From young gamers to loyal blood donors?


Tjeerd Piersma


On April 18 2019, Sanquin – the Dutch blood bank – received two prestigious Esprix non-profit marketing awards for their innovative #myfirstblood campaign. The campaign focused on the recruitment of young blood donors to ensure a sufficient blood supply in the coming years, as blood banks worldwide are faced with an aging donor population. During #myfirstblood, players of ‘League of Legends’ – an immensely popular video game with around 100 million players – could earn a new skin for their in-game character after they registered as blood donor. In a couple of months, Sanquin welcomed around 4,000 new donors. The campaign proved to be a great success. Or did it? How effective exactly was this recruitment campaign if we look at its long-term effects? Do these young gamers become loyal donors over time?

To be honest: we are not completely sure. With a lack of data-driven campaign evaluations in many blood banks, it is difficult to determine on the impact of recruitment campaigns on donor loyalty. Campaigns are typically evaluated by the same mechanism as what designs them: intuition. Does it feel good? Do we receive positive feedback? Than it must have been a great success. Yet, impact evaluations should not be guided by the subjectivity of the public, but by the objectivity of the data.

It is essential to make your donor recruitment and retention measurable. Loyal donors are the ones your organization can build on, but not everyone who starts donating will naturally become a loyal donor over time. Blood banks do not seem to realize this well enough. Sargeant and Hudson (2008) showed that, after a door-to-door solicitation for charitable giving, lapsed donors were more likely than active donors to report feeling pressured to donate money. Reaching out to the gaming community is an innovative strategy, but luring them in with a small incentive is not enough. Once these donors are in, they need adequate support in becoming loyal donors over time.

Recent analyses of the Dutch blood donor registry (Piersma & Klinkenberg, 2019) further supports this argument. For instance, donors recruited by telephone showed a five-year attrition rate of approximately 50 per cent. This is an extreme case. However, if 30 per cent decides to stop donating within five years, which still is quite an optimistic estimate, blood banks lose almost 50,000 donors. In saving time and money – donor recruitment is a costly endeavor – non-profits should work towards building steady relationships with their donors. Relationship fundraising is increasingly popular, yet the blood banking industry lags behind in implementing this strategy. The first steps in this process should be about collecting relevant donor data and segmenting your communication based on specific target groups. This facilitates the systematic adjustment of retention efforts, making it possible to reach out to your donors in a more personal way and make them feel connected to the organization.

So, what about the young gamers who registered as blood donors? They all got a new skin for their League of Legends characters, but will they take their kids with them to one of Sanquin’s donation centers in 20 years? I don’t think so. Only if we take donor retention as serious as donor recruitment, and start monitoring behavior and motivations throughout the donor career, we can effectively work towards a solid, reliable and young donor population in the future.

Tjeerd Piersma, Sanquin Research Center for Philanthropic Studies

Tjeerd will be speaking about ‘The role of the intermediary in fundraising’ at the upcoming 2019 ERNOP Conference.

The European Research Network On Philanthropy is an association of more than 200 academics aiming to advance philanthropy research in Europe. Learn more about their work by visiting the website and sign up to the quarterly newsletter.

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