Keeping the circulation going: How Canadian Blood Services ensures a stable blood supply

bethbohnert    November 7, 2017

“There aren’t many organizations globally that source their raw material from their friends and neighbours.”

That was how Dr. Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services (CBS) opened his remarks during the Queen’s Health Policy Change Conference Series in Toronto last summer.

CBS manages the national supply of blood, blood products and stem cells, and related services for all the provinces and territories (excluding Quebec). It may seem odd to classify blood as a raw material to be processed, but that’s exactly what it is. And in 2016, those friends and neighbours Sher mentioned supplied more than 1.2 million units of these products.

But reaching that level isn’t easy, given that one in every two Canadians is able to donate, but only one in sixty actually does. And every year, almost 40% of donors stop giving due to changing eligibility requirements, attrition and other reasons.

With a relatively small pool of ‘suppliers’, every donation counts and every missed or cancelled appointment is a lost opportunity to not only replenish the supply of blood products, but to provide vital data that helps hospitals determine inventories, schedule procedures and ensure an adequate supply of products for emergency use.

Social media campaigns have been used in various industries, from pizza producers to newspaper publishers, to collect data and improve supply chain efficiency. In this case, CBS uses data gathered from social  and other digital tools to guide its recruitment and retention campaigns.

Facebook advertising

CBS makes regular use of Facebook advertising both to recruit and retain donors. In 2014, the organization began to promote its online booking system to potential donors. Using the demographics of 26,000 regular donors to create a “custom audience”, CBS was able to target prospects with the same desirable characteristics.

The campaign also grew the CBS fan base, creating a larger audience, making it “easier and faster … to communicate with Canadians about urgent blood requests (i.e. a special need for O-negative) during slow donation periods like long weekends.” (Facebook, n.d.)

The campaign resulted in a 33% increase in intent to donate over the previous campaign and as of 2017, the organization now has more than 100,000 followers on Facebook.

Online tools

The CBS website urges donors to “Save Time, Go Digital and provides online tools, including:

  • Online accounts, where donors can bookmark their favourite clinics, track their donations, book and reschedule appointments, opt-in to SMS text notifications and complete their donor questionnaire before their next appointment
  • The GiveBlood mobile app, which allows donors to book, view or reschedule donation appointments, add appointments and reminders to their calendars, send feedback and share socially. As of March 2017, the number of GiveBlood users had increased by 76% over 2016 and 48,000 people had opted to receive text messages from CBS.
  • A chatbot, an application that conducts “virtual conversations” by responding intelligently to users’ questions and comments. CBS is the first national blood service to implement this technology, which it feels will appeal to younger donors.
  • Live chat, which provides donors with help in finding clinics and booking appointments, enquire about eligibility, troubleshoot technical problems and provide feedback.

While some of these tools aren’t  necessarily “social”, they all serve two purposes. First, they make giving blood easier and more convenient (which encourages people to donate regularly). Second, they provide data on donor behaviour and preferences that can be used to predict future patterns that might impact the supply chain, as we’ll see.

Online campaigns

In August 2016, Canadian Blood Services, along with two dozen other blood services around the world joined the Missing Type campaign. Aimed at addressing a 40% drop in donors around the world, the online campaign featured landmark signs that were missing the letters A, B and O (corresponding with the three main blood types).

For the Canadian campaign, CBS created “a series of online display ads, a social media widget and a Chrome extension. The Chrome extension … blocks out the letters “a,” “b” and “o” in the web browser. The social media widget allows users to remove the letters from their screen names and send out a tweet about the campaign.” (Martin, 2017)

The campaign caught on, with businesses and organizations adjusting their signage to reflect the campaign. And by the end of the month, 6,500 potential Canadian donors had registered at

Data-mining with SAS

CBS uses SAS data-mining technology throughout its supply chain to keep tabs on its inventory and forecast future demand. SAS can access information from a number of sources, including the PROGESA system, which tracks a donation from the time a donor goes to a clinic through to production, testing and release of the unit of blood into inventory.

The organization also uses SAS to analyze the behavior of active and lapsed donors, and to identify and select which donors to target for various print, e-mail or tele-recruitment campaigns By understanding the behaviour of donors, Canadian Blood Services can hone in on which donors are most likely to lapse and which are most likely to respond favourably to a reminder. Thus, they proactively keep those donors engaged. (SAS, 2011)

While I was unable to discover if CBS uses the data that the SAS system collects to trigger social media campaigns as well as print and email reminders, I expect it isn’t far off. Given the way that analytics allow CBS to predict events that affect the blood supply, it seems only logical that the organization would want to take advantage of fast-moving social messaging to alert donors and potential donors of the need to give blood.

As CBS’ Chief Information Officer Ralph Michaelis said at last year’s Gartner Symposium, the increasing use of analytics could allow the organization to respond even more quickly to events, even as far as “[bumping] up our recruitment efforts if there’s inclement weather.”

Lessons for Others

Here’s what we can learn from CBS about supply chain management:

  • “Suppliers” aren’t limited to vendors – they can be donors or other kinds of supporters as well.
  • Social media can play an important role in providing data on how “supplier” behaviour affects the supply chain. And it can also provide a channel to promoting the desired  behavior necessary to keep atypical “supplies” coming in.

Organization: Canadian Blood Services
Industry: Health
Name of Organization Contact: none

Authored by: Beth Bohnert

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Canadian Blood Services. (2016, June 7). Queen’s Health Policy Change Conference Series Plenary Panel Presentation: Learning from Supply Chain Management Initiatives. [PDF file].
Retrieved from on November 3, 2017.

Graveland, B. (2017, February 9). Canadian Blood Services scrambling to find donors after new guidelines. [Blog post]. Retrieved from on November 5, 2017.

Sobanski, S. (2017, August 24). Canadian Blood Services called, you should donate. [Blog post]. Retrieved from on November 5, 2017.

Canadian Blood Services. (2017). Tomorrow Changes Today: Annual Report 2016-17. Retrieved from on November 3, 2017.

Jackson, B. (2010, June 19). Business intelligence a life line for Canadian Blood Services. [Blog post]. Retrieved from on November 5, 2017.

Facebook. (n.d.). Canadian Blood Services. Retrieved from on November 6, 2017.

Martin, R. (2016, August 24). Global ‘Missing Type” campaign launches in Canada. Marketing. Retrieved from on November 5, 2017.

SAS. (2011, May 9). SAS® helps Canadian Blood Services grow its donor base and frequency. [Video file]. Retrieved from on November 3, 2017.

SAS. (n.d.). SAS® helps blood flow at Canadian Blood Services. Retrieved from on November 4, 2017.