How Do Generational Differences Impact Blood Donor Recruitment?

There is no magic birthday date that makes a member of a specific generation. One’s experience and sharing of history helps shape a “generational personality” during their formative years, but when generational collisions occur, the results create a lot of confusion – and we are dealing with a lot of this in blood banking.

Constance Patterson, a PhD at Tulane University said, “A lack of understanding across generations can have detrimental effects on communication and working relationships and undermine effective services.”

This quote makes me think of how many of us use a watered down marketing plan in the hopes that it is broad enough to speak to all 4 generations? Let’s talk about these different generations, what is important to each of them, and what that means to us for blood donations.

The Silent Generation – 1925-1924

The silent generation grew up with an unwavering sense of duty before pleasure, honor, and commitment.  Donating blood was their civic duty!  We still have some of these donors, they are between 75 and 90 and if they are still able to donate blood, are so dedicated.

These donors were rule followers, they were patient, and they were okay with delayed rewards.  This generation saved up booklets of stamps they earned at the grocery store until they had enough booklets filled to get a new set of dishes. If you’ve not heard of this, ask the next Silent you run into – they are great stories.

Instant gratification means very little to them.  These donors were great, and 20 years ago when they were much younger and healthier, we could target them with promotions like, “make 3 donations and earn a gift.” Unfortunately now, they are making up a very small portion of our donor base.

The Baby Boomers – 1943-1960

The baby boomers – those between 55 – 72 right now. This is one of my favorite segments because of the diversity.

This generation questions and challenges everything. They are very self aware and focus on health, wellness, careers, and personal gratification.  Donating blood was no longer a duty like the Silents saw it, but rather a way to get personal satisfaction.  There were wellness benefits associated with blood donation and it made them feel good.

Where Silents did without, boomers loved being consumers.  They are not big fans of “the man” and like to challenge authority.  Many set out to start their own business so they didn’t have to deal with a boss.

Boomers love the gratification that comes from a t-shirt or mug because 1) they love things and stuff, 2) it made them feel good about what they’d done, and 3) it let everyone know that they were special.  They truly drove the blood centers to a world where we couldn’t live without thank you gifts!

Generation X – 1961-1981

Gen X – our donors that are between 35 and 54.

The similarities between the Silent generation and the Gen Xers is startling.  They are both very hard working, patient, love delayed rewards, subscribe to duty before pleasure, and are rule followers.  I mean on the surface, they look nearly identical!  But there are some differences.

Gen Xers view the world as unsafe.  During their formative years the divorce rate is out of control and single parent families were the norm. The number of children dropped from 3-5 with the silents to 1.7 with Gen Xers.

What startled me when doing my research on these generations is the tragedy that this generation has witnessed.  Silents and Boomers had war, yes, but to most war was honorable and necessary to defend our great country. Gen Xers have witnessed Watergate, the energy crisis, the Iran hostage crisis, mass suicide in Jonestown, John Lennon’s assassination, the Challenger disaster – these are events that shaped the generation causing fear and skepticism.

So when we put that through the lens of donating blood and the changes we’ve faced, we deal with people afraid it’s not safe. As our technology evolves we wrestle with trying to convince Gen Xers to move to automation, but they are skeptical of the equipment.  The good news is, Gen Xers embraced loyalty programs and love getting points to redeem for chotchkeys!

Millenials – 1982-2000

Millennials.  I love the millennials because they care a great deal about our world.  They want to save it, and they believe it can be done with technology. They are incredibly focused on being ‘green’ and time is the single most important thing to them.

Millennials do care, but it is a different type of caring than previous generations.  Just telling patient stories doesn’t get to the core of it for them.  They think on a global level, and aren’t as community or locally focused.

An interesting thing I’ve learned is that the number one recruiting tool for employment right now is not pay, it is time off!  I have a friend whose daughter just got a job with unlimited PTO.  There are guidelines around it, and she has to see to it that her work is completed, but she can come and go as she pleases.  When you are competing with busy schedules, think about how to give back time, not take time away.

This generation knows about scandals, high school shootings, sheep cloning, and phones thatare more powerful than the servers used to launch the space shuttle.  They are multi-taskers with high expectations and really short attention spans.  If you are going to market to them, you have to be diverse, because they don’t sit still and they don’t necessarily seek out information.  Information comes to them if it is relevant to them.  They subscribe to things that interest them, so if it they need to know it, it will appear in a news feed, a blog, and email etc.

This is where we want to market, and it is the generation that is going to take the most work, require the most open mindedness, and yes…the most money.


So we see our generations are remarkably different.  Yet we continue to lump them together in our marketing efforts.  We have to have different mediums, personalized approaches, and someone that can stay ahead of it all or we run the risk of getting left behind.

Our next blog installment will describe 15 innovative ways for you to recruit blood donors online. Stay tuned!