity

These stories do not just point to students become increasingly adept at GivePulse — they also reveal the importance of service-learning as gateways to opportunities in community engagement organizations. Dominican is aware of the importance of community engagement not just to the community, but also to the students involved. 

On their website, Dominican cites studies that show that “Service-learning and student-faculty research can boost your learning and other gains like personal and social development by 81%,” and that “69% of employers are more likely to hire someone who’s done a community-based project.” The university offers mentorship through integrative coaches and academic advisors to direct students toward community engagement opportunities aligned with their personal and professional goals. 

GivePulse helps the university to leverage students into positions that provide increased access to work in areas in which they are interested. By seeing which students “really seem engaged” on GivePulse, the university can “tap” these students for future roles in student leadership, and can encourage them to consider majors and minors that call upon their work in the community. In this way, GivePulse offers growth opportunities for students invested in community engagement.


GivePulse offers growth opportunities for students invested in community engagement.


Students can also use hours and reflections recorded on GivePulse to propel them into new roles and opportunities. The records maintained on GivePulse help students to access “their history and use for future references, jobs, etc.” 

Unimaginable

The data GivePulse maintains must be organized in such a way that users can easily find and use their records. Dominican feels that having a detailed implementation plan is the most critical factor for universities intending to use GivePulse. Even though they describe themselves as a small university, there are many questions to answer; according to Jenny Bray, Service-Learning Program Coordinator, key questions include: “Who owns what information and who wants to share hours? Who wants to play?” Understanding the interests of different parties using the platform can help to set GivePulse up in a way that offers the most benefit to all.  

This involves, crucially, “thinking ahead of time”: figuring out where information should fall in regards to partnerships and departments, which individual contacts to set as admins for nonprofits and how best to make sure that the information all comes back to the university at the source. There are “tons of layers,” Bray says, which “makes GivePulse great.” Her advice “is really think out first how you want to use it and then kind of go from there.”


“I can’t imagine going back to life before GivePulse.” 

Elements that they suggest planning before beginning the implementation include deciding which departments will use GivePulse, determining how to make sure partners can be shared between different subgroups, and establishing single sign on to streamline the login process. 

They also stress the importance of having someone on the staff who knows GivePulse well and can train others. Creating trainings and Powerpoints that help users understand exactly what workflows to use makes the process “easier and easier.”


“In terms of the logistics and being able to have that bird’s eye view of what’s going on at the beginning of the semester — that is priceless.”

With these steps in place, gathering information becomes as easy as the push of a button. As van der Ryn points out, “The student reflections, all of that — that’s all great, that’s all the icing, but in terms of the logistics and being able to have that bird’s eye view of what’s going on at the beginning of the semester — that is priceless.” Bray agrees, adding that GivePulse offers vast benefits in terms of “the history” and being able to see who was where and for how long. “For the students, faculty, and administrators,” she says, “it is amazing to be able to so quickly access that data.” 

Perhaps it is for all of these reasons van der Ryn says of the platform, “I cannot imagine going back to life before GivePulse.”

UAB Spotlight: Committed to Change

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

Bringing community to the university


UAB volunteers teach elementary school students about physiology 

The vision statement of the University of Alabama at Birmingham affirms the university’s dedication to “inspiring and empowering the creation of knowledge that changes the world.” This is perhaps natural given UAB’s location in a city historically invested in community change. Emily Wykle, project director in the Office of the President at UAB, emphasizes the importance of Birmingham’s “really deep commitment” to community engagement. The city itself offers “very fertile ground” for civic work, she says, adding, “You don’t have to be browbeating people to get involved. You have the appetite.” 

This community-wide energy for change is evident in UAB’s broadly reaching implementation of GivePulse. UAB established their GivePulse domain (dubbed “BlazerPulse”) in the fall of 2018. According to Wykle, GivePulse has been “kind of the overlay” for the city’s work. “There’s already exciting things happening,” she notes. With GivePulse, the university can “give others a way in.” 



“There’s already exciting things happening,” Wykle says. GivePulse can “give others a way in.”

Before using GivePulse, connections between the university and the work happening in the community were sometimes, in Wykle’s words, “kind of random.” Faculty members looking for organizations with which to engage often experienced difficulty in locating the greatest community need, while community partners did not always know how to access the university’s resources. In addition, to track data, UAB used “a kind of homegrown survey that I don’t think I would be speaking out of turn to say was a big disaster. There was no way to analyze it, not a great response rate.” 


