All or Nothing: Advice on Finding the Perfect Blood Bank Partnerships

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For any not-for-profit or community supported organization you are only as good as your standing in the community. A sure way to screw up that support is by partnering with companies or products that are counter to your mission statement and that do not align with your goals. If it sounds like I am proposing you to steer clear of partners, you’ve been picking the wrong partners!  I am pleading for you to do it right, or not do it all.

What does it take do it right? Lend me a few moments of your time and I will walk you through some successes and failures I have encountered and more importantly the lessons learned.

I will go over three partnerships in this article that highlight some of the key components to finding a productive and successful blood bank partnerships. I have a good example, a “decent” example, and yes because I too have had partnerships that bombed I’ll share that as well. With any luck this will get you on a path to considering how your organization is using or misusing your partners and what you should and could be doing to make a better work environment for your staff, a better experience for your donors, and raise your awareness and perceived value in the community.

So before we begin digging into my experiences and what I have learned let’s make sure we have the fundamentals in place. For the larger blood collection agencies, those that are part of hospital systems or belonging to state funded program, some of this may seem rudimentary so feel free to jump ahead. But since I offer my advice to blood collection agencies of all sizes I want to make sure everyone understands the merits of S.M.A.R.T. approaches to not only the overall business strategy and planning but when it comes to selecting your partners too.


In the November 1981 issue of Management Review George T. Doran submitted a paper entitled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives“. In the paper he discussed the importance of objectives and why managers have such difficulty with them. A Google search for  “SMART Goals” ipulls up over 70 million hits. It is a very easy concept to grasp and outlines criteria I use for every single one of the partnership I initiate. I suggest you start here when you begin looking for a community partners to reach out to, because if your proposal for partnership meets the SMART criteria on your end odds are it will strike true with theirs as well.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

So after you have either familiarized or refreshed your knowledge of S.M.A.R.T. goals let’s jump into what kinds of elements and criteria a blood collection agency should be looking for.

Elements of a Good Partnership (Blood Collection Agency)

A blood collection agency is obviously looking for one key driver “units on the shelf”. There are numerous ways to achieve success at this; through promotions, giveaways, community blood drives, and depending on “the regulars” to come in. All of these are the back bone of what our industry has been doing for decades. So if this is working why mess with the formula? In reality we are not messing with the formula, we are adding a catalyst! Partnerships drive cost down, donor participation up, and when done in high enough volume send testing cost plummeting to their most efficient ratios. What agency out there could turn that down?

When I first started working for my agency we had no partners of note and they had reached a stale point. We were receiving a 2% growth each year for the previous 3 years. Within 5 years of taking over the partnerships and promotions department we were doing on average 18% growth per year. We were picking up new contracts to supply other regions and hospitals and were even contacted by the Red Cross to handle some of their regional deficits. I attribute this success, as did upper management, to our partners and our elevated profile from working with those partners.
“Give a little, get a lot.”

One of the biggest problems I run into time and time again is the “because we deserve it” attitude. Guess what, you don’t. The blood donor community is on to us, they are smarter than they were during the greatest generation and have access to more information than ever before in history. So no matter how you spin it, twist it, pop it; donors know that a profit is being made from selling their unit somewhere down the line. So wake up!

Be prepared to engage in a true partnership. Odds are if the donors know our “secret” our partners do too. Be open about it. Don’t undervalue yourself but get over the holy cause campaign because just like in any relationship no one wants to be reminded that they are not as valuable as their partner. Treat the partnerships like a relationship; try to accommodate one anothers’ goals and vision. Get outside the comfort zone of asking why we shouldn’t do this and instead ask what we will miss out on if we don’t.

Co-op Advertising

For the partners you will be working with they will be giving away free food, money, or advertising. Be sure you thank them publicly. If you do a mailing to donors make sure the partners logo is at least the same size as yours. They need something they can take back to their bosses, stock holders, customers and say “look, we supported this great cause”. You don’t have to sell out but if someone hands you hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash of gift-in-kind support make sure everyone knows about it. If it is a company that has a reputable background and high public standing it never hurts to be associated with them. Also logos are designed to be eye grabbing and catchy so if your logo is one of five on an ad people will perceive you to be of equal size and credibility, even if you are a one center operation.

Co-op advertising is a great way to do this. Basically each organization contributes for joint advertising space. It drops your cost while getting your message out at the same time and is a truly effective way to embrace a partnership.

“Outback is opening its new location at 123 Piedmont St., donate blood with “your blood collection agency” during the opening week and your appetizer is on Outback. Outback is happy to join and support our local community. Come see our new location on March 7th.”

