How to Bulk Up Response to Any Fundraising Ask with Matching Funds

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I don’t throw around terms like “magic” lightly, because there’s no such thing.

But matching funds come close to magic.

A match offer can cut through the clutter and encourage more donors to give. In fact, in my experience, a well-built match offer can bring in 10% to 50% more revenue than a similar message without a match.

And it does so by increasing response rates without depressing average gift. In fact, average gifts sometimes increase with match offers.

See why I’m almost willing to call it magic?

What is a match offer?

It’s a simple promise made to donors: Send us a donation, and we’ll double it. (Or more — a bit on that shortly!)

That doubling money can come from many different sources:

  • Your board (it’s a great way to get the board involved in fundraising).
  • A major donor (or several major donors pooled into a single fund).
  • Foundation, corporate, or government sources.

All the matcher has to do is agree to have you say their gift will “match” the donations of other donors. Sometimes that depends on some total amount being raised like Your gift will be matched if we raise a total of at least $25,000. More often there’s no minimum to raise, but instead a maximum: Your gift will be matched until we raise a total of $25,000. Both ways add urgency to the message. The donor either needs to act quickly to help raise enough or to make sure their gift gets matched.

Matches also often have a time deadline connected to them: Your gift will be matched if you give by December 31.

The most important element of a match offer is the multiplier. That is the ratio that the donors’ contributions will be matched. Most often, it’s 1:1, meaning the gift is doubled. But it can be more than that — the gift can be tripled, quadrupled, even multiplied by 10, 20, 50 times, or more. And here’s the surprising thing: the greater the multiplier, the stronger the response. So if you can swing a 2:1 match (“Your gift will be tripled by matching funds!”) do so!

If you can’t make that work, don’t let that discourage you. Do a match anyway.

The only multiplier that doesn’t work so well is when the donor’s gift is less than doubled: Every $1 you give will become $1.25. That doesn’t have the magic!

How to Execute Your Match Fundraising

There are a few best-practice approaches that really make the most of a match offer.

Outer envelope (or subject line)

Trumpet the match. That’s all you need to do. Use language like this:

  • Matching Funds will double your donation
  • Every $1 will become $2 (or, Every $50 will become $100)
  • Your Gift DOUBLED by matching funds
  • $1 = $2

Most of the time, “giving away” your fundraising offer on an outer envelope or subject line is a bad tactic that suppresses response. Not in this case!

Reply device (or landing page)

It’s important that you use this real estate to demonstrate the multiplying power of the match and how it increases the donor’s giving. Here’s how a typical gift array on a match reply might look:

  • [ ] $25 to become $50 with matching funds
  • [ ] $50 to become $100 with matching funds
  • [ ] $75 to become $150 with matching funds

Do that math for the donor. Even when it’s super-easy math!

Language

Clarity, simplicity, repetition, and urgency are the keys, as they are in all fundraising. But with a match, your messaging should be almost entirely about the match.

Of course, you’re still raising the money to do something specific. Your call to action should be something like this:

  • Feed twice as many hungry children!
  • Double my gift to feed the children!
  • Match my hunger-fighting gift!

Here are some more phrases you can use in match fundraising:

  • Every dollar you give — up to a total of $100,000 — will be matched.
  • Your gift will be doubled by matching funds until March 15!
  • Your gift will help twice as many children!
  • Every dollar you give will become $2 worth of lifesaving help!

An easy (and common) mistake to make is using language that seems not to say the donor’s gift will be doubled, but that you’re asking the donor to give twice as much. Like: Double your gift today.

That obsessive focus on the match might strike you as simplistic and uninteresting. Let me assure you — it works.

Here’s the other thing about match fundraising: You make the match the story. Instead of the standard story about a problem or opportunity you want the donor’s help to solve when the offer is a match, you tell the exciting story about how the donor’s gift will make a bigger difference solving the problem or seizing the opportunity. It’s the story of a smart, compassionate donor who takes action at the right time and the right way to have maximum impact.

I’ve seen two easy-to-make errors that can make a match offer far less effective:

  1. Fail to make it 100% clear that the donor’s gift is multiplied.
    This sometimes happens when a fundraiser overthinks the match. From the fundraiser’s point of view, you aren’t getting twice the revenue, so you may feel there’s something bogus about the “doubling” language. But to the donor, the match means twice as much good happens. Smart fundraisers always speak into their donors’ reality. Not their own.
  2. Offer a multiplier that’s less than two.
    If you have a match ratio of less than one-to-one (doubling the donor’s gift) — such as 1:0.5, or “Every dollar you give will become $1.50” — you will not get the full power of a match.

We know from commercial marketing the power of a “good deal.” Everyone loves a bargain. A match is a bargain for donors.

That’s why it’s such a powerful tool in fundraising.

PS: Ready for more on-the-ground advice like this to help you raise more money through the mail? Take my online course, 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail (Without spending more time or money)! You can access this and more as a member of The Fundraisingology Lab. Members also get access to my special Matched Giving Magic workshop that walks you through the steps you need to create your own matched giving appeal. See you there!

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • Does this work for Pro-bono? For example our donors funds are almost always doubled because of the amount of pro-bono support we get (I work at a medical charity). Do people think that saying for every $1 you give we can give $2 of care thanks to our PB support has the same effect?

    Reply
    • In my experience, the claim that “every $1 you give puts another $1 to work” is not quite as powerful as a traditional monetary match. But it’s worth putting in your fundraising, and will most likely improve results!

