| Landmark Study of Socially
Engaged Internet Users
September 15, 1999
A first-ever study of internet users' interest in engaging with charities and advocacy groups online reveals a vast, but largely untapped potential for using new technologies to mobilize people for social change.
ARLINGTON, VA -- A first-ever study of internet users' interest in engaging with charities and advocacy groups online reveals a vast, but largely untapped potential for using new technologies to mobilize people for social change. This is the principal conclusion of a study released today by CMS Interactive, a division of Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co. (CMS).
The study, conducted by pollster Mark Mellman, found that nearly 50 million Americans over 18 have internet access and currently either give their time and/or money to such causes as poverty housing, human rights, civil liberties, international relief, or the environment. Of these, however, most have never visited the Web site of a charity, and only 3.5 million say they have given online (note: survey results can be downloaded, in PDF format, by clicking on the link at the very bottom of this news release).
"The more sensational stories of Internet giving for Turkey and Kosovo does not reflect the reality for most cause groups," said CMSi Director Mark Rovner. "If you're not the International Red Cross, the Internet revolution has yet to change your life."
But it may soon. The study identified a core group of 7.5 million Americans - so-called "Progressive Pace-Setters" -- that has already begun to embrace advocacy and charitable giving online, and another 7.3 million - dubbed "Thresholders" -- who appear to be on the verge of following suit. The study also found that socially engaged Internet users are at least as numerous, and on average 20 years younger, than typical members acquired through such traditional means as direct mail.
"These young Internet engagers are potentially very good news for charities and public interest groups," said CMS President Rosemary Amatetti. "A study we commissioned last year of contributors to cause groups and charities found that only 17 percent of those members were under the age of 50. It may well be that the Internet represents an important new audience for these groups."
But the study also suggested that the Internet is unlikely to replace more traditional approaches to giving or advocacy any time soon, even among these socially engaged cybersurfers. Concerns about privacy and credit card security, for instance remain high: 71 percent said they were "very" or "extremely" concerned about the security of their personal information online. Nearly 90 percent said they would never give their credit card information out to a charity or public interest group.
Nor does the Internet appear to offer escape from the "bricks and mortar" challenges of running a charity or advocacy group. By a 3-2 margin, engaged Internet users say they are more likely to visit the Web site of an organization with which they were already familiar than one they first encountered on the Internet. And a 33 percent plurality said that a group's brand identity and reputation would be the most important factor in deciding whether to give online.
"When you get behind the hype, you find some exciting opportunities, but the reality is that the Internet represents valuable new tools, not an entirely new world," added Rovner. "Learning to master those tools is the next big challenge."