Dragon Con 2011 Blood Drive
by Alan R. Koslow, M.D., F.A.C.S.
We came to Dragon Con 2011 with expectations of doing greater things than we have done in the past. Last year, we had 2546 donors donating a total of over 7200 units of blood product. This, we thought, may have been enough to be a United States record for single blood drive, however, it is hard to get those figures. We knew that the fans at Dragon Con are enthusiastic about the blood drive and are very caring and giving people so we had expectations that we could do even more. However while we had doubled the number of donors every year for the first eight blood drives, we knew that we could not double that number again. But we did not expect the overwhelming response we got. LifeSouth, the blood bank that does the blood drive for us increased their staff by about 15% from just under 200 to about 230. They actually took over an entire Holiday Inn Express renting 80 rooms in order to house their staff during the five days of Dragon Con. We were assigned the same space that we had last year at the Sheridan for both Thursday and Friday, where fans register for Dragon con. Over 40,000 people pass through registration on those two days and the Marriott for the entire five-day run of Dragon Con. Originally, registration was not supposed to begin until 2:00 p.m., so we had the blood drive set to start at 2:00 p.m. We discovered that the registration for pre-registered people was going to begin at 10:00 a.m., but it was too late to expand the hours of the blood drive. We probably lost about 400 to 500 people that could have donated if we have started it at that time. The blood drive that first day was scheduled to go until 11:00 p.m. meaning draws would happen until midnight.
On that first day, 28,000 people passed through registration. There was one point on Thursday evening at 5:30 where there were 116 people waiting online to register to donate blood, about 70 at the Sheridan and about 50 at the Marriott. On Friday morning when the manager of the blood drive for LifeSouth, Galen Unold, emailed everybody the numbers, we were just absolutely blown away that we did hit 800. Prior to this, the largest number of donors we had ever processed in a single day was 560. We were seeing hopes in our eyes for potentially 4000-donor blood drive this year. Alas logistics was not going to allow us to hit 4000, but we had 2944 donors giving close to 9000 units of blood products an increase of 22% over last year’s numbers.
The absolutely amazing thing was the fans and the enthusiasm that they showed for the blood drive. It has become part of the culture of Dragon Con. We have gotten tremendous support from Pat Henry, the Chairman of Dragon Con, and the entire staff at Dragon Con giving us almost everything that we need in order to become not just the most successful blood drive in science fiction fandom, but probably the most successful blood drive in the United States. Between 70% and 80% of the donors this year were repeat donors who had donated at the Dragon Con blood drive in previous years. This is an amazing statistic as most blood drives have 20-30% previous donors. Of note, this was our 10th blood drive, our 9th anniversary, so we have had time for this culture of donating blood to become organic to Dragon Con. It was amazing how many of the fans/donors said that their local blood banks were mad at them because they did not donate locally in July and August, so that they would be able to donate at Dragon Con.
I think they just wanted the T-shirts.
It almost seemed that going around the con and recruiting people to donate was unnecessary since most fans just planned it into their schedule; we hardly had to encourage them to do so. This was one of the things that warms the cockles of my heart to a degree that I cannot explain in words how enthusiastic and how giving the fans at Dragon Con are. It has been my routine to go to the large panels, which at Dragon Con would have between 1500 and 3000 people, and make an announcement about the blood drive before the panel would start. It was amazing how enthusiastic the people in these panels were. Then on Sunday and Monday, when I would ask people who had donated blood to raise the hand, the entire room of 2500 people would breakout into cheers and applause for those people who had donated blood. I could not walk 50 feet in the convention without someone asking me how the blood drive was going. The staff of LifeSouth who runs the blood drive was just absolutely amazing. They were great and did a fantastic job. The only real limitation that kept us from hitting 4000 donors was that of space on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If we had one more large room, our lines waiting to donate blood would have been much less and people who came up and saw the long lines would not have walked away and we could easily over the four days have added 400 or 500 donors. Plus if we started at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, with having average of 100 donors an hour on Thursday afternoon and evening, we could probably have added another 400 units. So it is very possible that next year we could actually hit 4000-4500 donors, which would be absolutely mind rocking.
