Direct Marketing May Be a Shot in the Arm for Red Cross

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With the nation's blood supply at critically low levels, the American Red Cross, steward of one-half of that supply, has embarked on its first national direct marketing campaign, targeting current and previous American Red Cross donors.


The campaign, based on the success of similar campaigns on the regional level, kicked off in late October with 500,000 direct mail pieces that are to be sent over a four-week period.


The American Red Cross, with a national database of more than 12 million individuals, has selected 500,000 people based on the reported needs of its 36 regions nationwide. The campaign was created by Beaver Design Group, Exton, PA, and produced by Huntsinger-Jeffer, Richmond, VA.


"We're especially targeting type O donors because type O is the most universally utilized blood type, and there's the greatest demand [for it] from hospitals," said Mary Carugati, senior director of donor marketing at American Red Cross Biomedical Services, which deals with blood collection and blood products.


Urgent "donorgrams" have been customized according to donors' history. Donors who have given blood only once are asked, "Even though you've only donated once before, can we count on you?" Lapsed donors are asked, "Even if you haven't donated in a while, can we count on you?" Frequent donors are asked, "As a committed blood donor, can we count on you?"


"We've found that donors are more likely to respond when the message is targeted to their specific situation," Carugati said.


The campaign has a three-step approach: Direct mail pieces are being sent out over a four-week period, followed by four weeks of outbound telerecruitment calls, followed by a reminder call for all those who have scheduled appointments. Carugati said the Red Cross does not yet have a "centralized blood donor schedule." Therefore, if people want to respond immediately after receiving the initial letter, they have to call a toll-free number, 800-Givelife, to schedule an appointment.


Three months after the campaign concludes, the Red Cross will go back to its database and measure how many of the people contacted have actually given blood.


"Blood donation is especially challenging," Carugati said. "We're not only asking people to give of their time, we're asking people to give what is essentially a part of them."


What's more, there is no typical blood donor -- which is both "good news and bad news," said Carugati. It's easy to donate -- donors have to be healthy, at least 17 years old and weigh more than 110 pounds -- but donors are "difficult to prospect."


"It's an emotional and personal decision to give life to someone else, a decision driven by values, personal commitment and ideals," Carugati said. "We need people who want to help and can visualize the people they are helping."


Carugati said people are "hard-pressed not to donate" when they understand the compelling need for blood. The direct mail piece will elevate that need with testimonials from patients -- "people whose lives have been saved by unknown blood donors."


Despite an overall increase in blood donations this year, only 5 percent of eligible Americans donate blood, according to the Red Cross. With population increases, improved medical procedures and more complex surgeries, the need for blood keeps growing.


"Direct marketing will play an ever-increasing role because there is an ever-increasing demand for blood," Carugati said. "This is the first of many direct marketing tests that are planned."
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