Matching Gift Campaigns: Gimmick or Brilliant Strategy?

By Audrey Levitin 

We are all familiar with the urgent need for funds that simply require just one more $25 contribution to save the country. These appeals are ignored or tolerated, and leave me wondering, “does this actually work with anyone?”

AudreyDigital fundraising has emerged as an essential funding stream that leaves people with many questions including the degree to which some of the tactics used are effective. A client recently asked me: “Is a matching gift real or is it just a marketing tool?”

That is a great question! Matching gifts need to be both. Here’s why.

We spoke to Matt Kelley, Founder and Principal of Humansize Communications: “Despite the tactic being overused and abused by some organizations and political campaigns, matching gift opportunities continue to be effective for many, many organizations. Almost every A/B test I’ve ever run with a client showed a match offer outperforming a non-match and plenty of studies support this finding.”

The research center J-Pal noted in one of their recent studies that simply letting people know that a match is available considerably increases the revenue per solicitation by nineteen percent. 

Who among us doesn’t want to increase giving likelihood by 19 percent? 

So how to approach a successful matching gift program? I am going to give some advice that may seem counterintuitive. A matching gift should be approached very formally rather than with the casual verbal understanding that is often used. It should be in writing – like any grant agreement with a stipulation that the matching funds should not be released until the match is met.

“Why, Audrey, why?!” you may well be exclaiming. On the surface, this may seem to make your job more difficult. Just let them give the money no matter what. Why make it more complicated? Why make the match harder to achieve?

In fact it’s the opposite. Formal agreements strengthen relationships by providing a shared sense of moving the mission forward. They create seriousness of purpose that we – as donors, all (although at varying levels) – can easily pick up on. We sense when something is real.

Development is hardest when the staff goes it alone. This structure provides accountability that satisfies donor concerns about authenticity, and answers the question “is this just a marketing tool?”

With matching gifts that question is frankly, always just beneath the surface – and if not addressed  can undermine donor trust. The formality of an agreement also creates buy-in from your Board of Directors and Development Committee and your lead donor, creating a dynamic where everyone is involved in making the goal. Shared responsibility yields great results! 

A formal matching gifts program will raise more money by having greater donor engagement, engender trust in its validity, and most of all build stronger lasting relationships which are the anchor of all successful development programs. 

Want to talk it over? Drop me a line – – always happy to schmooze development with a colleague.

CauseWired News Briefs: 9-25-2021

News from clients, friends and colleagues in the social justice and nonprofit sector.

INTERVIEW: We’re in strong agreement with the goals of the Black Feminist Fund, created this year in partnership with women’s movements across the globe and led by three veterans of philanthropy and social justice. The Ford Foundation is one of the seed funders of the BFF, and has a terrific Q&A up with the founding leadership: Hakima Abbas, Amina Doherty, and Tynesha McHarris, who said this: “Oftentimes our movements aren’t seen because philanthropy creates silos, and Black feminists can’t silo themselves and say, ‘racial justice here,’ ‘gender justice there.’ We want to fund movements doing the most transformative, intersectional work but getting the least resources.” Great read.

RELATED: Our client Sisters Lead Sisters Vote is looking for Black women who ran for office in the 2020 cycle for its in-depth research survey. “Our strength is not only our vote and our relationships with the Black community, but in our collective development and support of Black Women leadership. Our strategy is to amplify Black women’s voices; advance Black women’s political leadership; and expand Black women’s opportunities.” Data helps to make the case.

TERRIBLE MILESTONE: If you haven’t read it already, take the time to look through the report by the National Registry of Exonerations (a CauseWired client) which calls out a devastating milestone: 25,000 years of freedom lost to wrongful convictions in the United States. Innocent Black defendants served a majority of that time — a total of 14,525 years lost to unjust imprisonment. The National Registry of Exonerations reports every known exoneration in the United States since 1989, a total of 2,851 as of today. The NRE’s work is central to the justice reform movement nationally. 

BY THE NUMBERS: Speaking of data, the Vera Institute of Justice (a CauseWired client) has a very effective video that shows the massive scope of over-incarceration in this country. “There’s power in numbers: The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Every 3 seconds, someone is arrested. Every 24 hours, nearly 3 people are fatally shot by police. And Black people are 3 times more likely to be fatally shot by police than white people. The numbers are daunting. But together, we can change them.” Watch it here. 

ON THE FRONTLINES: When we think of social justice work here at CauseWired, we definitely include frontline direct service organizations as a major part of that community. And during this ongoing pandemic, that frontline work has been absolutely vital to communities and families, particularly in underserved communities. BronxWorks is the largest settlement house serving one of the poorest communities in the U.S. and – while an in-person gala was impossible this year – the organization (where CauseWired founder Tom Watson serves on the Board) made the most of the opportunity to connect with donors, supporters, friends, volunteers and staff. There wasn’t a dry eye on YouTube when this video premiered:

MAJOR MILESTONE: In a very different way, this video from Clinton Foundation also made an important point – it’s been 20 years since former President Clinton opened the Foundation in Harlem, and despite our democracy’s existential challenge over the last four years (and the targeting of the Foundation by disinformation purveyors in the process), its work continues. The key message: putting people first is what matters most.