Riding the Digital Fundraising Hype Cycle

Earlier this month technology research company Gartner released their latest Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report.

The Hype Cycle is a very interesting way of considering the evolution of new technologies as regards their hard business benefits, taking into account the common stages of over enthusiasm and hype, followed by negative PR and disillusionment, leading – for some technologies at least – to the realisation of mass market business benefits.

I first started using it as a strategic planning tool for digital fundraising back in 2009, when E-book Readers were right at the Peak of Inflated Expectations (just after Amazon launched its first Kindle), Microblogging was heading down into the Trough of Disillusionment (as the mass market struggled to get to grips with Twitter), and Web 2.0 was heading-up the Slope of Enlightenment. You can see a flashback to the digital world in 2009 in my August 09 blog post about that year’s Hype Cycle here.

Looking at this year’s Hype Cycle (summarised in the chart above) there are a number of technologies with clear relevance to digital fundraising: Gamification is headed for the Peak of Inflated Expectations; Augmented Reality and NFC Payments are just over the Peak and slipping into the Trough; and Media Tablets (think iPad or Galaxy Tab) are fast heading into Enlightenment. Meanwhile, despite the great work done by those involved in the SecondLife Relay for Life annual fundraiser (raising $350k for the American Cancer Society in 2012), Virtual Worlds remains pretty well stuck in the Trough of Disillusionment.

For a quick reference to what Gartner’s full list of technologies mean (including such wonders as the Internet of Things) you can check their online IT Glossary here.

While the main Gartner report is excellent food for thought, I find a more useful strategic planning exercise is to apply the Hype Cycle concept specifically to the application of digital technologies in fundraising. In a digital world where it is all to easy to be attracted by the bells and whistles of new technologies which have yet to prove real fundraising value, simply mapping-out where you feel different opportunities lie on the Hype Cycle curve can be a handy way to help you focus on those areas most likely to generate returns within defined timescales.

Every organisation is different with regard to its vision for and experience of digital fundraising, as well as the audiences they might engage with and resources available for implementation, and as a result each might come-up with a slightly different placement of technologies. However, here’s a rough generic Digital Fundraising Hype Cycle I’ve drawn-up listing some of the key opportunities with us today and coming-up over the horizon to help get your thinking started…

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2009 Hype Cycle report – is Twitter on the slide or headed for enlightenment?

Hype Cycle 2009

Back in May last year I wrote about the ‘Hype Cycle’ devised by technology research company Gartner to illustrate the adoption, maturity, and business application of specific technologies, and I specifically considered where on the cycle various online fundraising initiatives lay.

So with the release of the the 2009 Hype Cycle Report, I was interested to compare where things are now (see the chart above) compared to where they were last year (see the chart below).

Hype Cycle 2008

There are certainly some interesting shifts here from the perspective of the digital fundraiser.

For starters, Microblogging has swept over the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and on towards the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in just one year – thanks essentially to the phenomenal rise of Twitter. However, this doesn’t mean that all the Twitter nay-sayers have been proved correct – because if Twitter adoption and application continues at this pace then it could just as well whizz up the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ towards the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ by this time next year. It certainly seems to be moving towards mainstream adoption far faster than Gartner predicted in 2008.

Web 2.0 can be seen to have started this migration towards general acceptance already, moving from the ‘Trough’ in 2008 to the start of the ‘Slope’ now. Driven forwards by its increasingly widespread adoption, but at the same time probably held back by the challenge of effectively monitising the massive interest in Web 2.0 applications. Likewise, Corporate Blogging can be seen to have moved on at much the pace predicted by Gartner.

Noticeably lagging behind in the progress stakes are Public Virtual Worlds, like SecondLife, which fell rapidly from an high ‘Peak of Expectations’ back in 2007 (anyone else remember the Pet Shop Boys ‘playing’ at Secondfest?) and now seem stuck down in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ with minimal progress over the last year. I guess that makes last month’s Second Life Relay for Life, raising over $270,000 for the American Cancer Society, an even more notable success.

You can read more about Gartner’s Hype Cycle here.

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 justgiving.com. 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.