This is serious, so let's get right to the chase: The American Red Cross says we're really short on blood in the United States, especially focusing on a couple of blood types.

They want to spur people to donate quickly. So, besides simply getting the word out, they're offering a $5 Amazon gift card to anyone who signs up for a scheduled blood drive and gives blood between now and August 31. 

I know $5 isn't all the money in the world, but honestly, if you're eligible to donate blood and healthy, you should probably think about doing this anyway. 

And if you can organize people from your work--or even better, organize a blood drive at your business--you'll be making a really great contribution to your community.

Here are the details, along with how to get your Amazon gift card if you donate.

The universal donors

There's an especially acute need right now for Type O blood, and especially Type O-negative, which the Red Cross says is "is the universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations."

O-positive is also widely tolerable, and "can be transfused to Rh-positive patients of any blood type."

Part of the shortage right now is due to the fact that there were far fewer blood drives during the July 4 this week, likely because the holiday fell on a Wednesday. 

"Unlike many other lifesaving medical treatments, blood donations cannot be manufactured and stockpiled," said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Blood Services. "Red blood cells have a shelf-life of only 42 days and platelets just five days - Each donation, each day makes a difference."

Can you donate?

In most cases, as long as you're 17 years or older, in generally good health, and weigh at least 110 pounds, the odds are good that you're eligible to give blood.

There are some surprising restrictions however, and I was very surprised to learn a few years ago that I'm on the prohibited list. This is a result of having lived in England during the early 1990s.

If you spent more than three months in the U.K. between 1980 and 1996, you're not supposed to give blood for the slightly terrifying reason that there was a Mad Cow Disease scare there during that time, and it's not clear how that disease is transmitted.

Actually, a lot of my fellow Generation Xers might find themselves in a similar situation, as the prohibition applies if you did a study abroad program in Europe during college, worked there afterward, or served in the military in Europe during the 1980s or 1990s. (Or of course, if you lived there for any other reason). 

The point here isn't to scare you away, but just to make sure you know. More details here and here.

About the gift card

This is pretty simple actually. Once you sign up online and actually go and donate blood, you'll get a $5 Amazon gift certificate by email. There's nothing that says the total number of gift cards is limited, although each person can only claim one.

As for people like me, who can't donate blood? The Red Cross asks you to donate something else: Money.

So, since I'm writing this article and won't be having anyone stick a needle in my arm, that only seemed fair. For a few of you reading this article, it might just turn out that the gift cards you receive were paid for my donation.

So thank you, and you're welcome. And may you never need donated blood yourself.