Insights
4 min Read
March 11, 2015

The magic of the matching gift

It’s now been a few months since the December deluge of nonprofit fundraising appeals, and it’s around this time that I like to take a big-picture look at what we were seeing this past year-end season. What stories were nonprofits telling? What language were they using? What clever new tactics were they trying?

Last year, one move stood out to me above all: the matching gift. While matching gifts have been used by fundraisers for a while, it appeared that more nonprofits than ever before were making them a part of their year-end fundraising efforts. A good portion of the direct mail pieces and emails that I opened in this past year-end cycle urged donors, “Give now and your gift will be doubled!” and promised them, “Your donation will be matched dollar for dollar if you give by December 31st!” Here at Big Duck, the majority of our campaigns clients used matching gifts to incentivize giving—from social service agencies to healthcare organizations to advocacy groups.

If you’re not familiar with what matching gifts are, here’s the quick story. Put simply, a matching gift is a fundraising tactic. It’s a conditional commitment by a donor, either by an individual or an institutional funder like a corporation or a foundation, to match the contributions of others at a specific rate.

While matching gift programs were long used by companies to spur employee charitable giving (most major corporations have a matching gift program), now nonprofits are leveraging them to drive individual donor fundraising as well.

Here are a few common types of matching gifts and how they work.

The 1:1 match. A donors says she’ll match every gift raised, dollar for dollar, usually up to a certain amount or by a certain date. Say the matching donor gives up to $100,000 to your nonprofit by December 31st. If a gift is made for $100 before that date, the organization receives $200. Some donors will even commit to doing a 1:3 or 1:4 match. Heck, one of Big Duck’s clients this year did two time-bound 1:1 matches—a smaller one exclusively for Giving Tuesday and a larger one for their entire year-end efforts.

The all or nothing matching gift. This one’s a bit intense. An individual or institutional donor commits to making a certain size gift to an organization, if and only if the same amount of money is raised by the organization in a designated time period. If the organization isn’t successful in raising the money, then they don’t receive the match. Ouch.

The ‘“take-action” match. Some organizations will secure a matching donor to give every time a supporter takes a certain action, like taking a pledge, liking their Facebook page, or signing up for their email list. This year, one of our clients had a matching donor giving $1 every time a supporter tweeted a hashtag associated with an awareness raising campaign. It’s a win-win: grow your email list and fundraise at the same time!

So, what’s the magic behind the matching gift and why all the hype?

The numbers show that matching gifts really can encourage charitable giving. Nonprofits find that offering a match increases both the average gift and the response rate of a fundraising campaign. So why might that be?

They’re a deal. Everyone is looking to get more bang from their buck, even donors. So when you present a potential supporter with an opportunity to have their gift doubled or tripled, you make them feel like the impact of their gift is increased and it’s a worthwhile investment. How can someone that cares about your mission pass that up?

They’re motivating. Matching gifts are goal-oriented. When you tell your donors that you’re trying to raise a certain amount of money and the match will help you get there, it influences them to take action and join the effort.

They’re urgent. A matching gift is a time-sensitive invitation to take action. They say to your donors that if you don’t give now, you might miss the special opportunity to have your gift doubled. And that’d be a shame!

You might be thinking, this all sounds fabulous but what’s the bad news? I think there are a couple things that you should be mindful of.  First, it seems that the prevalence of matching gifts in the nonprofit world has been on the rise. While I think it’s too early to tell, it’s possible that the motivating effect they have on donors might eventually wear off with time.

Secondly, before you reach for the phone to secure a matching donor, be sure to consider if it’s the right fit for your organization’s donors. After all, not every donor is created equal, and as a fundraiser, you know your donors best. Be sure you consider whether your existing or prospective supporters might be inspired to give because of a match. If you’re not sure, you may want to test it first, through a smaller campaign, before you roll it out in a big way around year-end.

If your organization hasn’t leveraged a matching gift to drive fundraising yet, I’d say consider it in your 2015 fundraising plans. It has been a tried-and-true tactic in the fundraising toolkit for good reason: it seems to work. 

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