One of the scariest moments in online fundraising is that second that you press “publish” on your fundraising campaign and you have to stare at a total of $0.
Choosing the right moment to launch with strong momentum can seem a little bit like a guessing game. But like most digital fundraising, there’s a simple strategy you can use to kickstart your campaign to raise more: you can soft-launch your fundraising campaign.
What Is A Soft Launch For Fundraising?
Very simply, a soft launch is sharing your fundraising campaign with some hand-picked supporters before you push it out to your larger networks. But it’s also what lets you build buzz about your campaign, show potential donors that you have support, and create momentum for the larger campaign.
A good soft launch can meld seamlessly with your larger campaign to bring in more dollars with less hassle. Your early supporters will give you word of mouth marketing, and you won’t have to send out a fundraising campaign page that shows that no one has given to you yet. This is what’s called “social proof.”
Let’s imagine a scenario: you get an email from a fundraising campaign, and you think you’d like to give. You click the link and see a fundraising page with $0 raised. Maybe you feel uncertain about whether this is a good cause. If no one else is giving, do you want to? We’re social creatures and we feel pressure based on what others are doing.
On the other hand, let’s say you click on the same link and see over $5000 from dozens of donors already raised. You’ve just gotten confirmation that other people also see this organization as trustworthy and important. The likelihood you’ll give has just gone up.
This works especially well if you see that one of your friends or family members has already given, because we’re more likely to trust their judgment.
The Benefits Of Soft Launching Your Fundraising Campaign
A soft launch is a great way to build on the benefits of digital fundraising: it helps you reach more people, build relationships, and create a continuous cycle of fundraising. If that doesn’t sell you, here are some of the other reasons to include a soft launch in your next fundraising campaign:
- It gives your strongest supporters a feeling that they’re special and affirms that you value them.
- Lets you give your strongest donors access to a special challenge. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to raise match funds.
- Lets you raise some funds before the official launch so that new donors see others support you. This helps the social proof of your campaign by showing that there’s already campaign activity, which in turn sparks more campaign activity.
- Allows you to test and fine tune messaging.
- It gives your strongest supporters time to set up their fundraising page (if applicable) so they’re able to promote their completed page on the date of official launch.
- On the day of official launch, any of your strongest supporters that haven’t donated during the soft launch are reminded to give, which also helps get some larger donations rolling in throughout the first day of your campaign.
- Builds momentum for the larger launch.
How Do You Soft Launch A Fundraising Campaign?
The biggest factor for success is the who: if you haven’t taken the time to identify people who will buy in to your campaign early, the soft launch won’t help you out. If you’re not sure who your ride or die supporters are, here are some places to start:
- Board Members
- Major Donors
- Recurring Donors
- Longtime Donors
- Members (if applicable)
The key is really to target people who are already giving and ask them to give specifically to the campaign.
Once you’ve identified your supporters, figure out what you want from them:
- Are you aiming for them to donate? Suggestion: Set a goal and divide it by the number of people you’re reaching out to: that way you can ask them to donate a specific amount.
- Do you want them to set up a peer-to-peer fundraising page? Send out the link to your campaign and have them get started setting up their page, so they’re ready to promote it when you move into your wide launch.
- Give you feedback on your campaign and provide content for the bigger launch. Your soft launch supporters may have a story to tell, testimonials about your organization, or feedback on the donation process. Include a specific call to action in your soft launch.
Set Your Timeline + Goals
Set a goal: Soft launching your fundraising campaign is all about creating momentum and getting a healthy running start to your campaign. Many organizations that do a soft launch have a goal to raise about 10% of their overall goal. How much do you want to raise ahead of your wide launch?
Then set a timeline: your soft launch doesn’t need to be long, and you want to be clear on when the larger campaign is going live. We’ve found that two weeks is a great time frame for a soft launch.
Once you’ve sent out your soft launch email, follow up with a personal touch. These people should be your strongest supporters. Don’t be afraid to talk to them one on one and really check in. Especially if they’ve donated, give them a quick and genuine thank you. Ask them to share your campaign and give them specific language to use.
Here’s a sample communication timeline for a soft launch:
- Day 1: Introduce your campaign at a board meeting, or all your board members and a few top supporters. Share your goals for the soft launch.
