Panda Q&A with Rachel Behar of Anthony Nolan

Feb 4, 2016 9:12:31 AM

Today, 4th February, is World Cancer Day. People across the globe will be raising awareness, and fundraising, for the millions affected by cancer every day. Anthony Nolan know all too well how important generosity can be. 

It all began in 1971, when the young Anthony Nolan was born with the rare condition known as Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. With the only cure being a bone marrow transplant, yet no relative as a suitable match, Shirley Nolan was inspired by her son’s plight to fight for a register that could match unrelated donors to patients in desperate need.

Today, the register continues to grow. But the hard work never stops. Like cranberry panda, Anthony Nolan is constantly pushing to recruit brilliant people, be it in a very different way. We (the marketing pandas) caught up with Anthony Nolan’s marketing manager, Rachel Behar, to find out more about the efforts behind this amazing organisation.

Marketing Pandas (MP): First of all, what inspired you join Anthony Nolan as Marketing Manager? 

Rachel Behar (RB): I was inspired by Shirley’s story and I wanted to join the lifesaving team. There are so many ways we help to save the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders. Whether it’s joining the stem cell register by spitting into a tube and becoming a potential lifesaver for someone, or raising funds by running a marathon, to campaigning and raising our profile with politicians and other influential stakeholders, or having amazing courier volunteers who transport donated stem cells around the world.

What makes us unique as a charity is we demonstrate a direct, tangible impact, from a stranger to a patient and the stories are incredible. Here is a great example from Sean and Jonny.

What I find remarkable, is the heritage story we are rooted in. A bone marrow transplant was the only known cure for Shirley’s son Anthony, but there was no system or process to find a match. Her passion, drive and determination to set up the world’s first bone marrow register to find a match for her son is incredible, and the register continues to grow today. Our strong rooted heritage makes us the brand we are today.

MP: When you first joined, what were the main challenges the organisation had to tackle? How did you feel you could personally contribute? 

RB: One of our main challenges is addressing the misconceptions around donating stem cells or bone marrow. We know that there are lots of myths around what it means to donate stem cells and we have been working hard to bust some of these in the last year. We ran a myth busting campaign online last year to educate people about the facts of donation. 

Firstly, once you are on the register you have a 1 in 900 chance of being asked to donate in the next five years. But your chance of being chosen to donate depends on your age and sex, for example, a young man aged 16-30 has a 1 in 200 chance of being chosen to donate. Joining the register doesn’t mean you will be necessarily asked to donate but it is absolutely vital that everyone who joins the register is prepared to donate if asked – a patient with blood cancer or a blood disorder’s life will be depending on it. 

One of the biggest obstacles to our work is that a lot of people think stem cell donation is incredibly painful and serious – but the reality is very, very different. It is serious but it might not be painful. Read what our donors have to say here.

 Supporting Anthony Nolan

In fact, 9 out of 10 people donate their stem cells in a quick and easy process similar to giving blood, called peripheral blood stem cell collection. 1 in 10 donors will have their stem cells collected via the bone marrow itself, while under general anaesthetic. If you’re on the register, you need to be happy to donate your stem cells via either method. 

This is one of our remarkable donors, Luke, during his donation in December last year. He shared his experience on our Facebook page

There is more information on our website including case studies and videos from people who have donated via both methods.

Lots of young men assume that they won’t be allowed to join the Anthony Nolan donor register if they’re gay. It isn’t true at all – your sexuality doesn’t affect your eligibility one bit! Find out more about who can join the register.

MP: It costs £60 to add one person to the register. How important is it that people not only join the register, but maintain their support in other ways too? How can they do this?

RB: People often seem to think that if they can’t join the donor register, they can’t help save the lives of people with blood cancer. This couldn’t be further from the truth – we’d be incredibly grateful for your help with raising vital funds, supporting our campaigns, and spreading awareness! 

