New blood drive model proves effective

Blood drives at Washington University have come a long way in a short amount of time. Contention between blood banks, four-day-long drives and limited appeal have been replaced by efficient one-day, campus-wide drives at numerous University locations, which have garnered massive support from students, faculty and staff. The next drive is March 25.

In fact, the first four drives under the new model, created by the Community Service Office and first held last academic year, tripled the amount of blood donated during the entire previous year.

The next University-wide drive will be held March 25. For more information, locations and times, go to

When Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office and associate director of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service, started at the University in 1998, the drives were operated by three blood banks, which were very competitive for blood donors. According to her, it was not a very productive environment and led to, at most, around 800 units of blood per year.

“When you break that down over 16 drives a year, it’s really a small amount of blood per drive,” Kurtzman said. “The amount of time the blood banks were putting in was not yielding the results it should have. Yes, any amount of blood is great, but it wasn’t a good use of their time and it wasn’t bringing in the amount of blood that our region needs.”

So her office began to think creatively about how to better the drives and attract more attention on campus.

First, a staff member was added to help focus energy on blood drives. Sarah Tillery, coordinator for community service, started in late summer 2007 and works with blood drives as part of her duties.

The group also managed to bring the blood banks together.

“The fact that they come together regularly for our meetings is something that just would not have happened a few years ago,” said Kurtzman, referring to the American Red Cross and Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center. “They are cooperating and collaborating in a way that is probably unprecedented even on the national level.”

The blood banks appreciate the University’s excitement about the drives.

“MVRBC considers the blood drives at Washington University to be a tremendous opportunity to showcase the mission of all blood centers, including our own, at a venue which is so highly regarded throughout the area and the entire country,” said Patrick Fenton, director of operations for Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center- St. Louis. “We are grateful to those with whom we work at the university for their commitment to saving lives through blood donation and the great enthusiasm they bring to every blood drive held during the school year.”

Kurtzman said that over the years she’s learned that for blood banks, blood is the bottom line. But encouraging the blood banks to work together with the University was a lesson in the power of collaboration and thinking proactively.

With partial funding from the two banks, the Community Service Office was able to hire a student intern, sophomore Michael Dango, to help focus energy and involvement in the blood drives.

The renewed interest has worked. During the 2007-08 academic year, 1,816 productive unites of blood were donated, compared to 609 in the 2006-07 academic year.

The theme of the March 25 drive is “What’s Your Reason?” Organizers hope to emphasize individual stories and focus on the ways people are affected by blood donation.

“We want people to tell their stories about why they are donating,” said Dango. “We want to give people an opportunity to interact more with the blood drive and reflect on why it is they are donating.”

So why donate blood? According to the American Red Cross, each year more than 4.5 million American lives are saved by blood transfusions. Every two seconds, someone in America needs blood. One in three people will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime and there is no substitute for human blood.

“I’m donating blood because my wife was in serious accident and received more than 24 units of blood in first two days following the accident, said Ted Reising, hazardous materials technician in Environmental Health & Safety on the Danforth Campus. “She has had several blood transfusions since then. She is no longer able to give blood so I am just trying to say thanks for this life saving gift.”

A key reason for the success of the new blood drive model is the tireless work of student and staff volunteers, Dango said. “We’ll end up collecting at least as many, if not more, units of blood this year because we have great student volunteers who’ve really gotten on board and starting owning this project as something they can carry forward and to keep it fresh and exciting,” he said.

Volunteers help with event publicity and staffing the day of the event.

Sophomore Eric Wang, blood drive team leader, said volunteering is a great way to stay involved. “I think giving blood is an easy thing that people can do to make a big difference,” he said. “I’m not able to donate this year due to being out of the country for a study abroad program, but I thought volunteering would be a great way to say active in the process.”

The new blood drive model also provides drives at many campus locations, making it easier for staff and faculty to get involved, as they don’t have to go very far to participate.

Kurtzman said there is never any pressure to donate. “There are many ways to be involved,” she said. “Volunteering the day of the event is a great one, and anyone in the University community can do that. Blood drives are something the entire community can become involved in, either as volunteer or donor. Blood is a unifier- its something we all have in common and we all need.”