Aims and objectives To investigate factors involved in the blood donation (BD) in a population of Italian nursing students (NSs). Background Young people are still numerically limited among potential blood donors. Recent research on this topic has underlined the need to promote recruitment programmes and focused advertising campaigns to specific targeted population. Design Cross-sectional study. The STROBE checklist was used to grant adequate and complete reporting of research. Methods The study was carried out in five Italian Universities, and a structured, 22-item questionnaire was distributed to 532 NSs (mean age = 24.64, SD = 7.41, min = 19; max = 55; population, female = 80.8% of total) to explore propensity, obstacles, knowledge of BD and to assess associations between variables. Descriptive (frequency, mean and SD) and inferential (χ2) statistics were conducted. Results The overall level of knowledge among NSs donors is high, when compared with non-donors (p < 0.05); the propensity for donation is acceptable (34.8% of the total are donors; mean = 3.17 donation). The obstacles perceived by participants are “practical” (20% and 22.8% think they do not have enough time to donate or are unsuitable because of lifestyle reasons; respectively). A relevant aspect regards the NSs’ perceived role as future healthcare professionals to be responsible to educate and influence potential donors (81.5%). Conclusions Specifically tailored BD campaigning should be implemented to sensitise University students. NSs could become effective motivators among students of different Universities or faculties. Thanks to their role and capability to put themselves in the peer group. NSs could contribute to the promotion of this selfless practice and to the development of a mature, responsible civic attitude. Relevance to clinical practice Nursing educators should play a pivotal role in developing teaching methods to promote BD among NSs.