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Exploring Best Practices for Integrating Technology into CSA Program Design

Inversant, a Children’s Savings program based in Boston, Massachusetts, recently released a report and hosted a follow-up webinar to share insights they gained in their efforts to integrate and test various tech-based solutions to support their program goals. Like many other Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs around the country, Inversant is interested in exploring how technology can offer cost-effective solutions to expanding program reach while increasing participation and engagement from participants. The research revealed that there is still demographic barriers to accessing and using the internet. Low-income families and families that speak primarily Spanish at home suffer from these disparities.

Starting in fall 2015, Inversant introduced monthly e-newsletters paired with e-survey sweepstakes, text messaging and an online portal for parents. These tech-based outreach and community strategies were developed to support three programmatic goals: 1) to encourage families to stay on track with their savings, 2) to effectively promote financial literacy and capability among college savers, and 3) to enhance two-way communication while cultivating a virtual college saver community. The paper and webinar offer an overview of these new tools and share the knowledge gained while launching and implementing them. For now, the evaluation mainly focuses on engagement with the e-newsletters (and whether participants have access to them). This first attempt at gauging our families’ engagement levels revealed some good news, but also raised new questions that need further attention:

  • E-newsletters are useful to families who receive them. The monthly open rate averaged 40%, which is well above the open-rate benchmarks used for the non-profit or education sectors.
  • The e-newsletters are a good complement to Inversant’s learning circles.
  • 30% of families did not provide Inversant with an email, which means that they could not take advantage of the e-newsletters.
  • 92% of families earning above $50,000 per year gave an e-mail address, but only 62% of families earning below $30,000 did so.
  • A large portion of Inversant families are Latino, and although the e-newsletters were available in Spanish, almost half of the families who speak primarily Spanish at home did not have access to them.

While tech-based outreach offers low-cost solutions to reaching more participants, our analysis shows that there are still important demographic barriers to accessing and using the Internet. Therefore, it is crucial to assess how comfortable participants are with using email addresses and other online services before seeking to cultivate consistent online engagement.

As we gather data, other briefs will follow with evaluation of impact and effectiveness of other tech-based tools. With this ongoing research, Inversant seeks to start a conversation on best practices for integrating a wide range of tech-based communication and outreach strategies to support CSA programmatic goals.

Please contact Bahar Akman Imboden, Inversant’s Director of Research, if you have questions.