Online Fundraising and the Hype Cycle

The other day I got chatting with a colleague about the ‘Hype Cycle’, used by technology consultancy Gartner to illustrate the adoption of technologies through the lifecycle of hype, disappointment and (in some cases) the eventual delivery of practical benefits. As shown in the chart above, the Hype Cycle comprises 5 phases:

1. Technology Trigger: the breakthrough, product launch, or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: A frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. Trough of Disillusionment: Technologies fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and technology.

4. Slope of Enlightenment: Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. Plateau of Productivity: A technology reaches the ‘Plateau of productivity’ as its benefits become widely distributed and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

In the light of all of the current discussion about the potential for Social Media (aka Web 2.0) to deliver real benefits for fundraisers (aka Community Fundraising 2.0) this got me thinking about just where different aspects of online fundraising are on the Hype Cycle – a useful thing to consider if you’re in the process of planning any mid to long-term online fundraising activity.

On the ascendancy between technology trigger and peak of expectations we have things like Twitter – the micro-blogging social network that is generating a load of discussion at the moment but not, as far as I can tell, as yet being linked to any significant fundraising activity.

Just past the peak and on the brink of tipping into the trough of disillusionment there is fundraising in virtual worlds. I still remain convinced that at some point in the future some form of 3D virtual environments will become commonplace for everyday transactions like retail and fundraising. However, despite the interest in the American Cancer Society Second Life Relay for Life and various other Second Life non-profit initiatives last year, I think we’ve got quite a long way to go in the meantime.

Then, some place between the peak of expectations, the trough of disillusionment, and the slope of enlightenment (depending on who you ask) we have fundraising widgets and social networks. Anyone still needing convincing of the fundraising opportunity offered by the latter need only take a look at the Hitwise data from last year which shows how social networks are taking over from email as the primary drivers of traffic to key sponsored event fundraising site There’s still a lot of testing to be done, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before widgets and social networks arrive on the plateau of productivity and begin to significantly out-perform the ‘old school’ of email as the drivers of online fundraising income.

4 thoughts on “Online Fundraising and the Hype Cycle

  1. Pingback: What we’re reading, week of 5/28 « i On Nonprofits

  2. I wrote about the Gartner Hype Cycle and Second Life back in December, 2006 when Clay Shirky wrote a critical article about Second Life and it opened up a debate about virtual worlds

    That’s when it hit the trough, IMHO

    Facebook hit the trough when it had some scaling and other issues here:

    With recent Twitter scaling issues, I think it has hit the trough.

    That seems to happen when we reach the third phase of Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption bell curve – early majority – and some systems begin to show scaling issues and the service becomes less reliable.

    The real question is: When does it make sense for a nonprofit to cross a chasm?

  3. Pingback: Carnival of Non-Profit Consultants: Cha-Cha-Chaaange « SocialButterfly.

  4. Pingback: e.politics: online advocacy tools & tactics » Quick Hits — June 22, 2008

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