As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a fairly frequent blood donor. So inevitably — even though I kind of see it as preaching to the choir — I get a lot of junk mail from the American Red Cross with info about when, where, why and how to donate.  


But I was a little taken aback by a piece of mail that I got from the American Red Cross last week advertising the new Red Cross Rewards program. It's basically a loyalty card for donors. Now, every time I donate a pint of blood, I will earn 1 "point." When I earn 4-6 points, I'll be eligible to choose a $20 gift certificate to one of hundreds of hotels, stores, movie theaters, and such on the list. Options include Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, Applebee's, Old Navy, Petco, Marriott, American Airlines and Regal Cinemas. Sixteen points will earn me a $75 gift card.  


It's an awesome deal. But for me, it comes with a moral dilemma. In the past, I have always given blood because I felt it was the right thing to do. An easy way to give of myself to the community. On the one hand, I'm excited that for as often as I donate, I'll be racking up $75 gift cards in no time. But is it still service to the community if I walk away with a free lunch?  


This past week, Indiana resident Carol Sikler made the news when her frequent blood donations earned her to tickets to this year's Super Bowl XLVI. I'm thrilled for her as she seems very excited about the prize, but tickets were the last thing on her mind when she was giving blood.  


According to an article about Sikler in the Journal and Courier, she had been paying back a debt by replacing the units of blood that were made available to her husband, Chuck, before he died in 2003. Sikler recently "broke even" by donating the 143 units used by her husband — and she was still giving blood.


Hers was a noble cause. And the fact that she was rewarded for her efforts with Super Bowl tickets was icing on the cake. But would it have been as noble if Sikler's only motivation to donate was to see a football game? Better question: Were there actually folks who donated blood on the off-chance that they might win those tickets?


If the answer to the later question is "yes," then I guess I can see the premise behind the new Rewards Program. Maybe it will entice new donors who will then realize how easy it is and continue donating for life. That would be a happy ending all around.  


As for me, I promise to stop complaining and be happy with my free lunch, even if it comes with a side of moral ambiguity.


What do you think of the new Red Cross Rewards Program?


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Donate blood. Win prizes?
American Red Cross hopes to draw in new donors with contests and big prizes.