Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Everyone Wins With Matching Gifts

Matching gift campaign
•••  Alzheimer Society of Canada

Fundraising experts agree that one of the most effective fundraising strategies is the matching gift.

These are not the matching gifts that companies often provide to their employees, but the offer on the part of a major donor to match the donations made to your fundraising campaign. These types of substantial contributions to kickstart a fundraising campaign are sometimes called "challenge grants."

You see this type of match or challenge everywhere and for a good reason. It pays off.

Philanthropy Works cites numerous statistics regarding matching gifts and challenge grants. For instance, just declaring a matching gift increases giving by 19 percent. Plus, a match increases the likelihood that an individual gives by 22 percent.

Not only does the charity benefit from the matching gift, which more or less raises all boats, but the major donor benefits as well. Creating that match is a wonderful way to keep major donors involved and engaged.

Other research has also found that matching gifts work. For instance, in a Freakonomics podcast, John List, the notable U of Chicago economist who does considerable research on charitable giving, said that matching gifts are an excellent way to increase donations.

John List did have a couple of caveats though. For example, he said that a 1:1 match works well, but increasing the match made little difference. Also, a matching gift works best when the prospective donors already have a strong connection with the charity, but it does not help with lapsed donors or those with weak connections.

Of course, getting a major donor to agree to put up the money for a matching gift may not be a cake walk. Make a list of your major donors and start talking to them about the possibility of making a match for an upcoming campaign. It might be easier to find several major donors who would be willing to make smaller matches that add up to a pretty good sum.

Make a good case for these donors. Prepare a proposal that explains the goal of the campaign, the timing of the campaign, and the anticipated results. Show these donors the impact that raising this amount of money will have on a specific goal your organization has. A matching or challenge campaign should not be general but very specific. Donors, both your major donors giving the match or challenge and the donors you'll appeal to will want a particular goal to shoot for.

Once you have recruited your major donor or donors, work with them on the guidelines for their match. Those guidelines might include the audience for the challenge, when the donor gives you the money (before the campaign or after?) and how you will promote the challenge. Another perhaps thorny issue is what happens if you don't make your monetary goal? Will the challenge money remain or be prorated?

How Can You Make Your Matching Gift Campaign More Effective?


Set a tangible and time-limited goal. Rather than just saying, "We need to raise x amount of money," try saying, "We are raising $20,000 to support our early reading program this fall. Donate by July 30th to help us match your gift thanks to several of our generous supporters."

Ratchet up the urgency. Update supporters frequently during the time-limited campaign. Pull out all the stops and keep reminding everyone of your goal and your deadline. Emphasize that the matching gift depends on prompt action.

Use social proof. This concept is well established in social psychology. People want to do what others are doing. So tell supporters how many people have donated and how much you've raised to date. 

Make your pool of possible donors larger. Ask donors to invite friends and family to donate to your campaign. This would be especially effective if that encouragement comes on the heels of the donation. Add a message to your post-donation page and confirmation email that says, "Thanks for your wonderful help. Now help us even more by forwarding the following information to your friends, colleagues, and family." (include an easy-to-email or social post message)

One road to success in just about everything is finding what works and then doing more of it. Even if working with a major donor to provide a matching gift takes a bit more time than just creating a campaign quickly to get it out the door, that hard work will likely pay off better than you even hoped.