Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a (true) match - Part A

Late winter rant # 3

Is our "matching gift" offer to donors more decorative than substantial?

Can we fundraisers please be careful about what we say about donors’ gifts being “matched?”

I’m seeing numerous appeals promising that donor gifts will be matched, but from experience I'm pretty certain that not all are true matches.

Here’s the key: a matching gift is truly a match if, and only if, you won’t get the matching money without my gift. In other words, if I don’t give my gift, the “matching” donor does not give theirs.

It seems straightforward, but on occasion a donor who makes a large gift may be asked by the charity if that investment can be used to “match” other donations. The major donor agrees, happy to think that their generosity will be leveraged to encourage others to give.  

The charity, excited by this possibility, issues an appeal that encourages you to give now because “Your gift given by the end of our fiscal year (or whatever the specifics are) will be matched by a generous donor.”  The original donor is satisfied: her or his gift has generated other gifts. It seems like a win-win-win.

Except that scenario is not a matching gift.

If I respond to the offer of that match, my gift triggers no specific additional gift at all: my gift increases revenue to the organization only by what I give, and not by some matching increment. The original gift is already guaranteed or given, so there’s no “match.”

Think of it in terms of risk. If it’s a true matching gift, the charity accepts the risk that some of the original amount may NOT be given in the end.

If an appeal is for a genuine match, the donor believes that his or her gift is needed for the charity to get the full amount on offer from the generous matching donor. The charity may not rise the full amount needed to generate the total matching on offer, and so may not receive it all.

That’s a matched gift.

Employee-matching gifts from companies are clear: typically, the employee must make the gift first and declare it, and then the employer makes a matching contribution. If there’s no gift from the employee, there’s no gift from the employer. That’s a clear-cut match.

But some other so-called “matching” gifts are not matched as defined here. They encourage gifts by example, perhaps, but no more.

Generally, there’s nothing duplicitous going on, but there is confusion over what constitutes a true match. Yet a bad-faith transaction with donors, even if it’s a technicality and even if by accident, will make some feel manipulated, and trust will erode - not a win-win-win.

Larry Matthews

P. S. - When offering a match, if the original donor puts a limit on her or his instigating donation, then make that limit plain to the others donors you're trying to engage – not as tiny print with an asterisk at the end of the appeal.

Next – Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Part B - Government match funding during emergencies are not what they used to be.

Text and photos © KMA Consultants