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BACKGROUND: Understanding blood donor motivations is crucial to improving effectiveness of donor recruitment and retention programs.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Data from a 1998 survey of 92,581 U.S. blood donors were used to evaluate factors influencing the decision to donate in various demographic groups. Data were weighted to adjust for response and sample design.

RESULTS: Of 52,650 respondents, 45,588 gave whole-blood (WB) donations. Among all demographic groups, the major reasons to donate were altruism (75-87%) and awareness of the need for blood (34-43%). Except for first-time donors and those ≤25 years old, blood drive organizers and/or recruiters were more important than family and/or peers in encouraging donors (13-19% vs. 1-8%). Although 59 to 63 percent of donors said they would be encouraged to donate by reminders originating from the blood bank, for some, the contact would have a negative effect and discourage donation. Discouragement would be higher if they were reminded by a telephone call (14%) rather than by a letter or e-mail (4%) or an appeal (2%) from the blood bank.

CONCLUSION: WB donations appear to be made primarily for altruistic reasons and in response to appeals for blood. Ways to build on this humanitarianism and take advantage of new communication routes, such as e-mail, need to be developed.