January 2018

AAMVA members support Donate Life America in the effort to save lives through organ, eye and tissue donation

As more than 120,000 men, women and children are currently on the national transplant waiting list, organ donation is more important than ever. From hearts and kidneys to corneas and tissue, one person’s living and/or deceased donations can improve and save many lives. Donate Life America, a national nonprofit organization, is dedicated to spreading the word about the importance of being a registered donor in order to increase the number of organs, eyes and tissue available to patients on the transplant list.

“It’s a national health care crisis in the United States,” says David Fleming, president and CEO of Donate Life America. “In a world of big numbers, 120,000 may not seem like much, but it’s important for us because these are preventable deaths. Not everyone is a registered organ donor, but if they were, we could save twice as many people per year.”

As a partner with Donate Life America, AAMVA and DMVs across the country help to register donors when they receive new driver’s licenses. DMVs are responsible for thousands of new donor registrations every year, and to recognize these lifesaving transactions, Donate Life America initiated National DMV Appreciation Week, which occurs every year at the end of September.

This year’s Appreciation Week took place Sept. 25– 29, and DMV employees participated in a variety of ways, including social media sharing and wearing T-shirts sporting the Donate Life America logo. But since Appreciation Week is really Donate Life America’s opportunity to express gratitude to DMV employees for going out of their way to save lives, the main celebrations occurred when volunteers of national and state Donate Life teams visited DMVs nationwide.

“If they were allowed, volunteers brought in doughnuts or pizza to have a little party for DMV employees and to recognize that they’re doing a great job,” says Fleming.

Donate Life America also recognizes jurisdictions with high or increasing donor designation rates with awards, and Alaska, Montana and Washington won the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards for Highest Donor Designation Rate in 2016, and California won the award for Largest Increase in Donor Designation Rate, with a 13.7 percent increase in 2016.

South Carolina DMV employees participated in National Donate Life Blue & Green Day in September 2017.

Team Spirit

Outside of National DMV Appreciation Week, DMVs also participate in National Blue & Green Day, which takes place every April. Employees wear the Donate Life America colors—blue and green—along with decorating their offices and sharing photos.

“Blue & Green Day is where DMV employees really take it to the extreme,” says Kevin Shwedo, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. “My employees throughout the state hold competitions to bring greater awareness to Donate Life America in their own communities. They love the spirit of competition, but they also know that what they’re doing makes a difference and gives us the opportunity to change and save lives.”

“Since April is Donor Awareness Month, that’s when we make the biggest splash,” adds Jean Shiomoto, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “We participate in Blue & Green Day, and have a big decorating contest with our field offices and call centers. They submit photos to Donate Life California, and then they judge who has the best decorated office and gives them an award, so it’s gotten pretty competitive over the last few years.”

Nationwide Participation

To get more involved with Donate Life America, jurisdictions can meet and work directly with their Donate Life state teams, as well as state organ procurement agencies, to discuss things like what DMVs and Donate Life can do better, what resources Donate Life can provide for DMVs, how to impact state legislation and more.

“The key is to have a good relationship with the Donate Life executive director for your state,” says Shwedo. “They can do amazing things to help us bring attention to the cause.”

In South Carolina, Shwedo says they hold press conferences at the beginning of every legislative session with the governor and some of the legislators to bring attention to what they’re trying to accomplish—doubling the state’s donor registration rate in five years. DMV employees also wear Donate Life America polo shirts every Friday, which Shwedo says sparks conversation about organ donation both inside and outside of DMV offices.

In Florida, field offices nominate “Organ Donor Champions,” who attend quarterly meetings with their state team in Miami to share their thoughts and answer questions about organ donation in order to share with their offices.

Messaging is also an important way for jurisdictions to advocate Donate Life America and increase organ donor registration. While many jurisdictions are required to ask people coming through their DMVs if they would like to become an organ donor and include the question on forms, some states go out of their way to frame the question in a more strategic or personal way. For example, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles ask customers: “Would you like to save a life today?” And the South Carolina DMV asks: “Would it be worth it to you if a family member was going to be saved by checking yes in that block?”

Donate Life state teams offer resources and conduct in-office training for DMV locations interested in learning more about the importance and how to effectively ask the question.

A Successful Partnership

While it’s difficult to track the exact impact of National DMV Appreciation Week and other events all over the country, the success of the partnership between Donate Life America and AAMVA is apparent.

“When we started back in 2006, approximately 40 million Americans were registered as organ, eye and tissue donors,” says Fleming. “We set out that year to improve our relationship with DMV partners at the national level, and to provide accurate information and to focus our outreach efforts. Here we are 11 years later, and we now have 140 million Americans registered as donors, and roughly 95 percent of [the people who have been added to the donor list] have come through DMV transactions. I think that’s really good evidence of how DMVs have helped us.”