Co-Market Your Way Out of a Winter Slump with Cause Marketing

February 14, 2017 • 7 min read
Julien Perry

Julien Perry

Seattle Correspondent

Winter isn’t just a tough time for the restaurant industry, it’s a struggle for blood centers, too. Add to that the recent snowfalls in Seattle and Portland, and you’ve got an urgent situation in the Pacific Northwest. That’s the case for Bloodworks NW, a non-profit, volunteer-supported blood center that serves more than 90 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

To help combat the issue, Joe Ferrara, Program Manager for Bloodworks Northwest (formerly Puget Sound Blood Center), came up with a co-marketing idea that would create an incentive for people to donate: restaurant gift certificates in exchange for donating blood.

The unusually large snowfall in Portland “really impacted our ability to collect blood there,” says Ferrara. He estimates about 500 donations were lost due to Seattle’s snow storm on February 6.

“The winter can be really tricky. If you get a situation like this, it can really mess up our ability to collect and distribute blood to the hospitals.”

So Bloodworks NW reached out to local restaurants specifically in neighborhoods that are dense with several restaurants within walking distance of each other. Once a few restaurants agree to the gift card cross-promotion, Bloodworks holds a blood drive in that neighborhood so people can cash in the cards after they’ve donated. The cross-promotion is called Donate & Dine, which is both catchy and self-explanatory.

The first Friday in February marked the inaugural Donate & Dine drive in Fairhaven, which attracted 28 donors and eight first-time donors. Ferrara suspects they would have had more donors had it not been for the snow they had up in Bellingham. The previously scheduled event on February 6 in West Seattle had to be cancelled due to icy conditions. (Ferrara hopes to reschedule for July or August.)

The next Donate & Dine is in Fremont on Monday, February 20, starting at 12:40 PM.

Cause marketing partnership: Donate & Dine

Ferrara believes the gift card makes a big difference in the turn-out. “When you have an incentive, it’s special. People are more likely to go out of their way. It’s a particular day, time, and location. It’s a very specific call to action.”

Aligning your brand with a good cause, or cause marketing, with a local nonprofit is also a great way for the participating restaurants to let customers know they care about their community.

The marketing partnership opens the door for social media outreach from both Bloodworks NW and all of their restaurant partners. The restaurants “are going to post it on their social media channels with a link for donors to sign up. So, we’re reaching more people through our restaurant partners. It’s a great way for us to tap into their network and reach people we wouldn’t be reaching otherwise.” Of course, the arrangement also increases the marketing reach of the restaurants, linking them to a cause both they and their customers care about.

The restaurant incentive also appeals to a younger demographic, which is not lost on Ferrara and his team, who are hoping to attract 23-45 year olds, especially new donors. “There’s so many new people moving to Seattle. I think these programs are a great way to reach people who are looking for a way to contribute and to donate blood—even for the first time. This is a really great way to meet new people in the community and to introduce the idea of donating blood to people who may not have considered it before.”

Late December and early January are notoriously slow, regardless of weather, says Ferrara, so having icy conditions is a double-whammy. “Schools hold a lot of blood drives and during the summer and winter when they’re not in session, we often experience emergency blood shortages; we had a really low blood supply for most of January as a result.”

“We only had three out of maybe 20 scheduled [blood] drives that actually happened; a number of our centers were really impacted.”

But with Spring comes a friendlier weather forecast. Ferrara says they’re planning Donate & Dine drives on upper Queen Anne at the end of March, Lower Queen Anne mid-April, and possibly Edmonds on April 4.

Bloodworks NW is also partnering with Townsquared to spread the word. When Ferrara put out the call for restaurant partners, the platform quickly attracted businesses like Blue Moon Burgers and Starbucks.

Starbucks’ West Seattle store manager Stephanie Benfield noted, “Part of our mission at Starbucks is to give back to our community and I thought this was a great way for our whole store to donate gift cards and to donate ourselves!”

Charlie Olson, owner of Blue Moon Burgers, signed up right away, for more personal reasons.

“A cousin of mine got really sick and needed a transfusion. I have given blood ever since,” says Olson, who sees his involvement with Bloodworks as a no-brainer. “As a local business, we all have an obligation to support our community and when things come up, especially things that are close to our [hearts], it’s an easy choice.”

And if you’re on the fence about donating because you think it’ll hurt or you’re afraid of needles, it’s time to put that fear behind you and show up for those in need.

Just a pinch, or how it works

To minimize any anxiety, here’s exactly what you can expect during each of the three steps.

Whether you’ve made an appointment or walked-in, someone will check you in, taking your name, some basic information, and see if you’re eligible to donate—Ferrara notes you have to wait the FDA-recommended 56 days between donations to allow your red blood cells to build back up after donating.

“The second step,” says Ferrara, “is the questionnaire. You’ll be asked to answer a health history form—a series of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Then one of our phlebotomists will determine if you’re eligible to donate blood. They check your blood pressure, temperature, they ask a series of questions related to traveling outside of the country, and so forth, to see if you can donate.

The next step is the actual donation. And that only takes about 8-12 minutes for a whole blood donation!

“Once you’re done donating, you have some cookies, and we ask you to stay there for maybe 10 minutes; you just kind of rest and relax and make sure you’re feeling well enough to go back to your daily activities.”

The actual blood draw takes place in a bus with four to six beds; there can be up to five people donating at the same time.

“You feel a pinch when the needle goes into your arm, of course,” says Ferrara. “But it’s really just a pinch and then after that, you kind of just hang out and relax. Our phlebotomists are really good at talking to the donors and making sure they feel comfortable and explaining the process to them. Nothing should come as a surprise. They guide you through everything.”

One pint of blood can save three lives. And all of the blood Bloodworks NW collects goes to local hospitals. The organization is a nonprofit, so “donors are really helping us to serve the community and to help patients,” says Ferrara. “I think that’s what really drives our mission. These special promotions are great and they’re a new way for us to reach potentially new donors.”

“People want to be connected, they want to do something good. And right now I think there’s a feeling…there’s a lot of people looking for ways to serve their community. This is an easy way to do it, and you’re saving lives and it’s a great way to bring people together.”

For those in the area, don’t forget, next Donate & Dine is in Fremont on February 20, starting at 12:40 PM! For an updated list of participating restaurants, upcoming drives, and to schedule your blood donation, head to Bloodworks NW.

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