The Biggest Lies The Red Cross Ever Told You About Donating Blood

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Photo by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash

The American Red Cross (ARC) is an amazing humanitarian organization. However, they have been lying to you for the longest time. When it comes to human blood, the ARC collects and supplies nearly half of the donated blood in the country, which it then sells to hospitals.

There is a common misconception that the Food and Drug Administration forbids paying for blood. The actual policy is that blood from paid donors must be labeled as such.

Nevertheless, there is no problem in giving you gift cards for a donation. The FDA doesn’t consider gift cards as payment, as long as they can’t be easily turned into cash. That is precisely why the Red Cross gives electronic gift certificates. In fact, as per below, they will provide you with a skimpy $5 gift card to donate:

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So, the Red Cross is giving you a $5 gift card, but only if you donate during a limited window. All other times, you get a t-shirt. To quote Matt Foley: la-dee-frickin-da!. Herein lie the problem. They aren’t donating your blood to hospitals. They’re selling your blood to hospitals. And yet, they provide no financial incentive for you to donate.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois is on her way to a mental hospital and utters the memorable line: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

For the longest time, the ARC has depended on the kindness of volunteers to supply their blood supply. Moreover, for the longest time, they have consistently complained about how precarious the blood supply is. The ARC implores donors to come to the blood banks, donate, and save lives. However, to depend on the kindness of strangers for a vital medical need is just as delusional as Blanche DuBois. Furthermore, while A Streetcar Named Desire is over 70 years old, the blood donor model is just as archaic.

The problem is not of supply, but lack of incentives. It is time to admit that the non-incentive volunteer model of blood donation does not work. It is also time for the ARC to come to their senses and know that the way to get people to do things is to incentivize them.

If they do not start incentivizing and sharing some of their profits, then they will stay as they have for the last half-century, with their failed tactic of altruism. It is time to end the altruism strategy and let incentivization work to fix the supply.

The ARC blood program thrives on the histrionics of shortages. They have no problem selling the blood to the hospitals. As is currently stands, blood donations rely on a minority of altruistic donors (such as me). Rather than rely on a minority, they can incentivize the notion of donating blood to solve the problem immediately.

The simple answer to get people to ARC donation centers is a simple process: make it an Amazon, Starbucks, or iTunes gift card, and that will solve the blood crisis in days. Once they provide more substantial compensation, problem solved,

Blood supplies will not be at a critical level, and donors would be appropriately rewarded. The lack of substantial compensation is directly what causes the shortages in supply.

The added costs for the added compensation would be insignificant, and advertising money that the blood banks use begging for donors would no longer be needed.

The research backs this up. In Economic Rewards to Motivate Blood Donations, Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto found that rewards such as gift cards do increase donations, and had no effect on blood safety. These nonmonetary incentives work according to Lacetera, and the paper indicates that gift cards can help end blood shortages.

There is a reason they are called blood banks, as the blood banks are (rightfully) profiting on the blood they process. If the ARC were interested in solving this blood crisis once and for all, they would reciprocate in kind to these blood donations. Something as simple as a $25 gift card is an easy and effective mechanism to ensure that blood shortages are a thing of the past.

I work in information security at Tapad. Write book reviews for the RSA blog, & a Founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance and Cybersecurity Canon.

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