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Transfusion Bulletin

How to Start a Voluntary Donor Organisation

Author(s): Mr. Niels Mikkelsen

Vol. 12, No. 2 (2004-08 - 2004-08)

Why start voluntary donor organisations?

The main reason for starting a voluntary donor organisation is to ensure self-sufficiency in your country with blood and blood-products from voluntary, anonymous and non-remunerated blood donors - in accordance with recommendations from the W.H.O, the I.S.B.T. and the Council of Europe. Experience in a number of countries has shown, that direct personal contact is the most efficient way of recruiting new blood donors – and to retain donors. To ensure many personal contacts you need a large number of people, who can contact other people. This is why a large number of volunteers is necessary for recruiting and retaining donors.

Volunteers should be motivated and trained, be recognized and proud of belonging to your blood system. Voluntary donor organisations can be instrumental in recruiting and retaining such volunteers – both at the local level and at the national level

A national organisation of voluntary blood-donors can co-operate internationally with other voluntary blood-donor organisations within the International Federation of Blood Donor Organisations (IFBDO/FIODS) and share the expertise within that organisation. The IFBDO seeks self-sufficiency in each country, and tries to promote the principle of non-remunerated donation and to stop for commercial exploitation of blood in all countries.


When your country has become self-sufficient with blood and blood-products, the population will benefit from a safer - and cheaper - treatment with blood and blood products. Patients will also be able to benefit from the newest treatments with blood-products.

For some donors, blood donation provides higher self-esteem and social contacts while contributing to the needs of their country and of fellow human beings. This applies especially to young donors, who can give blood and “sweat” – even if they are studying, unemployed and have no money at-all! Participation in the work of a donor organisation gives social contacts and a feeling of responsibility for a small, but vital part of society. Organisational development is a good training for participation in a democratic society – and for the development of a culture of cooperation and solidarity.

The context of voluntary blood donation:

The WHO, the Council of Europe and the I.S.B.T. all recommend, that each country should be self-sufficient in blood and blood-products provided by voluntary anonymous and unpaid blood-donors. This goal was achieved several years ago in a number of countries, but unfortunately many countries around the world are still in (a desperate) need for blood (see WHO statistics inthe WHO database).

Please understand, that many blood banks have problems recruiting unpaid blood donors, and that paid donation may be necessary to meet (some of) the demand for blood and blood-products. At the same time, several countries are being haunted by commercial blood and plasma-collection, which undermines national self-sufficiency and the security (and trust) in the blood-bank system.

There is no doubt, however, that well functioning donor organisations can enhance the supply of safe blood from unpaid donors. The goal is to create self-sufficiency in your country, too.


Most countries, which have blood-donors recruited by volunteer organisations, find it possible to sustain a constant inflow of donors. Once recruited, a large number of donors remain, and new donors are mainly found by the “mouth-to-ear” method from present donors to new donors, e.g. within families, with friends and within voluntary organisations. Generally, donors who have given blood more than five times remain until they have to stop because of age, illness or other reasons for permanent deferral. But please remember, that developing a strong donor-culture and efficient donor organisations may take years – and muchpatience and work.

Partners in your country

It is essential that you have full support from your Minister of Health and her/his staff.. The Ministry of Health is almost always in direct contact with the different blood banks, and can spread the message about the necessity to develop voluntary donor-organisations. Most health ministers have, by the way, subscribed to the declaration of the World Health Assembly on self-sufficiency in all countries in non-remunerated blood, so they ought to help you …

Legislation to outlaw paid donation (gradually) should be passed at an early date (setting time limits for the discontinuation of paid donations), so you will also have to contact central lawmakers in your country.

You must also have full cooperation from the staff of the blood centres, both the doctors and the recruiters - and those who service the donors at the blood centre. Many of your doctors are affiliated with the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT), which fully subscribes to the goal of non-remunerated voluntary blood donation. Help to find the sufficient number of donors is often very much wanted by blood-bank doctors, so they may be happy to receive the external support, which can be provided by an organisation of volunteers.

