Heartstrings And Grassroots: Diversifying The Donor Base Of 'Be The Match'

The Challenge 

Amy Freese, director, strategic partnerships and multicultural growth, Be the Match (National Marrow Donor Program), told MediaPost’s Marketing:Health in September 2018 that the organization is battling brand awareness and working to convince people why they should be interested in becoming a donor. “We’re in the throes of creating a lot of eye candy,” she said. “The grassroots portion is a work in progress.” (Here’s a link to the video presentation.)

The mission is to save lives through cell therapy; the vision is to democratize it for all. There are 8.5 million on the registry now. Last year, there were 9,500 searches for donors and 6,100 transplants. Since its inception 30 years ago, there have been 86,000 transplants.

The registry provides people with access to bone marrow transplants from unrelated individuals because 70% don’t have relative donor. In the past year, on average, 18,000 were searching consistently. Two-thirds of the base can’t find a match. 

There are many barriers, some financial, some related to insurance. Primarily, Freese said, the registry base cannot find a match based on their backgrounds. Black communities have a 23% chance, while whites have a 77% chance. There are lots of reasons for the disparity, one of which is a lack of education. And the fact that the organization had not been directing its marketing to areas that would be effective for those lacking matches.

The Execution

Be the Match’s objective going into 2019 is to determine the optimal size and composition of the registry and launch a campaign that expedites that level of quality participation.

A focus group arrived at several conclusions. Consumers did not want the organization to “parachute in” and leave, they wanted it to meet them where they are, and to educate people and build trust. Based on those insights, the organization evolved customized content, focusing first on African Americans and then Hispanics. When it comes to healthcare in the Latino community, said Wilkins, it’s based on community roots. In African American communities, it’s about, “I’m gonna take care of my own self-care.” In the application programming interface world, this means consumers want qualitative, quantitative results so they can determine which way they want to go.

Currently, the organization is putting together integrated campaigns and combining partnerships with paid digital, PR, awareness events, and influencers. Content includes patients who are searching, donors and transplant recipients. “There’s nothing else we need to say,” she said. The HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) campaign’s foundation is to be present, provide education and be relevant. Last fall, her team conducted focus groups and test-piloted the effort on campuses in the spring. Now, it is in full swing. The target audience is between 18 and 34. 

Instead of using FAQs, Be the Match is using creative components around myths and facts. Videos are key. It learns which digital platforms each campus follows, what kind of campus it is and finds the right people to act as influencers.

Among earned media, it is using media outreach, influencers and advocates and partnerships. For owned, it’s organic social, constituent emails, web properties, programs, events for awareness and recruitment. And for paid, digital media, paid social/OOH, and paid partners. Onsite activation and branding are in the plans with music, event activation and organic social ideas.

The Results

  • It was getting 400 to 500 inquires a day; now around 1,500.
  • It has found 19,000 new donors.
  • Diversity was 25% of the registration database; it’s 34%.
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