An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Maxine Nunes | January 9, 2020
There’s a lot of excitement at the City of Hope Blood Donor Center these days, and snatches of conversation can wax a bit, well, millennial. The air buzzes with talk of Instagram, Facebook, batch texting. It’s all part of a new donor recruitment strategy — and as a result, donation appointments have increased 81%.
 
“It’s really awesome. We’ve entered the digital world, and it has helped incredibly,” said Kasie Uyeno, manager of donor recruitment. “It has moved us closer to our goal of having 100 people a day walk through our door.”
 
It’s not there yet, but posts and ads on social media, as well as search engine optimization, have helped enormously. Batch-texting former donors takes a fraction of the time phone calls do — with far more responses. And it’s easier than ever to make an appointment at idonateblood4hope.org or on the new City of Hope Blood Donor Center app, now available for download on Google Play and in the App Store.  
 
It did take a while for the center to learn the social media ropes. In 2018, when donations were desperately needed for transfusions, it posted a call to action on Facebook showing a photo of the empty blood bank refrigerator. There were a handful of shares, a few “sad face” and “heart” reactions, and not a single comment.
 
“Then we started investing more time and energy into connecting with our donors online. We linked our Facebook and Instagram pages and did a lot of other little tweaks that created all this synergy, and the difference was huge,” said Uyeno. “Five months later, we posted the same call to action and photo and got 267 shares and lots of reactions and comments.”

The numbers tell a compelling story

How much of a change has digital media made for the Blood Donor Center? In April 2018, there were 679 donor appointments. One year later, in April 2019, there were 1,230.
 
Donors, of course, must be screened, so every appointment doesn’t result in a donation — but one donor can provide up to three donated products, and those 1,230 donors yielded 1,157 units of blood and platelets.
 
It’s a huge improvement — but there are still not enough donors to provide City of Hope with all of the blood and platelets it needs each month.
 
“The treatments we provide here — radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants — require a lot more transfusion support than other treatments,” said Uyeno. “There are patients whose lives depend on these transfusions until their body can produce blood and platelets on its own.”
 
In the last six months at City of Hope, an average of 75 to 80 units of platelets were transfused each day — but platelets have a shelf life of only five days, and up to three of those days are taken up by infectious disease testing. When supplies run short, they must be purchased from other blood banks at a cost that runs as high as $700,000 a month, money that could otherwise be used for research.

It’s all about connecting with people

“Blood supplies are really about connecting with people. You can’t just go to Costco and buy your platelets in bulk,” said Uyeno. “You really have to connect with other human beings and understand what motivates them to donate.”
 
The City of Hope Blood Donor Center is known for its cheerful atmosphere and great relationship with donors, and people who first donate to help a particular patient often become regulars. Every donor receives a gift, such as a movie ticke,; Starbucks or In-N-Out gift card, or a T-shirt. And for committed donors, there are milestone celebrations, as well as an annual donor appreciation lunch.
 
Because this human connection is so important, the new Blood Donor Center app has been designed for donors and patients to interact by sharing their personal stories.

Cancer doesn’t take a break

“When you’re donating blood and platelets, you’re actually giving life,” said Uyeno. “We don’t need you to pick up a checkbook. We just need people. We need people to care.”
 
During the winter months, blood and platelet supplies are at their lowest, so there’s a greater-than-ever need for donors. As January is Blood Donor Awareness Month, it’s a great time to make an appointment at idonateblood4hope.org on the new City of Hope Blood Donor Center mobile app or by calling 626-218-7171.

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