In these days of tracking Tweets and finding Facebook friends, one organization is using the social media craze to try to save lives, through the click of a mouse.
The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation is launching a new Web application this week (www.giftoflife.org) to recruit new donors to their 130,000-member database, hoping for a rapid increase in the over 2,000 transplants already facilitated by the organization since 1991. And in the face of economic struggle — Gift of Life lost more than $2 million in the Bernard Madoff scandal — it is asking people to create accounts, to spread the word and most of all, to pay for their own $54 cheek swab tests.
“The goal is for people to register as donors and then invite their friends from their address book to register as donors,” said Jay Feinberg, who founded Gift of Life during his own battle with leukemia, when donors who matched his ethnically Jewish tissue type were nearly impossible to find.
Feinberg and his team of entrepreneurs have devised a “Facebook-style” platform to solicit donors, and he hopes to see the registry grow geometrically.
Through online virtual drives, donors can not only register themselves, but they can also create micro “donor circles” by paying for an entire network of friends, he explained. These friends will then receive e-mail “gift cards” with a personal code that enables them to register free of additional charge. In turn, the sponsor can follow the transplant activity that occurs as a result of their entire purchase.
By turning the bone marrow registry into a social networking stronghold, Feinberg said he hopes to increase tissue donations among not only Ashkenazi Jews and the hugely underrepresented Sephardic Jewish population, but also to African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians — all of whom experience difficulties finding transplant matches.
One key aspect of the Web site is its simplicity, and the designers took care to limit the number of options and keep the pages easy to read, according to Alhan Kesler, online marketing director for Blue Fountain Media, who shaped the site. With this approach, they hope to replicate the type of viral online campaign that President Barack Obama used to garner financial support.
“I looked at how effective the Obama campaign was in terms of raising money from millions of people giving a few dollars instead of a few people giving millions of dollars,” said Martin Levion, the board member of Gift of Life who initiated this online venture.
Feinberg is confident that people will continue to register despite the fee, especially since the majority of bone marrow transplants are no longer invasive.
But most importantly, the team believes that people will keep coming back because they get something of material value for their money – they see how many matches are made and life-saving transplants occur because of their contributions.