Blood and Generosity

“You have to be relentless,” David Rubenstein told him. Christopher Ullman was trying to raise money for an inner-city Christian school, so he went to his boss at the Carlyle Group for tips. “I asked his advice,” and Rubenstein gave it unvarnished: Ullman’s approach of sending one e-mail requesting a donation and then wondering why the response was so meager was not going to work. To raise serious funding he’d need to ask again. And again. And again. 

Now Ullman is applying the strategy of relentless repetition to one of his favorite causes: giving blood. Ullman was in high school when he donated his first pint. He found it satisfying, adding that the process is not as intimidating as many people think. “It doesn’t hurt.”

“Each pint can help save the life of three people,” Ullman notes. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Now 57 years old, he has donated 80 times—cumulating to a gift of 10 gallons.

Four out of ten Americans meet the criteria to give blood. Yet less than 10 percent do. That rate has plummeted even further during the coronavirus pandemic, for obvious reasons. Many blood banks have suspended their public drives and are now taking donations by appointment. 

The American Red Cross reports 86,000 fewer blood donations than normal in the past few months. “One of the most important things people can do right now during this public health emergency is to give blood,” urges president Gail McGovern. The veterans organization Team RWB is one nonprofit trying to galvanize donors. With its Wear Red to Give Red campaign the group aims to inspire 1,000 people to give blood. So far, 327 have done so. 

People who give blood tend to be motivated by internal factors, rather than external pressure, according to research. And they tend to be broadly generous. Studies show “that active blood donors are more likely to engage in volunteer work or to make charitable contributions than non-donors,” as the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University summarizes.

For Ullman, donating blood has always been easy. He says most people don’t give for three reasons: They’re scared of needles. They’re scared about the effect of blood loss. Or no one has asked them. But the needle prick is insignificant. The body replenishes plasma at a rapid rate. And Ullman is not hesitant to enlist people. 

The great thing about giving blood is that it puts everyone on even footing. In blood there is no least or less. Even someone with no money can be a giver. 

In addition to serving on the board of the Washington, D.C., branch of the Red Cross, Ullman has other philanthropic passions. He is in the middle of a $15,000 crowdsourcing fundraiser for his Red Cross chapter. And to inspire others to donate to a range of good causes he has for years offered up his talents as a professional whistler. The four-time world whistling champion raffles off charitable versions of “Happy Birthday” that he performs, wind-powered, to more than 400 people each year. “I’m not changing everyone’s life,” he admits. It’s Chris Ullman’s way, however, of making the world a little cheerier. 

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