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How COVID-19 May Have Permanently Changed Donor Recruitment

May 5, 2021 at 4:34 pm

By Karen Hendryk, Donor Recruitment Manager

Immediate Impact of COVID

Though March 2020 was when an official pandemic was declared, February 2020 was when SBC was hit with one of the most significant challenges thus far: cancellation of blood drives.

Prior to spring of last year, SBC collected more than half of all its blood products from mobile blood drives out in the community. In addition to the simple fact that they provide an avenue for lots of donations, mobiles are also very important because they are the number one way we are introduced to new donors and thereby expand our donor base, which is critical to a healthy blood supply over time.

But as early as February, blood drive coordinators began cancelling blood drives, in part because of fear of the virus (remember, we were still learning about transmissibility in those early days) and in part because the facilities where they were scheduled simply were no longer allowing outside visitors in an attempt to curb the spread.

Despite best attempts by our Recruitment team and even our Medical Director to talk through these concerns and work to get special permission to continue hosting drives at these locations, cancellation requests flooded in. For just the first week of shelter in place, we went from 15 drives to zero. The week of March 22, canceled drives resulted in a loss of more than 350 projected units (pints) needed to support patients.


Changed Landscape of Blood Drives

Thanks to the support of our community and many of our existing donors, we have been able to get through the past year. But it hasn’t been easy, and it is unlikely that our operating model will ever return to what it was pre-pandemic.

The largest shift we are seeing and that we are expecting to have a long-lasting impact is tied to the shift in workplace blood drives. Previously, roughly 65% of our mobiles were hosted at large businesses in the area. However, as a result of COVID-19, many businesses moved workers to a remote or hybrid model and have decided to stay with that model indefinitely, meaning there are less people onsite to donate at any given time.

Similar to this is a lack of bandwidth and resources to host blood drives. In the past, nearly every blood drive we hosted was spearheaded on the company or partnering organization side by a Blood Drive Coordinator (BDC), a community organizer who did the heavy lifting spreading the news about the drive within their organization. BDCs are key because they can tap into existing contacts and channels that we as SBC team members do not have or know of within the organization. But, over time, we have seen less and less ability for our BDCs to commit to their position, resulting in even more challenges for filling appointment slots at the few drives that are still running.


Our Response

While we would ideally be able to monitor these trends closely and ride the wave until things go “back to normal,” unfortunately, patients’ need for blood is and has been at a record high for months, and we have had to act quickly. In order to meet need, we have shifted our organizational resources and tactics and have tried multiple creative approaches to making up for these lost collections.

The biggest shift, which you may be able to see from our blood drive schedule, is a new reliance on “community drives,” which are defined as drives that are simply at a communal area in a Bay Area city and are not associated with a certain organization or school. These drives have been commonly referred to in the blood donation industry as “park and prays” since it can be a bit of a gamble to see if folks will show up since the audience you are targeting with the drive is much more general.

It’s also more of a challenge to collect at these drives because now more than ever we are moving to a model without BDCs; while we would love to have BDCs, we simply are not getting enough interest or commitment from the community right now, so our internal SBC Recruitment team members have had to entirely change the way they plan and organize blood drives and get much more creative with how they advertise drives in new areas — talking to local businesses, relying on local papers and reaching out to total strangers in the hopes that donors will show up.

Though this model is not ideal, at this point in time, we feel this is the way donor recruitment is moving, and it’s our best shot at maintaining a healthy blood supply for our patients. In the meantime, though, we are still missing a lot of first-time donors. It will take some time to grow and expand these drives, and while we are committed to doing the work, this interim period means we are relying more heavily on our existing donor base than we have in recent years.

So, you may notice or have already noticed an increase in emails from us about critical need. We wish we could say this is simply a marketing technique but, in truth, we can’t rely on drive collections nearly as much as we used to, and we can’t rely on new donors to fill those appointment slots. In short, we have less donors to call on to meet a very high patient need. As we navigate this rebuilding period, we are so incredibly grateful to those of you who have been heeding the call and donating more frequently so we can continue supporting patients.


How You Can Help

As we  keep working to get back on our feet, there are a few ways that your help is essential.

  1. Donate as often as you can. We know that everyone’s lives are crazy right now, and we hate to ask for more from our community. But, if all of our existing donors committed to just one more donation each year, there would always be enough blood on the shelves. If you can, please challenge yourself to donate with more frequency, even if it’s just one more time than you usually would in a certain period. Aiming to make it into our Four Seasons or Ten Times Club (platelet donors) and get a neat, collectible thank-you gift is a great way to start!
  2. Spread the word about donation. First-time donors are much more likely to come to SBC through blood drives, but they’re also much more likely to come to us when recommended by a friend. It has been shown that a person is 4x more likely to do an activity when they are encouraged by a friend or loved one. So, next time you’re going in to donate, please consider asking someone new to tag along.
  3. Consider becoming a Blood Drive Coordinator. While it’s awesome if you have a strong network of coworkers, or have a social club you belong to, or have access to an email list at your congregation, for example, the most important thing in a BDC is commitment to supporting patients. If you’re willing to take that extra step to help coordinate a blood drive, we want to assure you we will work with you every step of the way. Being a BDC is a great way to expand your own network and really amplify the impact you have on patients. Learn more here.


While this article lays out plainly where we are now and where we think we are going in the future, I want to acknowledge that all of this is constantly changing. At any point something entirely unexpected could happen once again, and we could have to quickly rearrange our strategy and have an entirely new outlook. But, the one thing that has remained solid throughout this entire experience is ours and our donors’ dedication to our mission of providing hope for healing to local patients. Without your commitment, we would not have been able to recover from this blow to blood drives and to many other unexpected challenges we have faced over the past year. I am continually amazed by how, even when it seems we are at our lowest point and we are not sure how we will recover, our donors step up and show up. From the bottom of my heart, I am so thankful for your compassion and dedication, and I know that we will continue to meet patient need when we work together.