Articles / 08.11.2016
I try to donate blood every eight weeks, because I’m O- (a universal blood type associated with only one out every 15 people) and CMV negative (a virus related to chickenpox and mononucleosis for which up to 80% of Americans test positive). After my latest donation, I received an e-mail from the American Red Cross with a “Share Your Impact” admonishment and related social media logos. Specifically, I was told that “after first ensuring that local needs were met, [my] blood donation was sent to ProMedica Bay Park Hospital in Oregon, OH to help a patient in need.”
Part of my job is to evaluate impact, so the e-mail raised for me a number of questions that I frequently ask when assessing social and environmental return metrics. Specifically:
- Did this achieve the optimal impact? (Staying with the case of my donation, am I helping the most people possible by donating whole blood? Or should I give red blood cells, or perhaps platelets, in order to maximize the utility of my donation?1)
- What was the expectation? (Is it always a one-pint-to-one-person ratio? Or could portions of my blood have been used by even more people?)
- What was the level of need for the beneficiary of my impact? (Was the patient a trauma victim? Or perhaps chronically ill?2)
- Was there any associated demographic information for the beneficiary? (Was the patient a newborn, similar to my children, both of whom received multiple blood donations while being treated in their early days within the NICU? Or was the recipient a senior citizen, like my grandmother, who recently had hip surgery?)
- How did this recent result affect my cumulative impact? (How many patients have I now helped, dating back to my first donation in college?)
- How does my impact compare against peers or benchmarks? (How does my donation cadence compare to other O- donors? Are they better at giving precisely every eight weeks? What is considered “normal” for universal donors?)
I believe this type of context matters. A lot. And not just to me, or the Red Cross, but to all impact investors as well.
Context is critical, especially if there is an expectation that someone will “share their impact.” Does the Red Cross really think an Idahoan is going to post on Facebook or Twitter that he donated blood to a person in Ohio? Notwithstanding the irksome carbon footprint associated with this usage of my blood, would anyone really care? Would the data point of my donation, on its own, compel anyone else to give blood? Maybe I’m cynical, but I doubt it.
Conversely, if the Red Cross informed me that my blood helped preserve the life of a recent car accident victim who was fighting for her life in intensive care, or that I had donated to over 250 newborn babies in my lifetime, suddenly my latest donation would carry much more significance. I don’t share much personal info on social media, but I would be compelled to share either of those data points. Put another way, better background and deeper data would necessarily lead to more impact sharing and caring, especially in the case of otherwise banal blood donations.
I don’t mean to criticize the Red Cross. After all, few impact metrics, on their own, carry sufficient context. To belabor the aforementioned e-mail example, my impact “metrics” would be one pint of blood donated, and/or one life affected. And, as mentioned, there is no ongoing total of the myriad recipients of my blood. So, in short, we’re left with one pint and one person.
No wonder I’ve never seen anyone share this impact, in any medium. (Unless you count the “I Donated” sticker, I suppose.)
If the Red Cross could provide additional details around the donation (its expectations and related efficacy) or the beneficiary (their level of need, their demographic and geographic information, their anonymized story), they would significantly enhance my metric set. Moreover, if the Red Cross maintained a running tally of how many people benefited from my blood, and compared my efforts to those of other donors, they would significantly enhance my engagement.
That, I believe, is the whole point of impact measurement and reporting.
I know that this is no small ask of the Red Cross. I know metrics capture is hard. At the same time, the Red Cross recently announced critical blood shortages all over the country. (Seriously, people. Go donate, if you can!) Every donor will receive a $5 Amazon.com gift card. Though some portion of this expenditure may be a philanthropic gift from the retailer, my point is that the Red Cross expends a lot of effort and money to encourage donations. A targeted emphasis on contextualized metrics would augment their existing efforts to galvanize people to share both their impact – and more importantly, their blood – more often.
After all, more detailed impact metrics would enrich each donor’s comprehension of, appreciation for, and connection to the impact they generate. I’m no extraordinary altruist. But like anyone doing a good deed, I certainly love the cocktail of brain chemicals (oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins) that together constitute the helper’s high I get from donating blood.
Impact investors are no different. This is a topic I hope to explore in a subsequent blog post.
1 Of course, I could get really morbid and ask whether my donation actually preserved a life. But I don’t think anyone would be comfortable with anything less than a 100% success rate.
2 I wouldn’t particularly deem one to be in greater need than the other, but that is the subjective beauty of impact evaluation.