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.