In April 2003, the Pew Charitable Foundation Internet and American Life Project released the results of its most recent national survey on Internet usage. The new report, “The Ever-Shifting Internet Population: A New Look at Internet Access and the Digital Divide,” reveals that over 40% of the adult population say they do not use the Internet. Almost a quarter of Americans have never been online, and the study termed another 20% of the non-users “Net Dropouts.”
The gray gap
Non-usage among American seniors was even more pronounced than in the past. Only 18% of those 65 and older reported having Internet access, and seniors represent just 4% of those online. Some 28% of Internet non-users are 65 and older, and 79% of those claim they will never go online. (See www.pewinternet.org for the complete report.)
Reports by the U.S. Census and the Pew Internet Project over the past several years have indicated that only a small number of the age 65+ traditional planned giving market have access to or routinely utilize the Internet. The most recent Pew Study discovered a “gray gap”; aging baby boomers and senior citizens were the group most resistant to the Internet (see the September 2002 issue of Give & Take at www.sharpenet.com/gt). Those studies found that only 12-15% of seniors regularly use the Internet. Previous studies have revealed:
- 49% of those 50-64 do not go online.
- More than 70% of those over 50 who are not online do not plan to gain Internet access.
- 13% of those not online in 2000 were former Internet users who have become Internet dropouts, compared with 17% in 2002.
- 66% of 60-64 year-olds do not go online.
Implications for gift planners
Undoubtedly, the use of the Internet will continue to grow as the U.S. population ages, but gift planners should be cognizant of the Internet’s limitations—especially in light of the rush by some to exploit the Internet for fund-raising purposes. Some seniors are plugged into life on the Internet, but independent studies reveal that most are not and have no wish to be.
Among Internet non-users, the main reasons cited for not being online were the following:
“I don’t want it.” 52%
“I don’t need it.” 52%
Worries about content and fraud 43%
“It’s too expensive.” 30%
“I don’t have time.” 29%
“The Internet is too complicated and hard to understand.” 27%
The message here is clear: Fundraisers should use age-appropriate media and marketing strategies to reach the traditional planned giving market, while utilizing the Internet among those that prefer this medium. For the foreseeable future, it may be advantageous to maintain traditional means of communication including the telephone, mail, personal contact, and group presentations, while thoughtfully laying the foundation for communicating effectively with future generations of planned givers.