Treat partners like you would any blood drive account

Partners, like your corporate and community drives need to have relationship mangers. Someone to cultivate and keep them involved. A disengaged partner is a lost partner. From my experience people want to help but if you only contact them and use them when we need something the return of support and time will dissipate quickly. Your blood drives have goals and it is ok to give and get your partners to an agreed upon level of success.

Like blood drive accounts, assign one point person to manage partnerships and make sure they are given management’s full support.

Test Case: Bad – Extreme Makeover Home Edition – Missing the Bus


Fans of ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition know that in conjunction with rebuilding a family’s home, the cast, crew and volunteers donate blood. I believe their regular partner was the American Red Cross for these projects. Well fortunately for my agency we received the call because the ARC was unable to accommodate what the producers of the show were looking for. So how does this opportunity for national recognition, a pool of willing donors, and a chance to meet Ty Pennington get messed up?

Surprisingly easy. In this particular case it happened because everyone wanted to be involved in the decision making. The Director did not include all the necessary parties and was unprepared for success. The calendar had an opening, we had the staff, but no one was appointed as point person so too many emails were being sent, and too many calls were being made, and producers who already have a ton of other logistical issues on their plate lost patience and said never mind. And like that the opportunity was shot and the bus that normally pulls away to reveal the new house also pulled away with an unprecedented chance to lift our profile and reach.

What was learned: Appoint one person when dealing with any project to lead. Depending on the size of your staff most managers have a pretty decent understanding and relationship with other departments. You know who your leaders are while they may not understand your department’s daily measurable they do understand the overall business.

Test Case: Middle – Baskin Robbins “Pint for a Pint” – Satisfaction May Vary


If you are in the blood collection industry and haven’t heard of Baskin Robbins “Pint for a Pint” program you are officially not plugged in, and in most cases will never even see this blog so I am not really concerned. It would be like making an Amish joke on TV, they will never find out about it.

“Pint for Pint” works pretty simply. Contact the seller, buy the coupons, give them to your donors, and they redeem them. This is a very elementary formula. The only downside which isn’t mentioned on any site or discussed on any email or call is that the individual owners and franchisee operators will regularly refuse them. This makes your company look bad, Baskin Robbins look really bad, and donors very pissed off. Now admittedly when we did this promotion we did in it a top 10 market. We are in an area with tons of locations and we made this the staple of our entire of summer campaign, which meant we were going to be handing these to anyone who donated during a 4 month period. But after numerous emails and phone calls we were forced to cut the promotion short.

The positive is it did help get some drives on the calendar. And for the community drives it did promote walk up attendance. Naturally, as with all things, when things work well we never hear about it, but when they don’t boy people will let you know. In total we probably had 15 emails and 8 calls complaining but for a risk adverse industry it was perceived as a washed campaign and one that was not repeated.

Test Case: Good – Merrifield Garden Center – Mother/Earth Day


A good and long lasting partnership that exemplified success was the one we held with our local gardening nursery. They have multiple locations across our territory and we understood what the other one wanted. Merrifield on an annual basis would provide us with $10 gift cards normally totaling around $5,000 in value and on Mother’s Day and Earth Day we would give them to our donors. They in turn would receive the business as $10 won’t buy you a bag of dirt but it might get you some seeds for your garden or give you a real good excuse to check out their locations. We included their logo on all emails and mailing we sent it out. It was an annual event and people would really look forward to it taking place. Some of the donor specialist (phlebotomist) would wear overalls or straw hats. It was light hearted and the management at Merrifield Garden was ecstatic to see the picture we would tag them in on Facebook or email to them on the day of.

When you seek out partners don’t go after the one’s everyone is going after; go after companies that are looking to give back and that want to grow. Odds are you don’t have a tremendous budget and neither do they but a free product (meal, hat, shirt, dessert) or service (oil change, tax consulting, etc.) they will likely be able to assist with, but like you they have goals and ideas on what they view as success. So make sure you partnerships are S.M.A.R.T. ones.

Lastly I will leave you with these 3 points:

  1. No discounts, BOGO’s, or other gimmicky BS
  2. Educate your staff – If a donor knows more about a promotion than a staff member you have failed. And if a staff member continually “didn’t see it” then maybe it is an opportunity for HR and their manager evaluate their interest in being a part of the team.
  3. Partnership done by the seat of your pants, like the seat of your pants, will probably stink.

Patron of Partnerships, Mentor to Marketers,
B.C. Thomas

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