Fall marks the beginning of the giving season around much of corporate America. Individually and through campaigns with organizations like United Way, corporate donors and employees are making a real difference.
I recently learned about a really cool charity called Cfy that is helping low-income kids by giving them access to a home computer and educational games. Cfy’s Director of Technology, Richard Hicks, told me that once these computers go home there is a huge increase in the family getting connected to the Internet via broadband service. It seems that by seeding PCs, the digital divide can often be conquered. In this demographic, less than 15% of households have connectivity to the Internet.
I began thinking of all the functions I perform online and the relative ease with which advertisers and search-engine marketers reach my eyeballs each day. With half of all Americans falling into the low-income range, I wondered how marketers and businesses were reaching this group. There is surprisingly little data that addresses low-income marketing in the US. Given the size of this group, I think that their economic power is overlooked and along with it a huge potential to market needed services that they can afford is being missed.
Think of all the news and information these families are missing. Add to that the ease of online banking, tax-filing, or shopping for car insurance and it is difficult to imagine how low-income families have been simultaneously overlooked and underserved. Certainly families with no home Internet can get connected at the library, but the conditions are less than ideal. Long waits and time limits per visit rule the day.
The gift of connectivity
Here are two ways businesses can make a difference during this giving season:
1. Seeding PCs: Giving a low-income family a PC makes them twice as likely to get connected to the Internet. A logical barrier is the initial investment in the computer. Contributions can come in many forms, from donating money directly to a charity that purchases new gear, to assisting a recycling program for PCs, or donating used computers after a corporate refresh. From a business perspective, each PC represents a potential new consumer that can be reached by corporate online strategies making the investment in these consumers a sound choice.
2. Support Assistance: Cfy provides a half-day training session to parents and children receiving new PCs from their charity. Any attempt to get new Internet users set up is going to require some hand-holding. Additionally, help is needed during the first weeks to assist users in procuring broadband. Once again, businesses can participate directly with monetary support, or indirectly by giving employees with the proper expertise an opportunity to volunteer their time.
With support of FCC programs there is progress in decreasing the digital divide through a multitude of programs. Carriers and computer manufacturers are working together to provide money, equipment, time, and expertise. Assuredly, more help is needed. Connectivity will not only assist low-income families in all aspects of their lives, but will also open new markets many businesses to sell needed products and services online.
Do you have other ideas for getting more low-income families connected to the Internet? How else can businesses participate in this goal and create new consumers of digital services and amenities along the way?