It is vital to reassure people, who are not paid to do a task, that they are important and valued: that is usually what motivates them. With donors, the intangibles really matter: being treated with respect proves - more than words alone - that what we're doing is worthwhile.
Over its 13-year lifespan, the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) has been in contact with hundreds of people enquiring about becoming a donor and many who went on to donate. That's given us a great understanding of what motivates and deters donors. We've heard it all and, unfortunately, the stories aren't always positive. One donor told us recently: 'The clinic didn't care and seemed to see me as burden and a necessary evil that they had to endure - they could have improved quite easily on that!'
Hearing about situations where simple improvements (such as messages returned promptly and clear communication) would have made all the difference to a donor's willingness to donate again is frustrating. After all, in today's climate, there are calls to pay donors to improve recruitment because donor shortages are so great.
Without formal research, this knowledge is 'anecdata'. This means that - when the Trust makes recommendations on how to improve recruitment by improving the way donors are treated - we are not always heard. So we're putting things on a more formal footing by surveying donors and enquirers.
We're using a professional researcher - Dr Laura Machin of Lancaster University - to analyse the survey results. She will find out how the experience of becoming an egg or sperm donor can be improved. We will use this evidence to make practical recommendations to improve donor care.
The study will last a year, from June 2011 to June 2012, and will use data collected anonymously with online questionnaires. We are targeting donors at two stages: first, as enquirers, and second, after a donor has completed his or her donation cycle.
The questionnaires ask about key aspects of customer care through each stage of the donor's experience, from initial contact and information gathering to giving their donation to finding out the outcome. We are particularly interested in communication with the clinic, counselling and the experience of making the donation.
There is also a survey to find out why people who enquired about becoming a donor decided not to go ahead. Many choose not to become donors for reasons unrelated to their eligibility. They are already interested in donation and potentially open to persuasion. By identifying and addressing their concerns more effectively, we can increase the number of enquirers who go on to become donors.
The results will be of interest and value to academics, policy makers, donors and - most of all - to clinic staff, who have a big influence on a donor's experience. Laura Witjens, Chair of the NGDT, said: 'this is the first and best opportunity to understand what really motivates donors and how we can get more people donating. Clinics and others in the sector would be well advised to pay attention to the results, see what lessons can be learned and act on them to improve recruitment'.
The NGDT has already been in touch with clinic donor coordinators and counsellors to ask for help in recruiting participants. We are sending out information packs to clinics in September. The survey is also linked from the NGDT home page: www.ngdt.co.uk/donor-satisfaction-survey. You can keep up to date with progress via the NGDT website. If you want to find out more, please email Pip Morris, the NGDT National Coordinator, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donors are not a silent partner in the journey to create a family - we don't appear from nowhere and disappear into the ether never to be seen again. We talk about our decision with our family and friends. We give interviews to the media. We give potential donors the lowdown on what it's really like. When donors are treated with care and feel valued, we're more likely to donate again and to encourage others to donate. Respect matters.