Illustration of smartphone with the word donate

How Anthony Nolan embraced digital during Covid-19

When the pandemic took hold last year, the stem cell charity had to adapt quickly. We explore how using digital channels paved the way to new donors and communities

Founded in 1974, Anthony Nolan is a charity that serves people with blood cancers and disorders who require stem cell transplants. Together with recruiting for and running the stem cell donor register, the organisation also carries out vital research and supports patients through a difficult journey.

In a given year prior to the pandemic, Anthony Nolan would recruit roughly 70,000 donors to the stem cell register, half coming through online channels and the other half through various events run by partners, volunteers and staff. The charity’s efforts are focused on recruiting 16-30-year-old men (who are more likely to be chosen to donate by hospitals and the clinical community) and donors from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The role of physical spaces in finding donors used to be key. “The quality of conversation you have in targeting in-person meant that we could reach even younger men and those donors from minority ethnic backgrounds,” explains Terence Lovell, chief engagement and marketing officer at Anthony Nolan.

With physical events called off due to Covid-19, the charity instead had to invest in online recruitment and targeting in order to find those specific donors. “We did that by ramping up investment in Facebook advertising, but also in terms of testing new channels, across podcasts, social media campaigns, and also working really closely with families who are going through the heartbreaking challenge of trying to find a match for a loved one. We worked with them to share their stories and amplify their voices to enable more people to join the register,” Lovell says. “We also launched more digital peer to peer engagement and recruitment, so effectively we got our dream donors on the register to really talk to their community, encouraging others to join and be like them.”

The outcome has been positive. During the past financial year, the charity dramatically increased its online recruits, rising from about 35,000 people to just shy of 50,000. The percentage of men and those from minority ethnic backgrounds also increased in the charity’s online recruitment efforts, thanks to better targeting driven by social channels.