By Madeleine Croucher & Jack Duddy, Behavioural Strategists at Ogilvy Consulting’s Behavioural Science Practice


Thousands of people rely on medical donations such as blood, stem cells, and organs every year.

In the UK, 6,000 blood donations are needed every day to treat patients in need, more than 400 patients go without a lifesaving stem cell transplants due to lack of donors, and 5000 people need a kidney transplant to transform their lives.

While these donations occasionally come from friends and relatives, the majority of the time people rely on complete strangers to donate.

Here we share our top 5 behavioural insights to encourage people to complete medical donations:

1. Resolve ambiguity

We instinctively want to avoid situations in which there is uncertainty. When given the choice, people will choose an action in which there is a known, but greater risk – than an unknown risk.

In the context of donating blood, it has been found that unawareness or lack of knowledge of the donation process contributes to reduced recruitment and retention. In fact, lack of knowledge and unawareness of the donation process contributes to the fear of the process itself (Bednall & Bove, 2011).

2. Increase self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve a goal. Levels of self-efficacy determine people’s motivation towards a behaviour and how long they will sustain their effort towards a goal.

In the case of stem cell and blood donation qualitative research suggests that the extent to which one believes they can actually make a difference can be a motivator to register in the first place (Kaster et al., 2014).  Understanding that one can have a meaningful impact by donating can be an important factor in people’s motivation.

3. Communicate others are donating

By highlighting the number of other people who are doing a behaviour it signals that there is already a norm – this can strongly influence the likelihood that others will also take up the behaviour.

For example, when fundraisers told donors “We had another member; they contributed $300. How much would you like to pledge today?” average donation amounts increased by 12% (Shang & Croson, 2013). Furthermore, revealing similarities between the prospective donor and another’s behaviour can have an even bigger impact. When gender matching was introduced into the script “We had another donor; he/she contributed $300.” donations increased by a further 34%, compared to the script using “they donated…” (Croson & Shang 2011).

4. Frame the ask positively

“Framing” is a psychological device that can change people’s perspective, understanding and behaviour, according to the way that information has been communicated. Different decision-making processes can be elicited when framing the same piece of information as either a “loss” (negatively) or a “gain” (positively).

In the context of stem cell donation “loss-frames” and “gain-frames” can be interpreted as guilt or altruism inducing messages respectively. Reinhart (2007) found that gain-frames “your presence on the donor list has the potential to save or improve lives…” regarding organ donation produced more positive reactions and greater behavioural intent than loss-frames “your absence on the donor list can leave potentially up to 50 individuals on the transplant list indefinitely.”

5. Get people to commit to a small ask first

The “foot in the door” effect is a technique that aims to get someone to agree to a large request by first getting them to commit to a smaller incremental request.

This effect has been demonstrated in charitable donations by Schwarzwald, Bizman & Raz (1983) who found that people were more likely to make a charitable donation if they had first been asked to simply sign a petition a week or two prior. They also found the average donation to be larger than those who had not previously signed a petition.



Bednall, T. C., & Bove, L. L. (2011). Donating blood: a meta-analytic review of self-reported motivators and deterrents. Transfusion medicine reviews, 25(4), 317-334.

Kaster, E. C., Rogers, C. R., Jeon, K. C., & Rosen, B. (2014). Getting to the heart of being the match: a qualitative analysis of bone marrow donor recruitment and retention among college students. Health educator: journal of Eta Sigma Gamma, 46(1), 14.

Croson, R. & Shang (2011). Social influence in giving field experiments in public radio.  In Oppenheimer, D. M. & Olivola, C. Y. (Ed.), Experimental approaches to the study of charity.  (pp. 65-81). New York,  Psychology Press.

Croson, R. & Shang (2013). Limits of the effect of social information on the voluntary provision of public goods: evidence from field experiments. Economic Enquiry, 51(1), 773-477.

Reinhart, A. M., Marshall, H. M., Feeley, T. H., & Tutzauer, F. (2007). The persuasive effects of message framing in organ donation: The mediating role of psychological reactance. Communication Monographs, 74(2), 22-2595.

Schwarzwald, Joseph, Aharon Bizman, and Moshe Raz (1983), “The Foot-in-the-Door Paradigm: Effects of Second Request Size on Donation Probability and Donor Generosity,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 9 (September) 443-450.