Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tips for Improving Your Donor Program By: Gail Sexton Anderson, Ed.M., Founder, Donor Concierge

I have exposure to over 60 donor websites and 14 years of experience working with intended parents in need of egg donors. I have recently been asked by a few egg donor agencies what they can do to improve their programs. My experience has taught me that what intended parents look for in donors, regardless of their ethnic background, is a healthy, bright, egg donor who comes across as wholesome and attractive.

Healthy means having a good health history with no serious illness, no addiction issues, no history of anxiety or depression, and no eating disorders. But it goes beyond the health of the egg donor herself. It also means no one in her immediate family has any of these issues. There should also be no cancer in her immediate family. While it is not unusual for a grandparent to have cancer late in life, it is alarming to intended parents to see cancer in the immediate family, especially with her mother or father, particularly those occurring before the age of 40. After the age of 40, while it still may be worrisome to many intended parents, it is not as likely to be of a hereditary nature. Other types of cancer, such as breast cancer on the maternal side, is more likely to be a hereditary issue if it occurs before the age of 40.

Adult onset diabetes in the donor’s grandparents doesn’t tend to be a big concern but juvenile diabetes in the donor’s immediate family is a major concern due to hereditary factors. Another major concern among intended parents is mental illness and addiction. Alcoholism in a grandparent is not necessarily a huge issue and is fairly common. What is of greater concern is seeing a pattern of addiction in the donor’s family. If the grandfather was an alcoholic, and so was the uncle on the same side of the family, that indicates there could be a pattern of addiction, which is a hereditary issue. If the donor’s parents have ever struggled with addiction, that is also a huge red flag for intended parents, and they are unlikely to ever choose that donor. The same is true of any mental health issues in the family such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia. Unfortunately, there is a strong hereditary factor for all of these mental health issues.

I realize that all of these things are not terribly unusual. It happens in the best of families. In fact, many intended parents may have these same issues within their own genetic families. But if there were a choice to avoid serious health issues, mental health issues, and addiction, all of which have genetic components, wouldn’t you want to avoid them too?

It is often difficult for intended parents to truly assess how bright an egg donor candidate may be. But intelligence is a concern for most intended parents that I work with. Most of my clients are well-educated, having attended college and in most cases, graduate school. They have worked hard and truly value intelligence and drive, and are hoping to find these characteristics in an egg donor. They want to see a spark of intelligence that will help them relate to the donor and feel like this is someone they could like, someone who could fit into their family. With barely more than a few pages of information and a few pictures, intended parents have to make one of the most difficult decisions of their life. One of the most important aspects of this is to see if the donor has attended college. For the most part, most of my clients want to see a BS or a BA; some will consider an AA if the donor seems to have drive, but many really would like to see more.

The jury is still out as to intelligence being nurture or nature. Intended parents know that they can nurture, but will their child feel like they fit into a family of very bright people if the answer is nature? That is why intended parents want to see demonstrated intelligence. Intended parents are hoping to find someone that will remind them of themselves. These are people who have excelled in academics and value that drive in others. If they had the opportunity to get to know these egg donors personally, they might not care what kind of degree they have because they would already know the quality individual that they are, but that is not the case. All they have are a few pages of a donor profile.

Beyond health and intelligence, intended parents like to see wholesome girls. They are often trying to either see themselves or visualizing a future daughter. They don’t like to see egg donor candidates who look like they are trying to seduce the camera or worse yet, their husbands. They want the donor to look like a nice girl they could take home for a family dinner, not someone who would drink too much and wind up dancing on the table. Again, what they want is someone they can relate to, who will fit into their family.

This all brings me to my final point; first impressions count, and when it comes to donors, it may be all that you have to get the intended parents’ attention. If intended parents don’t find an egg donor visually appealing, they will not look any deeper. There are some agencies that are very good at marketing their donors so there are things that you can do to present the donor at her best. Everyone has good hair days and bad hair days; just don’t use those bad hair day pictures. Choose the pictures that show your donor at her best. You don’t have to use every picture she sends you just because she sent it, and if the pictures she provides are not very good, take the time to shoot some pictures when you meet her. If photography is not your forte, send the donor to a studio or hire a photographer to take a few good shots for your site. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tips on Improving Your Egg Donor Site By: Gail Sexton Anderson, Ed.M., Founder, Donor Concierge

