Most Americans take for granted there will be plenty of blood around in case of emergencies. In reality, with some 40,000 pints used every day, there could be a severe shortage as early as next year.
As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, donation centers are taking some creative steps to take the pressure off.
Andre Quinones developed leukemia 15 years ago. He has been a regular blood donor since.
"You know, it's fantastic. It's just a good feeling inside to do this," he said.
But Quinones is the exception, not the rule. Only five percent of eligible Americans give blood, and as the population ages and the need for blood increases, officials at the nation's blood banks see a crisis looming.
Karen Lipton, of the American Association Of Blood Banks, doesn't paint a pretty picture: "So somewhere along the line, perhaps in the year 2000, we`re really thinking we`re going to see a really serious problem with the supply and demand picture."
Hospitals are already starting to report postponements of elective surgeries because of the shortage of blood, and it could get worse. Because of mad cow disease, the government is expected to ban donations from anyone who has traveled in Great Britain recently. That could dry up 2 percent of the supply.
The reason for the drop-off in donations is hard to pin down. The list includes donor apathy, fewer young people and baby-boomers volunteering and unfounded fear of needles and disease.
"It's getting worse year after year," adds Dr. Robert Jones, president of the New York Blood Center.
Jones says more blood banks are being forced to offer incentives like T-shirts and hats, or even a little something for the jet-setting crowd.
"We even have a program with platelet donations of getting a small number of frequent flier miles, and that's been popular," Jones said.
Luring new blood donors adds a whole new level of cost for blood banks, some estimate $30 to $40 per person. The result is that what was once a voluntary community service aimed at keeping people alive now needs a marketing campaign just to stay alive itself.
For more information on where to donate blood, click here.