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The American Red Cross is My Drip

Red Cross Wristband

How do you increase engagement and appeal among millennials and Gen Z for an organization that’s more than 140 years old? That was the question posed by the American Red Cross, Northeastern Ohio Region, to a group of MBA students in Dr. Scott Allen’s MB 560 Leadership Lab.

 “The Red Cross is more than just blood and mud,” says Mike Parks, Regional CEO at American Red Cross Northeastern Ohio Region, referring to the impression most people have of the organization providing blood or disaster relief. Parks has worked closely with Dr. Allen and his students for the past eight years to provide meaningful work experiences that require leadership, advanced problem-solving, presentations, and event planning.

In order to create a plan that would generate more interest in the organization among millennials and Gen Z, the students in the Fall 2022 course focused on increasing relevance, visibility, and legitimacy for the American Red Cross within the local community. They began by researching existing opinions and tools.

“At the Red Cross, we interviewed people at all levels, from the C-suite to the phlebotomists who draw blood. We determined that there was a huge opportunity to use social media to tell the story—both for the Red Cross and for the donors and volunteers,” says MBA student Scott Winer who served as the project lead for the group. “We also solicited input from marketing professionals in our own organizations.” 

The results of their research and deliberation led the project team to present recommendations on building a better social media presence, especially on Instagram, and reaching potential young volunteers where they are, addressing their concerns regarding time commitments or virtual work. They even designed a branded wristband that could be given in recognition of participation and support.

Instagram Red Cross

For one MBA student, Emily Tanski, the opportunity to raise awareness for the Red Cross was personal. Her mother had recently passed away from cancer and, while undergoing a blood transfusion at the hospital, Emily was present when a nurse told her mother that they were out of blood. Out of blood? Emily could not fathom how that was even possible. The thought that a lack of donations may have caused a blood shortage was more than Emily could bear.

“When this project was put before us, I knew I wanted to tell my story,” says Emily. “I also thought that providing the opportunity for others to share their story could create a great catalyst to increase volunteers and donations. We suggested branding photos and posts with a droplet that says Our Type—who doesn’t want to be identified as an extraordinary, service minded, passionate, and team oriented individual? We also suggested increasing use of Twitter @RedCrossNOH, using hashtags of #MyDrip and #MyRedCrossReason, and we created examples of red wristbands that say The American Red Cross is My Drip.”

“I had never presented before, so delivering the 15-minute presentation for my group was a great accomplishment for me,” says Tanski, who has gone on to become a member of the Red Cross Young Professionals Committee, along with two other members from the cohort. “This course showed us how to work together, organize a project, and exercised our negotiation skills. The work was meaningful and really connected the dots.”

“In the words of author Stephen Covey, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’ and that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Parks. “I’m in the midst of youthful enthusiasm. They are our target audience, and being able to leverage their perspectives and talent has provided us with great insights. We want them to know that there are many opportunities to help and volunteer—office work, our Sound the Alarm work to install smoke detectors in people’s home, young professionals’ groups—we need digital ambassadors to help spread the word.”

MB 560 is part of the Professional MBA curriculum in the Boler College of Business at JCU. The Professional MBA is a cohort-driven program of students who are industry professionals and currently employed full-time across a range of businesses and organizations. Courses incorporate the use of real-time, experiential projects to provide students with skills that are immediately deployable in their own workplaces to innovate and implement new ideas, improve current situations and processes, and solve problems. The program features a strong leadership sequence.