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Informing donors about the use of their previous donations improves donor retention and blood supply

13 October 2023
Blood donation service, photo by Nguyễn Hiệp on Unsplash

Blood donation services should inform donors about the use of their last donation in order to increase future donations. A new study by Edlira Shehu (Professor of Digital Marketing, University of Groningen) in collaboration with Besarta Veseli and Michel Clement from the University of Hamburg and Karen Page Winterich from Penn State University sheds light on this effective strategy to improve future donations. When blood services tell donors when and where their last donation was used, it strengthens the perceived relationship between donors and the blood donation service and improves donor retention. 

The implications of Edlira Shehu and colleagues' findings are significant. Their study shows that appeals based on past donation use lead to an increase in blood donations of more than 11% for inactive donors and more than 9% for active donors. It's worth noting that this effect is even more pronounced among experienced donors who have already established a relationship with the blood donor service. Timing is important: if these appeals are sent too close to the donor's next potential donation date, the past donation effect weakens. Why? Because donors interpret it as a marketing tactic rather than a genuine relationship-building gesture. Understanding these dynamics can have a significant impact on saving lives through a robust blood supply.

Chronic blood shortage

Blood donations can save lives, but blood cannot be produced artificially. In the United States alone, someone needs blood every two seconds, resulting in a daily requirement of 37,000 blood units. However, only a fraction of those eligible actually step up to donate, leading to a chronic shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Retention of existing donors is therefore vital to blood donation services, but these donors are often unaware of what happens to their donations. If blood isn't used within six weeks, it is discarded, and donors remain uninformed. Even when a blood donation is used, the recipients of these donations remain anonymous. Without information about the use of their donation, donors may not feel valued by the blood donation service and may be less likely to donate again if blood donation services such as the Red Cross do not provide them with feedback.

Increasing blood donations

Professor of Digital Marketing Edlira Shehu: “Our research reveals a transformative finding. When donors learn that their contribution has helped someone in need, their motivation to donate again increases. This finding is confirmed in three real-world studies with the Austrian and German Red Cross, supported by an online experiment. We worked with the Austrian Red Cross, to see if nearly 75,000 people who had donated in the previous two years would give blood again. They were either simply thanked or they also were given specific information about the date their blood was used and the name of the hospital where it was used. Those who received specific information were 10% more likely to donate again than those in the thanks-only group. In another study with the German Red Cross, information was sent to more than 16,000 people who had not donated blood for over two years. They were either thanked for their previous donation, thanked and told how their blood was used, or thanked and told how their next donation would be used. The effect of these messages on the likelihood that these former donors would donate again was measured.”

The ‘past donation use effect’ has the potential to save countless lives by increasing blood donations. The research by Shehu and colleagues thus makes a strong case for the strategic inclusion of past donation use in donor appeals by blood donation services. Not only is the use of donor tracking required by law, but it also requires negligible additional costs and efforts on the part of the organization. Shehu: “The modest costs associated with content personalization can be seamlessly integrated into the interface between marketing and medical databases. Moreover, these costs are practically negligible when digital communication channels are used.”

More Information

Read the full article (open access): Shehu, E., Veseli, B., Clement, M., & Winterich, K. P. (2023). Improving Blood Donor Retention and Donor Relationships with Past Donation Use Appeals. Journal of Service Research, 0(0).

Questions? Please contact Edlira Shehu

Last modified:13 October 2023 1.06 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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