Every time a disaster occurs, people show their philanthropic side, but the same framing that works for blood drives, such as 'gift of life' appeals, is far less effective when it comes to organ donation.

Though much is known about why people donate blood or register as an organ donor, we don't know a lot about why individuals continue to choose not to do so. Most people do not and never will donate so it makes sense that asking people 'why not' rather than 'why' has more value.  The anonymous data for the study was collected via a survey promoted by Australian donation organisations including Zaidee's Rainbow Foundation, Kidney Health Australia, and Transplant Australia.

To get some answers, humanities scholars compared responses from more than 1,000 people who participated in an online survey looking at the reasons given for the donation reason provided by blood and/or registered organ donors versus non-donors. They categorized the responses based on five dimensions of language choice: egocentric (referring to self), social, moral, positively emotional, and negatively emotional.

While everyone seems to recognize that blood and organ donation save lives, motivating people by telling them their donation saves lives only seems to work in increasing blood donor numbers, not organ donors. 

In most countries, organ donation is easiest. You don't have to go anywhere or do anything, you can check a box during a driver's license renewal or a voting registration. Blood donation takes more effort as it requires individuals to attend a blood donation facility for an extended period. Yet blood donors score higher in primary prosocial characteristics like altruism, empathy and social responsibility, all traits thought to be key drivers in motivating donations.

The reason might be social. You can virtue signal right away about giving blood; you get a sticker, you go with friends. With organ donation, you are probably dead. if altruism is not the major motive underlying a donation, then a more general preference for morality and 'doing the right thing' in the eyes of others might be the driver.

Blood and organ donation were very seen as different in their medical, psychological, and socio-cultural implications, especially in relation to how individuals give consent and supply their donation, the level of time and physical investment required for donation, the timing of when a donation can be given (or taken), and, most significantly, the before and after physical and psychological costs.

What might work? Social obligation may have better cut-through with non-donors; you can help scientists or a young person who just had bad biological luck instead of being in an expensive box.

Citation: Whyte S, Chan HF, Hammarberg K, Torgler B (2020) Exploring the impact of terminology differences in blood and organ donor decision making. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0227536. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227536