Sean Chisholm

Keeping Your Online Fundraising Campaign from Stalling Out

Your campaign launch day is here. You send out your email blast. You post to social media. People start creating fundraising pages and the donations start rolling in. Everything is working!

And then a few days later…


Unfortunately, this is a pattern that happens pretty regularly in the world of online fundraising. An otherwise promising online fundraising campaign just up and stalls out.

So why do online fundraising campaigns lose their momentum?

In all honesty, there are lots of reasons why fundraising campaigns peter out. But at the top of the list has to be a failure to properly unroll and launch the campaign. A lot of failed efforts follow the same pattern. A burst of activity around the launch of the campaign, some initial response, and then a slow fade.

Most of the time organizations actually do a pretty good job thinking about the activities involved in the initial launch of their campaigns (sending out email blasts, posting to social media, etc.). What they fail to recognize is that it’s best to do some preliminary work before you even get to any of that stuff.

Building Momentum Before a Full Launch

Think of your next fundraising campaign like a seed you are planting. You need to give it just the right amount of water and sunlight to get it to grow properly. When you move straight into a full campaign launch, it’s like pouring ten gallons of water on your newly planted seed, dumping a box of miracle grow on it and waiting for a tree to spring up. It usually doesn’t work that way. Instead, it’s best to spend some time nurturing your online fundraising campaign before you look to accelerate.

But why? Why is it a good idea to build up some momentum before you publicize your campaign widely?

Because people like to be a part of a success story. When you set a really high campaign goal and you have no progress built up, your supporters are likely to think that the campaign will be a losing effort. This winds up preventing supporters from creating fundraising pages (or from following through if they do create one).

Think about it this way. Have you ever received an online appeal to make a donation to a campaign, only to click through and see that there’s $0 raised of a $10,000 goal (or a $100,000 goal)? This sends all the wrong messages. No one likes to jump into a collective effort when they suspect it might fail. And people don’t like to go first.

By building up some fundraisers (and donations) before you push your campaign to your full audience, you will be able to create a frame that progress is already happening. Then, when you do launch to everyone, your average supporter will be more likely to get involved (by creating a fundraising page or donating) and more likely to follow through (by reaching his or her personal fundraising goal).

Remember, people want to be a part of a winning story. When you create momentum before launching to your full audience, you’ll be able to demonstrate that a successful campaign is already underway.

Soft-Launching Your Online Fundraising Campaign

A soft launch gives you the ability to create the initial progress that will help tee up your whole campaign for success. During the soft launch period, you open up your fundraising campaign, but only to part of your supporter base. During this one or two week period, the focus is on personally recruiting your most enthusiastic supporters to start fundraising. This means reaching out with phone calls and personal emails and directly asking people to get involved by creating a fundraising page.

One of the biggest misconceptions about online fundraising, is that everything has to take place online. For a large nonprofit with a big list of supporters, you can probably get away with just using mass online communication throughout your campaign, but for smaller organizations it’s really not the best way to go. Calling your top supporters and asking them to get involved will help you recruit more fundraisers. And the more people you are able to recruit during the soft launch period, the greater your chances of conducting a successful campaign.

When you reach out to supporters, let them know how the campaign will support the organization’s mission. And then invite them to be part of the core group that will work to make sure the campaign is a success.

Who to ask to get involved:

    • Reach out to anyone who has gone above and beyond in past fundraising campaigns
    • Ask your volunteers
    • Ask board and staff members (challenge them to lead by example!)
    • Consider younger supporters that might not be able to cut large checks but that are happy to fundraise

Once you’ve mobilized your core supporters and started putting a dent in your fundraising goal, the stage will  be set for you to launch your campaign to your full list of supporters. By building up progress before your full launch, you’ll create a frame of success, draw more people into your campaign, and avoid the dreaded campaign stall out!

Have an Idea for a Fundraising Campaign?

Photo Credit: Flickr user Jinx!

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