The “cluster” view of various UAB activities happening in Birmingham

GivePulse provides resources that analyze both qualitative and quantitative information. One example that Wykle sees as particularly beneficial is the engagement heat map, which she says “gets people so excited, and I think that’s really driven a lot of exciting partnerships.” She recalls working with Hands on Birmingham, a United Way sponsored organization, for their Back to School Beautification Day. The UAB community was invited alongside the broader Birmingham community to work with people in the neighborhoods where each of the city’s schools were housed. Wykle considers this a key facet of being part of the various communities in Birmingham: “This has been a way for us to work alongside them. A more opportune way.” 



“[GivePulse] gets people so excited, and I think that’s really driven a lot of exciting partnerships.”

Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

Through GivePulse, the question of how to create a mutually beneficial partnership is answered by design. Community partners can see the forms of engagement supported by UAB and can open aligned opportunities; in turn, students, faculty, and staff at UAB are able to find and engage with the opportunities that most need their help. 


UAB students gain hands-on knowledge of farming in Birmingham 


In this way, UAB has found in GivePulse “essentially a civic giving form” through which community partners and nonprofits can consider how to connect their needs to the strategic goals of the university. UAB, meanwhile, can see both “the strategic connection” and “whether that organization is invested in what [UAB is] doing.” This helps UAB “to make better decisions around who [they] support, and also democratizes the process.” Any nonprofits can sign up on GivePulse; no longer reliant on hearing about engagement opportunities through connections and networking, nonprofits now have a “front door” to the resources of the university. 


A bubble chart showing UAB engagement by specific causes


GivePulse helps UAB “to make better decisions around who [they] support, and also democratizes the process.”


In addition to accessing information about the possibilities available, UAB can now also see the work with which staff and students have already been engaging. Wykle recalls using the system to determine who had logged the most hours on BlazerPulse and finding a woman who, unbeknownst to Wykle, had been working night shifts at a crisis center. This user logged more than 700 hours with the center. Through GivePulse, this record was suddenly easily accessible, allowing UAB to “highlight her and recognize her for her work.” Furthermore, this knowledge allowed UAB to strengthen connections with the crisis center, helping more volunteers to engage in this work. 

Community Energy

UAB brought community partners onto GivePulse “really early, like before we really knew what we were doing,” recalls Wykle, adding, “I can’t believe we did that!” UAB organized a meeting with about fifty nonprofits in Birmingham that they had “deep relationships with, deep history” — nonprofits that the university knew “would go out on a limb” for them. Community partners soon began to expand their presence on GivePulse. Now, they are not just “using it for UAB,” Wykle says. “They’re really using it to get volunteers to sign up from other parts of Birmingham.” 


Nonprofits are really using GivePulse “to get volunteers to sign up from other parts of Birmingham.”

UAB maintains the community energy that first brought the partners to GivePulse by meeting with them twice a year, which, particularly in the early days of using GivePulse, offered an opportunity to hear what was — and was not — working. Wykle recalls learning that the Office of Conduct, when assigning students community service, did not count GivePulse as a valid way to track service hours, something that she would not have known had community partners not brought this to her attention. This opened an opportunity to have a conversation with the Office of Conduct, resulting in the confirmation of GivePulse as the primary method of tracking service hours across the campus.

Campus-Wide Implementation

Since implementing GivePulse in fall of 2018, UAB has created over 200 subgroups and recorded over 30,000 hours of community activity. While these numbers might seem overwhelming to build into any platform, UAB maintains an organizational system that calls upon feedback from across the institution. Wykle emphasizes the importance of building a system of liaisons across departments, colleges, and organizations on campus, all of whom can offer feedback throughout the implementation process. At the start, “there were some hiccups,” but with the help of a diverse group of faculty members, UAB was “able to say, ‘Here’s where faculty are getting stuck, here’s what’s sticky.’” 

Wykle also emphasizes the importance of support at the top tier of the institution; because she works in the president’s office, the engagement “has really has come from the top down.” This is critical: “Having it come from the top down gives it a sense of [being] something we are really committed to and interested in.” Perhaps more importantly, every department and college at the school is focused on community engagement. “Each of the schools has a community engagement part of their strategic plan,” she says, and adds, “We can meet them where they’re at… [it’s] not just a central helping us kind of thing, but can help at a school and department level.” While each department and college may have had different practices of engagement prior to the implementation of GivePulse, centralizing the data and the tracking system allows for these different colleges to share knowledge, opening the university to stronger community engagement in every field. 

