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From idea to initiative: launching UCSF’s campus-wide volunteer program

It’s no secret that the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) sets a high bar for research and reputation. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked the university in the top 20 of their 2017 Best Global Universities. University leaders also continuously illustrate their commitment to attract and retain the best students and faculty to deliver on the university’s overarching mission: to advance health worldwide.

In 2015, UCSF’s Campus Life Services (CLS) leadership development cohort saw an opportunity to help fulfill the institution’s mission and commitment to go beyond exceptional. Although there were siloed ways for employees to volunteer in the community, the CLS team found there was no central source for UCSF employees to do so. A centralized, easy method for employees to connect with the community would further deliver on UCSF’s Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Excellence (PRIDE) values, enhance teamwork and purpose across departments, and give back to the local community.

As with many large, campus-wide initiatives, the team experienced some initial challenges in developing a volunteer program for the entire university. With such a complex environment, it was difficult to determine where to begin.

Other UCSF departments had taken an approach called “Lean” to successfully overcome campus-wide challenges. Seeing impressive results from those efforts, the CLS team decided to use Lean to develop a strategy for the volunteer program. Lean is a way of working and acting based on principles and tools that increases value to customers, identifies and reduces sources of waste, and creates a respectful environment for all people, at all levels.

The CLS team kicked off the project in November 2016 with a facilitated workshop, a standard approach that was led by a Lean Practitioner from Haley & Aldrich. In advance of the workshop they identified three objectives:

  1. Develop a strategy for the volunteer program to overcome the challenges it faced
  2. Clearly identify goals, desired outcomes, roles, and responsibilities
  3. Create a roadmap with clear priorities to help execute the strategy

Starting with value

Throughout the one-day workshop the team participated in a structured Lean process, using various Lean tools and approaches to reach their desired outcomes. The team kicked off the workshop with an extrospection rather than an introspection — thinking about who would participate in a volunteer program, and what they would value in a successful program. To build a program that would enable participants to appreciate this value, the CLS team envisioned what a successful program would look like, and what they needed to do to get there. Through this they identified the most important priorities of the program to work on, including:

  • Creating a persuasive business case for senior leadership to ensure alignment on the importance of this initiative
  • Identifying internal resources to help launch the program
  • Determining budgetary needs and funding source(s)
  • Understanding volunteer organizations’ requirements and criteria for participating
  • Defining processes for both the volunteer and the organizations to whom the volunteers would offer their time
  • Engaging stakeholders in the process
  • Marketing the program
  • Defining policies
  • Learning about how this program might integrate with existing programs and initiatives

The group identified what capabilities they needed in order to fulfill these initial requirements, and together generated 22 tangible ideas to work on that would help them execute. Of these, they prioritized nine approaches to work on first – those that the team rated as highest impact and lowest difficulty.

During the workshop, the group also created a high-level process map for volunteers and the volunteer organizations so that the process would be clear, and the team could easily figure out what documentation and resources would be needed for volunteers to have a successful experience.

The group left the workshop with prioritized next steps to launch a thoughtful, strategic volunteer pilot program. The participants reflected that they accomplished a lot in a single day, felt that they had more concrete steps and clarity around a roadmap, and really liked using Lean tools and principles to help them move forward.

Laura Ishkanian, UCSF’s Wellness Program Manager, noted: “It’s hard to get a team of nine people on the same page. We had a million ideas of what to do to get started in building a volunteer program. The initial facilitated session really helped us to identify the “must-dos’ and to develop a streamlined plan with clear roles and responsibilities.”

After the workshop the CLS team got to work and over a one-year period accomplished the following using the roadmap developed during the workshop:

  • Developed an impressive webpage and showcased opportunities for volunteers to participate
  • Provided resources, such as a toolkit for managers, to organize volunteer events for their teams
  • Connected UCSF employees to volunteer resources
  • Received approval and endorsement from stakeholders, including the UCSF CLS Executive Team, based on a thoughtful business case
  • Obtained resources to support the launch and maintenance of a website for volunteer inquiries
  • Launched a pilot program to learn from what worked well, and what could be improved

Beyond an idea

The CLS team regrouped one year after the initial workshop to participate in a second full-day, facilitated workshop. The goal of the second workshop was to evaluate the pilot program and determine how to move the program from pilot phase to campus-wide.

Danielle Cambier, UCSF’s CLS Project Manager, reflected about the pilot program: “We work in teams every day at the office, but you see a new side to your peers when you leave the office and volunteer in the community together. It is a fun way to bond with your teammates and feel good at the same time, and we’re hearing that from the pilot volunteers.”

UCSF’s CLS team recently volunteered to sort
oranges, apples, and cabbage at the SF-Marin Food Bank.

In the second workshop the team, again using a Lean process and tools, determined the next steps and road map needed to move the program from pilot to campus-wide launch. The next steps identified included implementing marketing efforts to help managers learn about the program, introducing the program to others in senior leadership positions, and integrating the program into existing initiatives and programs.

The CLS team also determined metrics to measure the success of the program including how many people volunteer, how many people return as “repeat volunteers,” and how staff engagement scores change over time. The team is well on their way to a successful campus-wide launch.

Starting a campus-wide initiative is overwhelming, but by gathering stakeholders and taking a customer-centric approach, the UCSF CLS team has taken an idea for a program and turned it into something that will enhance the campus community and bolster UCSF’s mission. A Lean approach turned this ambitious, unfunded idea into a sound program with a strategy, business case and funding – all of which would have been much more difficult otherwise.

To learn more about how colleges and universities are using Lean on campus, read my blog post from August 2017 titled, “How three campus facilities management departments are using Lean to do more with less.”

Published: 2/27/2018


Meredith Hargreaves

Senior Lean Practitioner