Vermont Gets a Boost in Organ Donor Registrants

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Organ donation plays a critical role in saving lives, but like many states, Vermont struggled to educate the public about its importance and the ways residents can become registered donors.

Two years ago, Vermont had the lowest number of organ donor registrants in the country. Its official registry listed 289 individuals, or less than .001 percent of the state's population.

The traditional way to become a donor is to indicate your desire to do so on your driver's license. Unfortunately, licenses frequently get lost after an accident, preventing organ donations from taking place. In some cases, eligible donors may not even have a license.

In addition, only Vermont drivers possessing an enhanced driver's license (which also allows U.S. citizens to enter Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean on land or by sea) may register as an organ donor on the official Donate Life Vermont Web site.

The Center for Donation and Transplant (CDT) is a federal nonprofit organization that coordinates the recovery of donated organs and tissues at more than 40 hospitals throughout northeastern New York state and western Vermont.

Potential donors can sign up on the New York state organ and tissue donor registry or through Vermont's online registry.

Although the online registry provided an efficient way for new registrants to sign up, CDT still faced the challenge of educating residents on the value of doing so through the online registry and increasing the number of donors. It turned to Social Lift, a social media division of Dialogue Marketing, for help.

"The chairman of our board happened to be on a flight with Lauren Ziskie [Social Lift's president], and she became very excited about helping us," recalls Jeff Orlowski, former chief executive officer of CDT. "We were very impressed with their approach. They listened to what we said our challenges were and what we were trying to accomplish, and they came up with some very creative proposals."

Starting with a six-month pilot project, from November 2010 to April 2011, Social Lift designed a social media campaign called Donate Life Vermont.

The project began with Social Lift reaching out to organ recipients and donor families, as well as bloggers who possessed a large local following. "We found out what [they] were writing about and we pitched them on specific messages," explains Ziskie. The strategy was to build relationships with the top 40 influencers, so they could share CDT's message with their networks and engage them in each new campaign.

Next CDT and Social Lift revamped the Donate Life Vermont Web site to promote Vermont's online organ and tissue donor registry.

After establishing a Twitter following, CDT hosted the #Social Saves Tweetup to meet online friends face-to-face. In addition, Twitter followers and their friends were able to easily register themselves at the event.

A Donate Life Vermont blog was created that provides SEO-friendly news about upcoming events, facts, and statistics, as well as stories from donor families and recipients.

Donate Life Vermont then developed monthly word-of-mouth campaigns, leveraging creative content, incentives, and different social media platforms.

After six months, Donate Life Vermont was able to increase the state's number of organ and tissue donor registrants by about 525 percent, to more than 1,800 registrants. At the time this article was written, that number had increased to more than 3,000 registrants. Although Vermont still has the lowest percentage of organ donors of any U.S. state, it is now up to 3 percent, from .001 percent in 2010.

Donate Life Vermont had nearly 4,900 blog page views and 375 Facebook fans, with more than 3,200 Facebook visits since November 2011. The Web site has received almost 5,700 unique page views from Vermont residents and has reached approximately 100 cities in the state. Its Facebook advertisement garnered 225 clicks in two weeks.

"Social Lift has been an outstanding partner," Orlowski notes. "They were very enthusiastic and creative, and their staff also helped out at events. We've now seen how effective social media is at reaching new segments of the population and how it can help people make the decision to save lives."

The Payoff

After partnering with Social Lift, CDT:

  • increased Vermont's number of organ and tissue donors by 525 percent, to more than 1,800 registrants in six months and
  • received nearly 4,900 blog page views and more than 3,200 Facebook visits, and donatelifevt.org received almost 5,700 unique page views from Vermont residents.

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