But, most importantly, you will need partners within other voluntary organisations (such as scouts, church-groups, youth-organisations, labour-unions and sports-organisations etc.). Such large organisations should be contacted at an early date – if possible both at the national level and at the local level – with a message about the need for strong organisational support to the recruitment of voluntary blood donors as a parallel to the main activity of the organisation.

International partners

Direct personal contact to volunteers in other countries can be helpful, and such contact could made for instance through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Federation of Blood Donor Organisations.

The WHO has developed a number of manuals on blood and blood use.

The Council of Europe publish each year (in French and English) a “Guide to the preparation, use and quality assurance of blood components”, which can answer many of the questions, which arise when you deal with blood donation.

These international organisations – and the I.S.B.T. – organise recruitment seminars and conferences, which may be useful for your work. And use the sites on the internet for more information and international addresses, for instance on, who (xxx) IFRCRCS (www.yy) and the ISBT (


Some politicians and doctors believe, that when donation is non-remunerated, recruiting and retention of donors should not cost anything. This is, of course, wrong, but the money, that is paid directly to donors, would be much better used in support of donor organisations, which take over the responsibility to recruit and retain the voluntary donors.

The donor organisation should be run at a low cost by volunteers, but they also need sufficient professional help (office, accounting, daily presence etc) and money for posters, information leaflets, training, advertisements etc. etc.

Around the world, many volunteers already provide a lot of work, recruiting, retaining, office services, accounting and providing expertise. They often will be happy to support the development of new donor organisations using their experience from national and international activity.

Policymakers should also be made aware of the fact, that a large recruitment effort is to no avail, if blood centres are not sufficiently modern and efficient. Donors do not come back to a blood center, if they experience inefficiency and lack of service, hygiene and proper use of the blood donated.

So blood banks must be updated to modern conditions, if volunteers are to give blood – and that costs money. Beware, however, of so-called“state of the art” equipment. This is often very expensive, but provides little extra safety compared to the costs. Money used on such equipment may often be much better used in recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of donors, to allow for a critical use of donor deferrals – and hence higher blood safety.

Ideally you should have so many donors, that your blood service never has to use first time donors, and so that regular donors are always available, when the blood bank needs a specific blood type. If this goal is achieved, major economy can be made in the running of the blood bank, so money spent for donor recruitment often comes back in better economy in the blood system – and in higher safety!

Immediate Objective

The objective should be to establish - attached to each blood collection center - a local donor organisation, which can recruit the necessary number of donors to meet the local need for blood. When a number of local donor organisations have been established, a national organisation of voluntary, unpaid blood donors should be created.

It may be useful, that a friendly lawyer help you in producing a short guideline for the establishment of a new “juridical person” (your local organisation), as legislation in many countries demand certain criteria to be fulfilled, before accepting or registering a new organisation. Your contact in the Ministry of Health may prove helpful in this context, as they can contact the relevant people in your Ministry of Justice etc. to make a correct guide for establishing new juridical persons.


The national donor organisation should, at an early date, establish a comprehensive list of names and addresses of chairpersons, practical leaders, treasurers and responsible blood-bank personnel of the existing local donor-organisations.

Each blood bank should each year report the number of inscribed donors and the number of bleedings to the national organisation. They should also report, to what degree the need for blood and blood components has been reached with unpaid donors (and if some donors are still paid, their number).

Target Groups when Starting New Donor Organisations.

There are several target groups, starting with personnel at the Ministry of Health, in the national blood service and at the blood banks. But the main target groups are other voluntary organisations at the national and at the local level, which could take up blood-donation as an activity parallel to their main activity. Experience from several countries shows, that large popular organisations such as the scouts, the Red Cross, church groups, youth-organisations, labour unions and sports-organisations should be made directly aware of the need for unpaid donors - and of their possibility to participate.

