Marketing blood donations

I give blood when I can. Not at the absolute two-month interval, but maybe two or three times a year.  I hate it, but I do it.

From my research (i.e., a quick Google search):

According to this CBS News story:

  • There are 111 million eligible blood donors in the United States, around 38% of the population.
  • Blood collection centers get 129 units of blood per 1000 eligible donors (presumably annually--article not specific)
  • The average donor gives 1.7 times a year

The article does not specify how many people donate in a given year. Dividing 129 units by 1.7 units per donor gives an average of 76 donors per 1000, or 7.6% of eligibles donating (feel free to check my math).

This Red Cross quick facts sheet says that "more than 38,000 blood donations are needed each day".  Right now, with 129 units per 1000 annually out of 111 million, it looks like we get a bit more than 39,000 daily donations.  So things are pretty tight, and blood doesn't keep. Incidentally, I could have used having these numbers more clearly stated.  How many people do donate in a year? Who are they?

So how do we increase the numbers?

Some people would never be willing to donate. Perhaps many people.  But there's a lot of space between my estimate of 7.6% of eligible donors actually donating and the theoretical maximum, even if that's only 15% of eligibles.  More per donor is one way to go, following the same principle that leads charities to call you if you gave in the past--you really are more likely to in the future than someone else.

And it has gotten easier to find out about drives in your area, though the Red Cross has a long way to go in making that system user friendly.

But giving blood is not a cultural imperative, like minimizing your carbon footprint or recycling or other barely useful or entirely useless things like that. That doesn't make sense. Blood has a real immediate benefit, unlike reusing milk jugs. It would seem a natural for a cultural revival.

Giving blood has to become cool. And it has to be visible. Some celebrities need to visibly donate. It needs to play a role in some popular TV shows. It probably needs some celebrity spokesperson.

I know this all sounds really cheesy.  But young people, particularly, need to get into the donation habit. It should be something college kids get together to do, two or three times a year. The Red Cross (or whoever is running the drive) should encourage group donations, with plans for what to do when one or more of the group is ineligible (and you can be ineligible for having had sex with someone in Africa a couple of decades ago, as one friend of mine discovered to his dismay). People who donate need to feel that same smug sense of superiority they get when they buy Fair Trade coffee.

What characterizes a blood donor? I answer a lot of questions about drug use, etc., when I donate, but no one collects any demographic information from me to establish a target market for increasing the donor pool (potential customers probably have a lot in common with current customers, "customers" in this case being donors). I presume there are skews in income, race, etc.  I presume the number per thousand is different in different areas. Does anyone collect that information?

So the Red Cross needs some innovative marketing. No escaping it.  Who is going to provide it?