The Red Cross finds itself in a unique position when it comes to the nonprofit world. It's been around for 130 years, and the brand itself is simply ubiquitous at best and over-exposed at worst. Of course, just because people are familiar with what you do doesn't mean they're lining up to support your work. Having such a recognizable and commonplace brand (like United Way, YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs) can be difficult when it comes to marketing yourself and soliciting donors and volunteers. The Red Cross also has a hard go of it because it's the only volunteer experience that I know of that requires you to willingly injure yourself. Sure, you can get careless and trip over a stack of hammers at a Habitat build or strain your back while playing with young kids during a Big Brothers Big Sisters outing, but if you want to help the Red Cross, you've got to let someone stick a needle into your arm.
Because of this, I understand that the Red Cross is faced with certain challenges that many nonprofits don't necessarily have to deal with. Likewise, a lot of people literally can't help the Red Cross based on personal history or their inability to do anything related to needles and blood.
I empathized with the Red Cross. I cut them slack. But not any more. I'm sorry, Red Cross, but we're breaking up.
I was proud to give blood. I didn't brag about my donations, but there is a certain level of machismo that goes into coolly walking into the facilities and not wincing when someone finds a vein and dives in. The sticker I got at the end and the accompanying arm bandage made for good conversation - and recruitment - the rest of the day. I never gave begrudgingly or halfheartedly. I treated each donation with pride and thankfulness.
I let it slide when you first compromised your customer service. You're doing serious work, so if no one greets me with a smile in the lobby when I sign in, I guess it's simply the culture you're trying to sell. No joking around and friendliness? Okay. You are dealing with life and death, after all.
I even overlooked the fact that you continued to misspell the word calendar, preferring "calender" instead when it came to reminding me when I could donate again. Of course, you copied your "calenders" roughly 50 times and put them in the lobby. Certainly such frequency and publicity would have allowed someone in your marketing department the chance to catch the error. But, no worries. You have to get blood to dying people; no time to spell check.
I looked past other things: I showed up on time to appointments but you were never ready; your people in some national call center keep calling me to sign me up to donate to the point where I'm annoyed; mailers keep coming to my house, pitching me like I'm not already bought in to what you're doing; your rewards program for loyal donors offers poorly made merchandise, stuff no one wants to wear or keep. But hey, you've got other things to do, and I liked you, so I stayed.
All loyal donors have tales like this, but I simply can no longer pretend to ignore how you're treating me. I'm trying to act like a loyal customer but you're treating me like anything but. If I gave Marriott or Starbucks this much attention, I'd be staying for free in Maui while drinking my weight in a complimentary vanilla latte by now. It is okay to take a page out of the corporate customer service handbook once in a while.
Today, as I made my way to the uncomfortable donor chair, I was dealt what was clearly a trainee. I could tell by her confused look, the fact she kept dropping things, and the other technician who was reminding her of what to do. I was scared of this. Sure the needle may miss it's mark, but people have to learn. Of course, an introduction would have been nice. Even an explanation that Betty was training today but that Jean was going to be supervising to make sure everything was okay. Hell, even Chili's lets me know when I've got a rookie waiter, and bringing gigantic glasses of margaritas and that rust-colored dip with crack in it to tables doesn't take that much of an orientation.
But you offered none of that. Just business as usual. My arm was swabbed with iodine, the vein found, and the needle inserted. Everything seemed normal to me, until Jean let Betty know that blood was trickling down my arm. This hadn't happened before.
"We forgot to clamp one of the lines," I was told. The needle was removed and pressure applied. My arm was then wrapped.
"Looks like we can't take any more blood today, but since we barely started, we'll enter this into the system so you can come back and donate tomorrow."
No "I'm sorry"? No "We're trying our best to offer an experience that motivates to you keep donating. This is a little, rare mistake. Please come back soon and donate again." No "Your gift is very important. It literally saves lives. So, even though we messed up - it's a necessary risk when doing what we do - we'd love for you to come back again and help us out."
It's not just the war story; every blood donor has those. It's the mishap paired with the utter neglect of what's going on. Many nonprofits would kill to have the loyal support the Red Cross enjoys. Many nonprofits with a fraction of the budget have offered better volunteer experiences. It's like you don't care about me. You just want to suck my blood.
As such, we're done. My blood will now be going to participate in the Vanderbilt AIDS Clinical Trials. I went to an orientation a few years ago and was very impressed with the attention and support. I should have broken up with you then, left you for a younger model who seemed to care more about me. But I didn't. I tried to stay loyal. But I can't anymore. My customer-centric mind and my willing veins simply can't stand the sight of you or your lobby anymore. It's not me, it's you. Godspeed.
Photo Credit: Charleston's TheDigitel