"For blood and loyalty": A literature review on loyalty programs for blood donation

Project dates: 2021 - 2022

Why is this important?

Maintaining adequate blood supply levels is an ongoing concern for many blood donation organisations (BDOs). Whilst the recruitment of new donors is part of the solution, BDOs need to encourage existing donors to donate more frequently. One strategy by which BDOs can do this is to offer a loyalty program where donors can earn points for actions that benefit the BDO (e.g., donating blood), and redeem those points for a variety of rewards. Despite such programs being commonly adopted by BDOs in the US, there is scant research on loyalty programs for prosocial behaviours such as blood donation. Most research focuses on one-off incentives or is set in a commercial context. Given there are key differences between a prosocial and commercial context, this report reviews existing commercial loyalty program and blood-incentive literature to recommend key features that BDOs should consider when designing a loyalty program for blood donors.

What did we do?

A literature review was conducted into country, industry and design characteristics which impact loyalty program effectiveness.

What did we find out?

The success of loyalty programs appears to be contingent on cultural factors, including broad cultural dimensions such as individualism, long-term orientation, and power distance as well as more nuanced cultural values such as attitudes towards compensation. Loyalty programs may be particularly beneficial for BDOs because they mitigate the otherwise high perceived risk, and low personal benefit (value-gained), associated with giving blood. When designing loyalty program features, BDOs should pay particular attention to the enrolment type, point exchange offering and redemption policy, as well as reward type and reward fit. Research suggests that a closed membership, in which donors must meet certain eligibility criteria to join (e.g., based on a minimum number of donations, donation type, or blood type), will enhance feelings of belonging. BDOs should consider offering points for donation behaviour (e.g., per donation, or per year as a blood donor) and other forms of engagement (e.g., social media post, or survey participation), but ensure it is easy for donors to understand what they need to do to unlock the next reward. When the point exchange offering is clear and simple, a small step size is recommended (e.g., 5 points per donation), however, when point allocation becomes more complex and ambiguous, a larger step size is recommended (e.g., 100 points per donation); the reward distance remains the same (e.g., after five donations, a donor has enough points to redeem for a t-shirt). A tiered approach could be used based on donation frequency or time length as an active donor, with higher tiers offering higher value rewards.

A blood donor loyalty program should offer a combination of hard (e.g., vouchers) and soft/mixed (e.g., branded items) rewards, with direct rewards (congruent with the act of donation) likely better received by donors. Sponsorship agreements with commercial companies will lower costs and increase the range of rewards. Finally, rewards should be offered privately (versus publicly) to reduce donor concerns of social disapproval from others.

Whilst the literature yields valuable insights into how a donor loyalty program could be designed, there are a myriad of research gaps that future research could address. In addition to better understanding specific design characteristics that improve loyalty program engagement and effectiveness among blood donors, the long-term impact of loyalty programs also needs attention. Researchers will also need to consider the moderating effect of cultural factors and market settings (e.g., donation system).


For more information about this project, please email: best@qut.edu.au


Chief Investigators


Project Report

BEST Conference 2022 Presentation