- Day 2: Send out a soft launch email to your targeted audience using your email marketing tool.
- Day 5: Follow up with an individual email to each member of your audience. Ask for feedback or content you can use during the main campaign.
- Day 9: Send soft launch email #2 to your targeted audience using your email marketing tool. Give an update on progress so far.
- Day 10: One last round of individual email follow-ups to those who haven’t given + send thank you emails to those that have.
- Day 14: Email blast out your campaign to your entire email list.
Crafting Your Soft Launch Fundraising Communications
There are many ways to reach out to your top supporters, but there are a few key elements you’ll want to include. In this example, Playwrights Guild of Canada knocked it out of the park. Here’s what they did right:
- The content is addressed to and is specifically written for their closest supporters.
- They positioned the email as a “secret” they were letting their supporters in on- which helps them feel included and intrigued in the content.
- They introduced what their new initiative is, why they’re doing it, and explained how their crowdfunding campaign fits into it.
- They told them exactly when the campaign was launching and how long it was running for.
- They had one specific call to action that engaged their supporters.
- They offered an incentive (that wasn’t a physical perk) for their involvement in the campaign.
- They provided a direct person to contact that email recipients to address their questions regarding their fundraising campaign to.
- While a lot of soft launch emails’ call to action is to donate, instead the Playwrights Guild of Canada actually used their soft launch to invite their supporters to write a short piece of content that would help generate promotional materials for the overall launch of the campaign.
So, while they didn’t actually raise funds with their soft launch, they still used it as a tool to both inform and engage their community and generate social proof in a creative way. This kind of content driven soft launch email meets a lot of the same goals as a donation based soft launch email.
Another option would be to ask supporters to set up a fundraiser and act as peer-to-peer fundraisers. If you’re planning a peer-to-peer campaign, this is a great way to kickstart the process and easily onboard fundraisers.
You may use your soft launch to ask for feedback from your top supporters. Find out if the message resonates with them, or try some A/B testing to see which messaging works best. Don’t be afraid to tweak and fine tune your messaging before you share with your larger networks.
In addition to sharing information with your closest supporters, your soft launch can also include teaser content to your larger community. Use your social media to count down the days to the campaign, or share snippets of information to get your larger community excited. You can introduce a campaign hashtag, or share testimonials from your supporters.
Is My Soft Launch A Success?
One of the challenging elements of a soft launch is that it’s not quite as clear when it’s been a success. With your main campaign you have a budget goal, or a number of donors in mind. If you reach that number, you’ve been successful!
Soft launches use metrics that are not always so obvious. You can set concrete goals. Perhaps you want to start your main campaign with $2000 from your soft launch, or you want all of your board members to create a fundraising page. Those are solid metrics.
However it’s also good to look at how many people clicked through to your donation page, what you learned from the soft launch, and the momentum you’ve gained. If you received feedback or content from your soft launch supporters, you’ve gained value. If you have the social proof we talked about earlier through a donation page that already has some donors, you’ve gained value.
When you’re ready to head into the next phrase of your fundraising campaign, it’s important to wrap up your soft launch. All of the people who received contact about your soft launch should get a follow up. That could be thanking them for a donation and asking them to share to their social media networks, or it could be a reminder that they can still participate in the main campaign.
You can also use those touches to get feedback from your supporters to make your campaign even better, whether that’s adjusting your language slightly or shortening the donation process. I love to use the soft launch to start building my social media content for the campaign. That could include quotes or testimonials from my donors, or it could be thank yous and shout outs to those who donated during the soft launch.
The strongest transitions from soft to hard launch are seamless: they use what you built during the soft launch as you move into the hard launch.
Once you have gained some momentum and activity on your fundraising campaign, you’re ready to email blast it out to your wider audience and share across all your other channels: on your website, on social media, and more.
Here’s how you can craft your fundraising campaign launch email.
Ready To Get Your Fundraising Campaign Started?
Are you ready to try out a soft launch? CauseVox has tools that make it all easy, from beautiful donation tiers and branded forms, to simple recurring donations and featured matching grants.
Make your next campaign easy from soft launch to the final deadline.
Raise more with less effort. Easy for you to set up and easy for your donors to navigate.
If you’re ready to try a soft launch on your next campaign, let CauseVox make the process more simple with less clunk.