Like many Long Island residents left without power in the days following Hurricane Sandy, Cutchogue resident Syd Dufton was in search of a live outlet and an Internet connection.
Working on the launch of a social media e-commerce campaign, his eyes and ears were focused on the task at hand: getting his client’s new facial scrub into the hands of prospective customers.
It was somewhat trivial at the time, he admitted, given that many of those around him in the Mattituck Starbucks probably hadn’t had access to a hot shower in several days.
But the unique situation got him thinking, and gave him the idea for a product that not only works, but also helps save lives.
“It just kept repeating. A steady stream of people just kept coming in,” he recalled. “And I noticed, most of them were trying to charge up their phones to get on Facebook.”
Some time passed, then a man wearing an American Red Cross cap came in, ordered a coffee and quickly made his exit.
“I saw the Red Cross guy come in and thought to myself, ‘Man, what if we could use our technology to help during emergencies like Sandy in some way?’ ” Mr. Dufton said.
In the following days, he contacted Red Cross officials, pitching a smartphone application aimed at helping the nonprofit communicate better with people using handheld technology.
“When a disaster hits, 90 percent of Red Cross Internet traffic goes to mobile,” Mr. Dufton explained.
The result is the new Red Cross Blood app, which enables donors to locate nearby blood drives, schedule a donation and earn rewards — such as a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza from an area business — for making a donation. Because the app is connected to social media outlets, including Facebook, they can then tell others about their experience and the reward they received.
Once they’ve given blood, app users can track where and when their donation is used, which raters on iTunes say is the most rewarding of the app’s features.
Launched Sept. 9 at an industry trade show hosted by The Wireless Association, which is supported by members of the international wireless telecommunications industry, the app it was named “Most Life Changing Product,” quickly shooting to the top spot in the medical category on iTunes.
“It is really working and helping to increase blood donations,” Mr. Dufton said last Thursday at the very same Starbucks, sporting a Red Cross pin on his collar.
One donation, or pint of blood, can save as many as three lives, according to the nonprofit.
Over 25,000 donor appointments have been scheduled using the app since its launch, according to the Red Cross. The application is available as a free download for the iPhone and Android smartphones.
“We have found that blood donors who schedule their appointments through the app are more likely to keep those appointments than donors who schedule appointments through other channels,” said Red Cross spokesman Grant Hansen. “Right now, our blood supply is sufficient to meet patient needs, but the need for blood is constant. This time of year can be challenging to ensure that there is enough blood on the shelves to meet patient needs.”
He noted that the application’s connection with social media has helped to spread word of the need for blood donors.
“While the Red Cross has a big voice, the millions of supporters in our network have voices, too,” Mr. Hansen said. “Enabling users to share their experience helps broadcast our message exponentially, which in turn allows us to reach and help an incredible amount of people.”
Mr. Dufton said his experience with the Red Cross has inspired his company to explore a new route to working with nonprofits.
“People with organizations like the Red Cross dedicate their lives to this stuff, and it’s fun to work with people like that, people who really care and are doing stuff that is revolutionary,” he said.
His company, AxleDigital, has launched a new division known as WeWIN, which is focused on connecting nonprofit organizations with companies that are looking to help promote fundraising strategies using social media.
Known as a cause commerce platform, it enables nonprofits to reward donors for their contributions, while giving a face to the many companies that support charitable groups.
“This kind of technology is just coming to these nonprofits,” Mr. Dufton said. “The Red Cross knows the next generation of donors are not going to write them a check from their checkbooks. They need to be where the donors are.”