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From the mind of Success Manager Netta Caligari

The question I am answering today is what is the benefit of a soft versus hard launch. We see our clients utilize both strategies for their various initiatives, so there is really no one right way to do it – every institution has their reasons for choosing one way or the other. However, if you are still trying to decide which one might be right for you, let’s dive into the advantages of each for you to consider.

First to clarify the terminology.

When I say a soft launch, I am referring to an initiative page that is opened up for public viewing ahead of the official event. There are varying degrees to this. Some people prefer to have the site visible but prevent the donor from being able to make a gift before the event start date. Others allow donations when they soft launch so that when the event officially starts, there are already donations present on the page to help start on a strong foot. Either way, this is considered a soft launch.

A hard launch, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward in that site visitors are not directed to the site until the actual event start date and time. So, what are the benefits of each?

Soft launches have a variety of benefits for organizations.

Off the bat, this approach is great if your team is new or the specific initiative being launched has never been done before by your institution. The reason for this is it gives your team time to test the waters, so to speak, and get comfortable with testing the site with the people who trickle in to check things out or potentially give ahead of the event date, so that you are feeling comfortable with the process and donation flow. This also allows you to make last-minute changes following any feedback received from one of the site visitors ahead of the hard launch date.

And speaking of testing, soft launches are also great for A/B testing communications. Try different messaging with your various affiliations or segments, and see if one email, mailer or phone call does significantly better than the others. The results from these tests can inform what you use as your main communication style when the site officially hard launches, and you have the data to back up your decision of going with that particular method. Also, with communications, soft launching allows you to build momentum ahead of time with your donor base so they have something to look forward to soon. Even though it is a soft launch, be sure to still have a strong call to action in your messaging so that people understand if you just want them to visit the site, share on social media, become an ambassador for the day, give early, etc.

Another way that a soft launch is beneficial is that, if you want, you can give a special segment of donors or potential donors early access as sort of a special pre-event. Perhaps you are trying to secure some last-minute challenge money or matching gifts for your initiative, you could open up the site to the major gift donor pool and invite them to select a story they would like to support with matching funds. Or maybe you are having an alumni class year competition as part of your initiative, and you reach out to each class year as a separate segment asking them to give early and get a head start on the competition with special early access. Whatever it may be, there are lots of ways to entice donors and get their engagement ahead of time with a soft launch.

With a hard launch, there are of course benefits to this approach as well.

While a soft launch is great for building momentum, a hard launch is ideal for building anticipation. You can still direct people to the initiative landing page ahead of time if you plan to do a hard launch and have a coming soon page up that with some information. This creates a veil over your giving event that will be pulled back once the giving event is officially “on”. This creates excitement over what will be featured on the site as your donors wait for that hard launch.

In this manner, hard launches are especially beneficial when you have a giving event that’s well established year over year at your institution. Your main audience already knows generally what to expect and

If your annual event is going to have some changes, be it the type of campaigns featured, the branding, a new exciting match or challenge – whatever it is, use the hard launch messaging to tell your potential donors the site is officially unlocked and there is something new and exciting for them to check out. This can be a motivating factor for them to check out the site that day.

Hard launches generally have a stronger call to action because there is less time for the donor to take action versus a soft launch that allows a site visitor to give ahead of time. So as you can see, there are several reasons why you might choose either a hard or soft launch. Keep in mind what your are trying to achieve, your goals, and your overall marketing strategy. We are wishing you the best with whichever way you choose to launch your initiative!