Never mind turnips. Can you get blood from a donor?

Frank Prosnitz can… and he told me how it’s done.

Every couple of months, I get a call from very nice lady at the Rhode Island Blood Center. She doesn’t want much. Just my blood. Again. And I always say “yes.”

How can one nonprofit literally draw blood from donors’ veins every two months, year after year, while so many others can’t keep a cash donor from one year to the next? Why is it easier and more satisfying for me to let a someone repeatedly stick a needle in my arm than it is to write one check per year to my college?

I’ve decided it’s because the Blood Center keeps it real. Real people need my blood, my real blood. I endure real (but quite modest) pain and personal sacrifice for the privilege of helping. In return, the Blood Center really makes me feel appreciated and worthy.

I called Frank Prosnitz, Director of Public Relations at the Rhode Island Blood Center to learn more. Our regional Blood Center collects 100,000 pints of blood and blood products from 55,000 donors each year, supplying all Rhode Island hospitals and several in Massachusetts and Connecticut with all the blood they use. Frank says RIBC gets blood donations from seven percent of all people who could possibly donate within the Blood Center’s service area, a pretty amazing market penetration.

Peer pressure at local blood drives and personal connections to a friend or relative needing blood lead to the largest numbers of first-time blood donations. Still, as with fundraising, lots of first-time donors are also one-time donors. Getting a second donation opens is the key to long-term donor loyalty.

It’s mainly thanks to habitual blood donors like me that hospitals associated with the RI Blood Center  rarely encounter the kinds of blood shortages that occur in other parts of the U.S. That gives “lifetime value” some extra resonance.

So just how does the The Blood Center make an invasive medical procedure into a satisfying habit?

1. Convenience. The Blood Center will come to you, at your congregation, school or workplace. Or, you can come to one of five Blood Center locations. Few Rhode Islanders live more than 15 minutes from a Blood Center. I donate at the Providence Blood Center, about 10 minutes from my house.

2. (Gentle) aggressiveness. That nice lady at the Blood Center’s call center never gives up. If I ever fail to show for an appointment, I can count on her call the next day. She doesn’t mention my lapse. I know what I (haven’t) done. She just gives me another chance to do the right thing. Contrast that with the “let’s not bother our donors” attitude at some nonprofits.

3. Promotion.The Blood Center prefers need-based, problem-solving appeals to incentives. Their “Count Me In” campaign focused on solving the traditional drop in summer donations. They simply askied every spring donor to agree on the spot to make one more donation during the usually slow summer months. This July’s collections were double those of last year.

4. Thank-yous. The Blood Center doesn’t offer incentives. But they do know how to say “thank-you.” The blood techs say “thank you.” The receptionist says “thank you”. Random people in the hall say “thank you.” If you need a mug, they’ve got a thank-you mug for you, or a fine art print by a local artists.  I really don’t need another mug or print. But keep the thank-yous coming!

5. Impact. Donor impact doesn’t get much more direct or important than this: give blood, save a life. The Blood Center shares regular profiles of blood recipients to show me the people who enjoy more years of life thanks to blood donations like mine.

6. Donor experience. The persistent and sincere expression of thanks is just one way the Providence Blood Center makes my visits satisfying. The Center has invested in comfort over the past few years, with major upgrades to furniture and decor in the reception, donation and recovery areas. TVs are everywhere, but kept silent with subtitles on so that I can chat, read or watch The Today Show as the mood strikes me. The staff clearly enjoy their work and each other and are always ready to include me in their banter. They can’t make taking a needle fun, but they do make it as comfortable and brief as possible.

For some people, a visit to the Blood Center is a social experience. They know the staff by name and where their children god to school. They get to know their fellow donors. Frank tells me about one married couple that comes in every other Monday to donate platelets. They call it their “date night.”

My own donor loyalty to the Blood Center is all about the cookies.  I really don’t need sugar to recover from blood loss, just fluids. But I do need those sweet shortbread treats at the end to make my personal blood donor experience complete and to provide just the little bit of anticipated self-indulgence I need to say “yes” when that nice lady calls again.

2 responses to Never mind turnips. Can you get blood from a donor?

  1. Jeffrey Herman

    Hello Jon,

    I feel exactly the same way about the RI Blood Center. I recently hit 30 gallons, primarily as a platelet donor. It’s something I look forward to doing every two weeks. If I need to reschedule because I’m not feeling well, I get upset because I know the need is great. Even if those warm cookies didn’t exist, I’d still receive immense pleasure by donating. It’s what I do :~)

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