It helped that faculty members immediately recognized the need for this platform from their own experiences with community engagement. As Wykle notes, “They were going to be with us from the outset. This was something that was important to them.” This was true both of faculty members whose time was spent primarily in the classroom and of faculty whose focus was primarily on research. The latter group is important to UAB: “We are a research university,” Wykle says, adding that it is important to the university to figure out how GivePulse can “help you leverage the research and work you’re already doing and use it to translate… [to] actual value in people’s lives.” The main question UAB still hopes to answer, she adds, is, “How are we taking the teaching, research, all of the knowledge being generated here, and [translating] it to making people’s lives better in Birmingham?” Accentuating this focus for the research side of the university supports UAB’s vision of changing the world through acquisition and creation of knowledge. 


It is important to the university to figure out how GivePulse can “help you leverage the research and work you’re already doing and use it to translate… [to] actual value in people’s lives.”


While faculty interest and recognition of the valuable ways GivePulse could be used were critical when establishing the platform, Wykle feels that equally crucial to successful implementation was positive student response. Students quickly adopted GivePulse, providing feedback and recording hours at a rate that surprised even the most enthusiastic faculty members. Because of their consistent use of GivePulse, students create data containing detailed information that UAB can use to understand how and why they are interacting with the Birmingham community. 

When asked if she had any advice for other universities implementing GivePulse, Wykle says, “If we had waited until everything was flawless and then invited community partners in, that would have been a major misstep.” Instead of waiting until their implementation seemed perfect, UAB was “really honest about building the plan,” asking for feedback and input from community partners, students, faculty, and staff throughout the process. Ultimately, it comes down to seeking feedback from a variety of sources to ensure that everyone — community partners, students, faculty, staff — can engage in a way that changes the community for the better. As Wykle advises, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” 


Community Partnerships with Center for Community Engagement of the University of Arkansas

300+ community partners, over 200 student programs and clubs, 17,000 engaged students, faculty and staff, 100,000 impact stories, and 300,000 service hours with an estimated impact of over $8 Million.

https://zoom.us/recording/share/5RudjkvUw0kLqczTxl062fCBGCbESv-AkR969dOuKvGwIumekTziMw?startTime=1545418954000 (Dec 2018)

This is a brief story of University of Arkansas’s (UArk) community engagement impact.  

A few years ago the Center for Community Engagement of the University of Arkansas embarked on a journey to enhance volunteer and community engagement initiatives.

Embedded into the University’s culture is the  institution’s interest and goal to scale their community partnerships.

For a large anchor institution, the university has deep rooted partnerships with public and private organizations . With that, brings complexities that make managing community engagement for the diverse set of partnerships difficult, for instance:

  1. An inflexible legacy database
  2. Multiple liabilities and existing partnership agreements
  3. An archaic matching and management portal

To address the above complexities, the institution debated whether to develop something internally would be better than using multiple tools… or is there even one tool out there that would encompass most if not all the University’s requirements.  After due diligence and analyzing all the technology options available in the market, they chose one platform to address all their complex concerns and additional features that would improve processes and help expand all community engagement programs. Specifically, the system they chose enabled the following:

  1. Flexible Database: A multi-tenant relational database that can integrate with other systems and customized to  capture all types of data for reporting outputs, relationships, activities and impact.
  2. Workflow & Form Management: A workflow to accept and approve customized liabilities and agreements between its volunteers and community partnerships annually, semesterly or a unique defined duration.
  3. Modern, Mobile-Friendly Portal: A responsive website that is accessible for all devices (and downloadable in the app stores) allowing students, faculty and staff to  be matched with community partner profiles and opportunities as well as having a way to update and track their engagement.
  4. Free capabilities for nonprofit agencies: A version for community partners to leverage for their own volunteer management, reporting and tracking purposes.
  5. Partnership Management: One place for different departments, clubs, programs and initiatives to track their own separate relationships with their unique partners.

The above abilities has enabled the institution and its broader community to come together using technology to scale their operations collectively. To view the Center for Community Engagement of the University of Arkansas’s portal, and how it’s implemented, you can visit https://uark.givepulse.com

To learn more, please let us know, we would be happy to introduce you to the UArk team and will be sharing more about collective impact and networks. 

In case you missed the recording or link at the top, here is a recent recording (Dec 2018) of UArk’s work:  https://zoom.us/recording/share/5RudjkvUw0kLqczTxl062fCBGCbESv-AkR969dOuKvGwIumekTziMw?startTime=1545418954000