I did something different at this year’s blood drive and that was trying to get people to do testimonials or promotions to encourage people to donate blood. These will be used by DC (Dragon Con) TV for next year to play in the 15 to 20 minutes while people waiting for a panel to start. They will also be used on the Dragon Con website to help promote the blood drive for next year. I was able to get over 150 testimonials, unfortunately about 20 of them did not come out well either because of lighting or sound, so I had over 130 usable testimonials, which included 37 TV/movie stars/celebrities, 21 by science fiction authors, 24 by fans at the convention and 31 by participants in the parade. We will be sharing these promos with you on the Heinlein Society and Dragon Con websites.
On the Monday morning before Dragon Con, Galen Unold e-mailed me and asked me if I could get volunteers to man the thank you table. We have never had volunteers before and I thought why not? So, I got in touch with Eugee Foster, who is the managing editor of the Daily Dragon and with her help, we posted a request for volunteers on all the forums from Dragon Con, within an hour of my getting that email from Galen. That afternoon, I had over 60 people who responded that they wanted to volunteer. Over the next 24 hours, emailing back and forth with these people, I was able to fill three people into every two-hour time slot between Thursday at 2 and Monday at 3 with the exception of approximately 18 of the 130 two-hour slots that I needed to fill. So on Wednesday morning, I had Eugee send out another notice and within two hours, we were able to fill all those slots. In total, I had 88 people who volunteered to work the blood drive and I used 35 of them.
I cannot tell you how amazing each and every one of those volunteers were, they came with a smile on their face, with enthusiasm, with joy in their heart and just absolutely had a great time giving out the juices and cookies, T-shirts, Heinlein pins and the Heinlein ribbons to every single person who donated blood. Everybody had a ball. Some of them walked around and did recruiting around the hotel. It was just absolutely amazing. I scheduled three people for each shift. There were some shifts that five and six people showed up just because they wanted to show up and see if they could help. I cannot tell you how fantastic that made me feel, and how great it was. We planned to continue this as a new tradition of volunteers for the thank you room of the blood drive, but I am also going to be contacting these volunteers who are big in fandom, they go to lots of different conventions and I will see if they want to organize blood drives at the conventions they go to that do not have blood drives. It is possible that we may be able to add from this new group of volunteers, members for the Heinlein society and also directors of blood drives at science fiction conventions all over the Southeast United States.
This was a fantastic year for the blood drive with a 20% to 25% increase in donors and units collected. We are not going to sit on our laurels, and next year we are going to make it even bigger and better. We are going to do several things to make next year better. Doing the promos gave me the idea to have a video promo contest. We will put out advertising and ask people to make a 30-second promo for next year’s blood drive. We will give out awards for the best one, two and three overall and we will also give awards for the best horror-related video, the best humorous video, and possibly a couple of other categories. As we just finished our 10th blood drive at Dragon Con, we will also look at this statistics and find the 10 fans from Dragon Con who have donated the largest number of blood and we are going to give a plaque to these people. We are going to have a magician that will come in to do balloon animals and do entertainments for the people while they are donating blood or while they are waiting on lines to donate blood. We will hopefully get the additional room and with the slight expansion of hours, be able to have between 4000 and 4500 donors.
I have done some amazing things in my life that I am very, very proud of. I have to tell you though that the Dragon Con Blood Drive has become probably one of the two or three things I am most proud of in my life. I have to also say that as I composed these last two sentences that I was getting tears in my eyes. I have not been able to donate blood for medical reasons for my entire life and so I feel that I am giving back a little bit by doing this. I am actually a vascular surgeon and so I am in a field that I probably uses more blood products than almost any other field. If I have a ruptured aneurysm, I might use up to 47 units of blood product without blinking an eye. I have actually had some trauma operations where I have used over 100 units of product. Running the Dragon Con Robert Heinlein Blood Drive has become one of the biggest highlights of my year and I look forward to the next one almost from the moment I leave Dragon Con.
I have taken over administrating the blood drives for the Heinlein Society around the country from Mike Sheffield. So if you want to start a blood drive in your local convention or if you feel I am not responding to you adequately, blame me not Mike, but please keep in touch with me and let me know how I can improve our service to you or how we can start a new blood drive at a new science fiction convention.
Thank you and I wish you all a great year and I look forward to sending you a report that is even more amazing, next year at Dragon Con 2012.
Alan R. Koslow, M.D., F.A.C.S.