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Reaching donors and recipients involved in online sperm donation

Welcome to our second blog post! I'm Lauren Smith, the Research Fellow on the Online Sperm Donation Project. I have numerous roles on the project - some of which you will hear about in forthcoming blog posts - and one of these is overseeing recruitment. In this blog post, I will introduce you to what is meant by 'recruitment' in research, share with you how we developed our recruitment strategy and recruitment materials, and give you an update on how recruitment for the Online Sperm Donation Project is going so far…

Recruitment is one of the most exciting and important aspects of research. The process of identifying and inviting people to take part in research is the first contact that researchers have with potential participants. Recruiting people to take part in research is, however, notoriously difficult, and there are multiple reasons for this, such as people feeling that they do not have the time to take part, not seeing the benefit of participating, having concerns about how their information (data) is going to be used, or, it might be that the people that the researchers are trying to recruit are difficult to reach using the recruitment methods that are available to them.

For these reasons, researchers often spend a long time thinking about the best ways to generate public interest in their research, reach their target audience, and provide potential participants with key information about their study. Before launching the Online Sperm Donation Project, we put a lot of time into thinking about the different ways that we could reach and engage our target audience: people based in the UK who source sperm (sometimes called 'recipients') or donate sperm (sometimes called 'donors') online via social media sites like Facebook or online sperm donation connection websites.

To help us brainstorm ideas about the ways we could reach people involved in online sperm donation, we knew it would be helpful to draw on the expert knowledge of our public involvement group. This group is formed of people who have experienced online sperm donation; for example, donors, recipients, and people who manage online sperm donation connection sites. We wanted to know what information about the study they felt would be important for donors and recipients to know, what types of images might capture their attention or reflect their experiences, and importantly, where they thought that people would be likely to find out about the research; for example, specific websites or social media sites that they might be aware of. These conversations were invaluable to us and helped to shape our overall recruitment strategy.

We also worked with a graphic artist, Una, who created our recruitment images – you will get to find out more about Una and her work in a future blog post! In the early stages of developing our recruitment images, we had discussions about things like, how to make sure that the images were inclusive of people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, and sexualities. We wanted the people on our recruitment images to reflect the diversity of people involved in online sperm donation. We also had discussions about how to balance the attractiveness and informativeness of the recruitment images. We needed people to have the key information about our research but agreed that too much text on the poster would not be eye-catching or interesting. We discussed colour, fonts, formatting, and the use of humour in imagery. Importantly, we took every draft of the recruitment images back to people involved in online sperm donation to get their thoughts. Did they feel represented? Was the information clear to them? Were we using appropriate terminology? Overall, we are all really pleased with the final images: thank you, Una! The image at the top of this blog post is the main recruitment image that Una created for us and a smaller social media image is shown below.

Since launching the Online Sperm Donation Project, we have advertised our study using the recruitment images in several online spaces, including on:

We would like to acknowledge and thank all of the people so far who have shared our recruitment material via these platforms – we really appreciate it! Our efforts to date have generated some interest in the project from people involved in online sperm donation, although, we still have a long way to go!

So far, we have had over 80 people reach out to us who have been interested in taking part in our research. From those people, we have been lucky enough to speak to 11 people about their experiences of online sperm donation. This includes donors and recipients.

We are hoping that, over the coming months, we will get to hear lots more stories from both online sperm donors and recipients (including those who are interested in co-parenting through to donation-only arrangements). Hearing people’s stories and experiences of online sperm donation is the best part of doing this research. We can’t wait to find out more! You can find out more about how to take part in our research by visiting the research page on our website.

If you would like to support the project by sharing our recruitment material, please get in touch with us via our social media or by email:

Alternatively, if you have ideas about other ways we might reach people involved in online sperm donation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us!

In our next blog post, we will be introducing you to ‘public involvement’ and the role it plays in our research.


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