A few highly enthusiastic persons should be found, preferably at the local level, who can co-ordinate local recruitment activities. These key-persons should be invited to national and international meetings to meet other volunteers and relevant blood bank staff. Up-to date information material should be produced and provided to these key persons, and that blood bank personnel should be made aware of the need for good “customer” service to the donors, if non-remunerated blood donation is to be sustained.


We propose that you plan for three stages:

First stage: Fact finding and contact making in your country . A main task is to inform authorities and blood-centers about the start and development of the local and national volunteer organisations, and about how organisations have been developed in other countries.

Another task is to ascertain the need for donors at each blood center, and to establish direct contact with individuals with an interest in this project in your country.

Local organisations should be established with each local blood bank and be made up of representatives of scout-organisations, youth organisations, church organisations , the Red Cross etc. Direct contacts to these organisations should be made, when arranging for local meetings with interested organisational representatives and individuals. Such meetings could be made at the blood center, so that you can be assisted in your effort by the professional staff, who receive the donors. Local contacts should be established and developed (and hopefully retained after the visit) – if possible by phone, SMS, letters and e-mails.

Second Stage: Once you have found a group of interested individuals they should be invited to visit another region or country with an existing donor organisation. Here they should meet representatives from a well-functioning local donor-organisation and from the national organisation, and visit local blood-centers. They should learn about the functioning of the national and the local organisations and they should be familiarised with the information and recruitment material produced (for inspiration).

Decisions should be made regarding production of donor gifts and information material, preferably in all national languages. (such material should be paid for by your ministry of health - or by private sponsors).

The volunteers should be urged to create a national organisation, which - at a later stage - could take part in the work of the International Federation and benefit from exchanges of knowledge etc. with other national organisations.

Third Stage: Follow up could include a visit of an experienced volunteer from another country (good for press relations also)- and decisions should be made with national counterparts about printing and distributing recruitment material and developing donor-retention (gifts, awards, donor-activities etc.).

Funds should be found (preferably from public sources) for the establishment of a national office for the donor organisation - and for participation in meetings of the international donor federation, for office equipment, for communication expenses etc:

  1. computer and software (set up of home page, recruitment on-line)
  2. a direct phone line for association use only with a permanent and easily recognized phone-number.
  3. development of a logo for the national donor organisation and printing of a number of T-shirts with logo for upcoming events etc
  4. development, lay-out and printing of recruitment material directed towards young people and new donors
  5. small travel and meeting expenses
  6. training seminars for new volunteers
  7. a news-letter (electronical and printed) directed towards interested journalists, blood banks, youth magazines, large popular organisations such as scouts, sports organisations, university organisations, Rotary/Lions, church organisations etc. Possible sources for funding/sponsoring should receive the newsletter as well.
  8. Press-conferences could be organised, for instance in connection with visits from abroad.
  9. A medical advisor (from one of the blood banks) should be appointed to the board of the national donor association
  10. Legal complications with registering local and national organisation may be more easily overcome, if a friendly legal advisor is appointed to the national donor association.


A large number of tasks will be provided by volunteers, but co-ordination, planning, printing, travel arrangements, accounting etc. should take place at a national office. Individuals may help create contacts with local blood-banks and voluntary organisations, and co-ordination of these contacts should be the responsibility of the national office.

The entire project should, however, be based on volunteer involvement and work - and not based on any commercial interest. It is important to understand, that medical doctors are experts in their field, but very often have little skill in marketing, press contacts, public relations, fund-raising, law or economy. This is where volunteers can be especially helpful, bringing their expertise to the use of the blood service.

Risks :

Creating too high expectations seems to be the only foreseeable risk. Commercial blood collectors may take offence from this project, but their influence with doctors and volunteers may, hopefully, be counteracted by the obvious benefits (safety and reliability) stemming from a non-commercial blood supply.

*Secretary General of the International Federation
of Blood Donors Organisations

Vesterbrogade 191, 1800 Frederiksberg, Denmark

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