      Reply
  • Thanks for the piece. In terms of “overthinking” the match: What do you say to the donors whose contribution you’re asking to leverage as a match? We’re currently working on a sustainer match. When I asked one of my long-time donors if we could use his gift to help motivate others through a challenge match he said he’d be happy to help our organization by encouraging others to give. When I ran the language by him:

    “Monthly donors X and X are challenging you to join them by making a monthly contribution. They aim to recruit 100 new monthly donors and will match the first monthly gift you make.”

    his response was:

    “The wording of the email makes it sound like we are matching whatever people donate. I thought it was not that? We definitely don’t have the resources to do that. 😉 Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but it strikes me as potentially misleading?”

    And we weren’t even using language that talked about doubling!

    1. I’d love to hear yours (and other fundraisers’) thoughts on how you would respond to a question like this.

    2. I’m also interested to hear how you position your request when you initially reach out.

    This is what I had written to predispose him, but apparently, that wasn’t enough for him not to be surprised by what a match really was:

    “As I mentioned when you first signed up, monthly donors like you provide PSI with something extra—a reliable source of unrestricted funding that allows us to plan ahead and innovate beyond government grants. You’re special.

    Would you consider making your gift go even further by allowing us to position it as a challenge match for new monthly donors?

    Matching gift campaigns significantly boost fundraising performance for non-profit organizations. And when those challenge matches come from current donors, they motivate potential donors even more.
    I am approaching a small number of PSI’s most committed monthly supporters to leverage their current donations as a group in an upcoming campaign to grow our monthly donor base. I’m sure you hear about similar matches during your local NPR’s membership campaign (if you don’t turn the dial during those two weeks of the year). ”

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • I think what’s missing in the proposed match is a limit to the match amount in the first place. I think we can forgive your donor for thinking you’re about to promise he’d match any amount that came in, and who knows how much that might be! I’d add “… up to $5,000” (or whatever the donor sets as his limit. That also adds the urgency of scarcity to your subsequent offer.

      Reply
    • Depending on the match amount and the size of your prospect pool, you might also try matching the first year of Sustainer gifts. We got a $5,000 match and tried it because we didn’t think we could bring in enough first sustainer gifts to reach $ 5,000, so we asked the donor if we could match the first 12 months. And it worked quite well, and using 12 months we made the $5,000 match.

      Reply
  • George Crankovic
    January 4, 2019 8:10 am

    Jeff, terrific post on matching gifts. With all the matching gift fundraising that goes on, I often wonder why we don’t see more of the variations on this theme. For example, challenge grants. There’s some research that challenge grants can sometimes perform better than matching grants. You also have the possibility of challenging donors to reach a dollar amount or challenging donors to give to reach the level of a certain number of gifts.

    Then there’s the idea of the lead donation, where you say that a (presumably named) donor has funded $XXXX for a program, and the charity needs donors to fund the rest. There’s no ‘your gift doubles’ language for this approach, but it does have the advantage of social proof, as well as anchoring with the dollar amount of the initial amount donated. There’s some research that this can be effective, although it’s a little obscure, apparently being based on fundraising for a Bavarian opera house.

    Even with the research, it’s hard to say whether these or other match variations would work for a particular class of donors. “Your mileage may vary.” But wouldn’t you think you’d see more nonprofits testing some other approaches?

    Reply
  • Derek Yarnell
    February 8, 2019 2:48 am

    Jeff,
    I have seen an explosion of matching gift offers in Canada of late. So many in fact I am skeptical of some which leads me to ask questions about ethical fundraising.

    For example, you have a donor who annually donates $5,000, you approach them and they agree to have their donation used in a match. However since they donate annually is it fair to say other donors’ gifts are truly matched when the matching money would have come in in anyway? I believe it is implied for donors being lured with a matching gift the total raised is not only being increased by their gift but by the matching gift as well.

    With so many charities offering matching gifts, and so many of those citing ‘anonymous donors’ providing the match, I question how many are authentic matches (i.e. new money) and if they are not, are donors being mislead?

    and you app

    Reply
    • I don’t think there’s anything about matching that implies it’s new money. The very idea of “new money” might be important to us, but very few donors care about it.

      The power of the match is the partnership it creates: “Someone else is joining with me and together we’re doubling my (our) impact.” It feels good, it’s a “bargain,” and it works like crazy. Some day it may reach some kind of saturation point where it’s so often used by so many that it loses its power. That hasn’t happened yet.

      Reply
  • Roslyn Brown
    June 12, 2019 2:30 pm

    What are your thoughts on the following scenario:
    An anonymous donor has kindly offered to match your gift up to the value of $50,000 over 48 hours.

    If we hit that $50,000 in the first 12 hours, should we keep the matched appeal open for the remaining 36 hours?
    What are your thoughts about closing the match as soon as the target has been reached (ie. after 12 hours)?

    If we are clear about the maximum amount being matched, should the offer remain open?

    Keen to hear others’ thoughts and experiences on this one.

    Reply
    • Derek Yarnell
      October 30, 2019 8:55 am

      Also keen to hear form others on this one. Here is what we plan on doing for our upcoming holiday appeal:
      – launch with strongly worded creative “Your gift will be doubled by matching funds.”
      Because we only have $25K in matching for a campaign that dos $200K we feel we need to adjust creative after the match has been met. Here is our compromise that remains factual without misleading: “Thanks to our sponsor X for matching up to $25K in gifts.” or “Thanks to our sponsor up to $25K in gifts will be matched.” – less of a direct promise to the donors…

      Do others do this / think it is necessary?

      Reply

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