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.”

GivePulse 2019: The Year in Review

GivePulse has had an incredibly exciting 2019! Between the product enhancements and business operation improvements, we’ve been investing further to ensure our platform performs as efficiently and effectively as possible to empower social good. We are so grateful to all of our clients and to all of the amazing volunteers and organizations whose work is making an impact in their communities! Read on to learn more about what we have accomplished this year. 

Product Updates

GivePulse continues to grow and improve constantly. Our fantastic team of engineers, in addition to working around the clock to ensure that any bugs are quickly fixed, have heard suggestions from clients, and have used these, along with their own ideas, to make GivePulse more intuitive and efficient. Early in the year, we combined the Sign-In app with the GivePulse app to make our mobile functions more extensive. We then made additional mobile app improvements on our administrative kiosk mode to collect additional custom fields, and added the abilities to verify impacts on the go and the usage of a QR Code for clock-in/out. If you haven’t yet, download the GivePulse app on iOS or Android so you can record and verify hours in addition to our mobile web responsive experience! In the spring and summer, we improved our SMS capabilities and calendar functionalities, particularly with the addition of a deeper integration with popular calendar applications like Google Calendar (email support@givepulse.com to learn more or to activate these additional functionalities!). Later in the year, we made significant improvement to our internships functionality to help scale placements for institutions. Beyond these, we have continued to make all aspects of our site more customizable (for example, we have added the ability to add images and tables to email templates, the ability to customize confirmation emails for each specific event, and an increase to the amount of recurrences allowed in a recurring event), among the many, many other changes we have had the chance to make. These are just the tip of the iceberg — for more updates, check out the Recent Updates section of our support portal, attend our product meetings, join our listserv by creating an account, or schedule a time to chat with us!

Conference Updates

This year saw us attending over 20 different  conferences, including IARSCLE, Gulf South Summit, The Impact Conference, Campus Labs Connect, and much much more. Some key takeaways from our time at these conferences includes the importance of hyperlocal engagement, the need for deep institutional commitment in order to sustain change, and the need to assess and tell stories about the work being done. We use what we learn at these conferences to aim enhancements and changes to GivePulse toward making the most effective and sustainable change, so we are always excited to learn from these fantastic opportunities! 

Content Updates

We were thrilled to get the chance to highlight the work of many of our incredible partners this year on our blog. This year, our spotlights focused on how GivePulse could be used at universities large and small, on how GivePulse is used to help engage communities to fight food waste and education inequity, and on amazing volunteers engaging with GivePulse. We also looked back on our team’s adventures and offered ideas for how to recruit volunteers and celebrate important holidays in community-oriented and engaging ways. We are excited to continue to spotlight our fantastic partners next year — we already have some great pieces in the works for you!

Team Updates

This year, we welcomed new engineers and business teammates to our Austin office, and have benefited from their insight and enthusiasm already. We can’t wait to see what is in store for this team next year! We certainly anticipate more eating and more bonding — and perhaps we will welcome some more folks to join us in these adventures next year. Stay tuned! 

With 2020 coming up, GivePulse is entering a new decade for the first time since its founding in 2012. Between 2012 and now, we have grown extraordinarily, and that is entirely due to the amazing efforts of folks who use our platform for the greater good. Let us know what you would like to see from 2020, and we can’t wait to connect with you in the new year! 

GivePulse Holiday Retreat — Reflecting, Relaxing, and Rallying for the New Year

With the end of the year (and the decade!) fast approaching, our team took a few days to rest, look back at our growth this year, and bond as a team. We gathered in beautiful Marble Falls, Texas, just over an hour outside of our home base of Austin. 


Although the week leading up to the retreat was chilly and grey, our holiday retreat was filled with sunshine and warmth, both from the people and the weather. Here’s a glance at our weekend, and some takeaways for companies hoping to encourage a productive and tight-knit team:

Rest Up

Clear air, rocking chairs, hammocks and rivers — between all of these elements, we were able to enjoy a truly restful few days. Our team took time to sit and talk on the comfortable porches, to watch beautiful sunsets, to play a game or two of soccer (as well as of Mafia), and to sing songs by a bonfire. All of these moments, while seemingly the most simple, were among the most important for our team. They drew us closer together, encouraging comfort and vulnerability that our team can call upon in the office whenever we have any questions, need help, or are excited to share good news.

Takeaway: It’s the quietest moments that can make all the difference in a busy office environment. Giving your team unstructured time helps them to forge the connections that will bring your company together in times of both stress and joy.

Eat Up

Whenever we gather together, we enjoy preparing and eating big meals (see, for example, our recent Worksgiving)! When we arrived at Marble Falls on Friday afternoon, we immediately set about preparing dinner — and snacking in the meantime. Every day, our team worked together to prepare, cook, and clean, always looking for ways that we could help, checking in with one another to plan an efficient and delicious process. And at night, we sat down for family dinners together, laughing over wine and food, sharing stories and hopes in our cozy cabin. Cooking highlight: five hours spent making delicious mutton and chicken karahi! All agreed that the end result was well worth the time. 


Takeaway:Food brings us together, and cooking as a group teaches us to delegate tasks and consider ways to nurture one another. These are skills that are vitally important both in and out of the office, and will help your team to work together efficiently while never losing track of the people that your work nurtures at the end of the day.

Team Up

On Saturday, we spent the day at Candelight Ranch, a nonprofit offering outdoor opportunities to special needs and at-risk children. Here, the wonderful volunteers guided us through team building exercises that solidified our belief that there’s nothing the GivePulse team can’t do. Some highlights from this day include resourcefulness on the island-hopping activity, where a lost wooden plank couldn’t dampen the good mood as we hopped from platform to platform; support as we helped one another over a sheer wooden wall, helping our team to learn that we were capable of more than we even believed; and facing fears through ziplining and the Canyon Crawl, a tightrope walk across the canyon! We also, of course, enjoyed befriending some four-legged friends through horse groundwork.

Takeaway: Our team worked closely together in a setting that pushed us all outside of our comfort zone — and in doing so, we learned the power of positivity, listening, problem-solving together, and pushing ourselves past our perceived limits. These are all critical skills to a productive, vibrant, and efficient work environment!

Gear Up

This retreat gave us the opportunity to gear up for next year. We did so by looking back at some of the highlights from this year (learning and sharing more about our rockstar volunteers, nonprofits, universities, and corporations; improving both our mobile and web presences, particularly through advances to our app, our corporate matching platforms, and our internship capabilities; growing our team of incredible engineers and success managers), and used this period of reflection to think about what comes next. We are excited to continue growing our team of incredible, community-motivated individuals, and to continue working toward our mission of transforming everyone into engaged citizens. 

Takeaway: At the end of the year, make sure to reflect over the many advances you have made, and to share your appreciation for the growth your team has enabled. Sharing this love and gratitude will give everyone the boost they need to engage whole-heartedly in the New Year, helping you to meet your 2020 goals. 

With a team like this, we know we can’t go wrong. For any office, time spent relaxing together is crucial to maintaining individual mental health and to strengthening the company. In the end, this time spent resting together is indicative of what is most important to GivePulse — people. 

We hope that you have the chance to rest this holiday season and to spend time with the people you love most. Keep an eye out for an upcoming product summary of GivePulse in 2019, and we look forward to sharing more stories in the New Year!