We help three people every day get a potentially lifesaving blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant. But we can’t find a match for everyone because we simply don’t have the funds. The more money we have, the more donors we can find – and the more lives we can save. Whether you want to run, cycle, trek, swim or jump – in the UK or further afield – we’ve got a challenge to suit you. You can see more here.

We also need volunteers to support our work. We have volunteers who transport stem cells across the globe, inspire students to join the stem cell register in schools and colleges, pack our saliva testing kits at our ‘Spit kit socials’ and much, much more. You can see our latest opportunities here.

We also regularly lobby the Government to support policies to provide better care and research, and raise awareness of the need for people to join the bone marrow register.  But we can’t do it alone. By contacting politicians and spreading the word about our campaign you can help us be as effective as possible. Find out how you can get in touch with your local MP and more here.

MP: The current push is for young men, 16-30. Obviously every single person who joins the register is a potential life saved. But, how are you reaching out to the male 16-30 target audience and why is it important that they take notice?

RB: We recruit men and women aged 16-30 through recruitment events and online through the donor application form on our website. Young people are most likely to be chosen to donate as they provide the best outcomes for patients and are less likely to have long-term health problems which might delay or prevent donation. Currently, young men make up only 15% of our register but provide more than half of all donations. We need more young men to sign up to help us achieve our aim of giving everyone who has a stem cell transplant have the greatest possible chance at life. 

We find it much easier to target a young male audience with face to face recruitment. We work with the armed forces, the police and other organisations with a high proportion of men to speak directly to large numbers of young men. We work with sports organisations, universities and schools to educate groups of young people about joining the register.

It is more difficult to reach this audience online. We find that when we have a spike in online applications caused by a patient appeal, it is mostly young women who sign up. We need to understand more about how to engage young men online and we are currently carrying out some research into this audience to help us to understand what we can do to better target them online. We have also been testing some images and wording to understand what young men respond to. We need to understand how to get noticed and be an attractive brand that with whom young men want to be associated with and this is something we will be working on in 2016.

 Supporting Anthony Nolan

MP: Cancer in all forms is a debilitating disease, but the organisation is constantly working towards positive outcomes. What’s the most positive thing you’ve seen during your work with Anthony Nolan?

RB: I think it is hard to pinpoint one positive thing I have seen during my work, as there are so many daily, but the two that stand out include visiting a donor at the London Clinic to watch a stem cell donation take place, and see how simple the process is, and then knowing that those cells can go on to save a life. The second, was attending a labs and research tour which was an incredible experience, as you got to see our pioneering work take place  as the ‘world’s first unrelated  bone marrow register.’

MP: The work of Shirley Nolan (Anthony’s mother) was outstanding. How do you personally strive to keep their legacy upheld?

RB: When Shirley founded Anthony Nolan in 1974, her mission was to ensure that no child died like her son, waiting for a donor to save them. This quote is displayed prominently in our offices and is at the core of our organisational strategy and the way we work everyday. Whether we are carrying out searches for matching donors, raising vital funds or raising awareness, we all keep Shirley’s words at the heart of our work. 

MP: What's in store for Anthony Nolan in 2016?

RB: Our vision is to save and improve the lives of everyone who needs a stem cell transplant . Thanks to the incredible work of our staff, more than 500,000 potential donors are on our register, and the kindness of 25 million people on registries worldwide, we give three people a chance of life every day. But there’s still more to be done.

Too many patients – particularly those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – can’t find the best transplant match. Too many struggle with relapse, complications, or Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD). And too many don’t receive the proper support in the years afterwards. By building on our existing work, expanding our partnerships, and changing our tactics wherever it’s necessary, we can save and improve more lives than ever before.

A huge thank you to Rachel for taking the time to speak with us. Did you know you can support Anthony Nolan by completing our 2016 ecommerce salary survey? The pandas will donate £1 to either Anthony Nolan or The Running Charity for the first 500 respondents of our survey. All you have to do is complete the survey and select the charity! Take part today! Find out more about the other ways you can get involved in Anthony Nolan’s work right here

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