The Truth About Senior Donors and Digital Marketing

Senior Couple on tablet while having coffee

Results from a New Market Study by CZG (Part One in a Series).

There is a lot being said these days about the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of senior donors around the use of electronic communication and digital engagement. At CZG, we decided to get the facts for ourselves by conducting an extensive market research study in which we interviewed donors age 65+ about what they do, don’t, will and won’t do electronically. 

Phase One of the study was completed in March 2021, and consisted of 120 in-depth telephone interviews – split into 40 interviews with donors in each of the following age brackets:

  1. Age 65-74 (Group 1)
  2. Age 75-84 (Group 2)
  3. Age 85+ (Group 3)

All donors interviewed had made at least one charitable contribution in the past six months. Select discoveries from Phase One will be discussed in this article, with additional information to be included in future posts as the study moves into and through additional phases.

The focus of this ongoing primary research is to understand how attitudes, perceptions and behaviors around the Internet and digital communication differ among the three age brackets being studied.

Following are some highlights from Phase One of the study:

  • Predictably, Internet usage has an inverse relationship to age. 89% of Group 1 uses the Internet, followed by 83% of Group 2, while only 39% of Group 3 report any kind of Internet usage, period.
  • The largest group reporting use of email was Group 1, with 66% reporting that they “sometimes use email.” Not far behind was Group 2, 61% of whom also “sometimes use” email. Among Group 3, 63% reported that they never use email.
  • When asked how frequently they use Facebook, 42% of Group 1 reported that they “often” use Facebook, while 33% of Group 2 and 65% of Group 3 reported that they “never” use Facebook.
  • Asked the same question regarding Twitter usage, 87% of Group 1 replied “Never,” along with 89% of Group 2 and 96% of Group 3. Combining the responses of all three Groups, we see that less than 1 in 10 donors over age 65 ever make use of Twitter.
  • Across all three age groups, 1 in 4 users access the Internet via a tablet-style device of some type.
  • Although 39% of Group 3 does not use the Internet, 30% reported that they “sometimes” shop online, and almost 40% “sometimes” pay bills online.

Use of the Internet for financial transactions such as shopping, paying bills or making charitable donations indicates an increased sense of security around digital transactions, especially on the part of the oldest study participants (Group 3). This bodes well for Internet-based planned giving activity, as evidenced by the success of relatively new web-based charitable estate resources such as GiftWise and FreeWill.

Where does this leave traditional direct mail? It is still king of the hill, and probably will remain so for some time. In Phase One of this study, feelings around the likability of direct mail vs. email left no question that ink, paper and postage will not be supplanted by email anytime soon. Only 2.5% of total responders reported liking receiving email “a lot” while 91% expressed positive feelings for direct mail.

In a future article, we will discuss additional study findings and the overall implications of Phase One of this comprehensive research project for successful planned gifts marketing, along with preparations which are well underway to begin Phase Two. Stay tuned.

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