I work with over 60 agencies across the country, and they all have subtle differences that make them unique from the rest. Some are better than others, and there are extremes at both ends of the spectrum. Most, if not all of these sites, could use some general improvements. I have been asked by several agencies about how to best improve their sites, and I am happy to provide some tips. Many of these suggestions come from personal conversations with intended parents, and others are from my own experiences. Some sites are not very user friendly, and I know that if I find them difficult and cumbersome to search, you can only imagine how frustrating and discouraging they must be for the average intended parent. Most often, the intended parent is already emotionally frayed and desperately searching for the right egg donor. Hard to navigate sites exacerbate their stress and make the process more difficult for them.

Websites should be visually appealing, not distracting. It is probably worthwhile to keep your site looking fresh by taking a serious look at it every 5-7 years so that it doesn’t become stagnant or dated. Just as fashions come and go, so do website designs, color schemes, and technology. For example, at one point in time, most agencies used hand written applications. They felt that seeing a donor’s handwriting helped intended parents to form an impression of the donor. Today, hand written applications tend to make an agency’s site look small-time and unprofessional. Intended parents are far more sophisticated then you may realize. They have the opportunity to see numerous sites and as a result, they may worry when they see an outdated website. To them, it is a representation of a small mom and pop shop business. Even if you are a small agency working from home, which is how many agencies operate, you can present yourself as bigger than you are simply by having a fresh looking, updated site. It definitely makes a difference in how intended parents perceive your agency; I know because I hear their comments.

If you have more than 50 egg donors, you should have a filter to allow intended parents to find what they need quickly, without having to scroll through all of your donors. My favorite filters are those that allow the intended parents (and me) the ability to choose more than one option for each search requirement, i.e. eye color or hair color, by holding down the control key. I find that most intended parents are open to a range of eye colors and hair colors and having to search each possible combination separately can be very time consuming. The same holds true for ethnic heritage. Some Asian couples may only want to see Chinese donors, while others may be open to Japanese and Korean as well. Though lumping all Asian donors into Asian may be effective for the agency, it is definitely too broad a category and should list the donor’s specific heritage not just her race. Some of my favorite filter options are:

•Minimum Education = or < (College degree, Masters, PhD etc.)

•Hair color – Blond, Light Brown, Med. Brown, Black, Red (hold down control to choose more than one)

•Eye color – (hold down control to choose more than one)

•Age range

•Height range

•Repeat Donor (yes/no)

•Available (please, don’t show me who is in cycle)

•Race – Asian, African American, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, East Indian

•Ethnic Heritage – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Irish, French, German, Persian, etc. (hold down control to choose more than one)

•Academic Achievers – (Only donors who meet the following criteria belong in this group: GPA of 3.0 and up in college, SAT over 1250 on old SAT over 1700 on new SAT, ACT of over 27, Masters level or better)

Don’t make it difficult for intended parents to see full profiles. If they have to contact you to get a full profile, they may just move on to the next site that allows them direct access. You must have pretty amazing donors, either visually or academically, for intended parents to want to contact you for full profiles. And chances are that you are missing out on possible matches by making them jump through hoops to see a full profile. Some agencies feel they are protecting their donors, but in most cases, the site is already password protected. Those who have requested passwords are usually serious about finding a match.

The most important way to improve your site is to have really great donors. Make sure they complete their profiles, and stay in touch with your donors so that you aren’t surprised if they have moved, changed their mind, or are in cycle with another agency. Your donors will feel more committed to your program, and you will be more on top of their availability to cycle if you stay in touch. There is nothing worse than having an intended parent express interest in a donor only to find that you can’t locate her. Young women move frequently and don’t always update you with their new contact info. Staying in touch with your donors can also help you to keep your site looking fresh by adding current photos. Some agencies are good at rotating donor photos and posting new pictures, which can bring new attention to the donor and possibly a new match for you.

Think of your site as a storefront. You want to keep it looking clean, fresh, and interesting. Pay attention to details and make sure the donors’ profiles are complete. If a donor ages out, remove her from your site. Very few intended parents are comfortable choosing egg donors over the age of 30, particularly if she is not a previous donor and has no children of her own. It is far better to have a site with 50 great donors than a site with 1,000 so-so donors.