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

Late-winter rant # 4

Was I the only one who didn't know that goverment matches have changed?

Appeals that offer donors a match to their gifts are usually straightforward. Even the mismatched petitions mentioned in the previous post are simple to understand.

More challenging to grasp are the appeals for emergency relief that leverage Canadian government “matching” funds. Because of Canadian history, what many donors think is happening is NOT accurate. That erodes trust, and that's a problem.

I cut my fundraising eye teeth in international relief and development during the high-profile famine in Ethiopia in the early-to-mid 1980s. The events of that era had a tremendous impact on me. And emergency aid efforts then and afterwards created a memorable paradigm imprinted on many Canadian memories.

  • Disaster occurs
  • Canadians want to respond
  • In addition to bilateral and multi-lateral aid, the federal government offers to increase emergency aid, with the amount driven by what Canadians give. Sometimes the match is 1:1, or occasionally by some multiplier. A ceiling may be set.
  • Charities issue appeals, media publicizes the match and people give.
  • Charities report amount to government.
  • Government writes charity a cheque for the matching portion, with various conditions about programming.
  • The loyal donor to that charity has had her donation matched directly and all the funds are in the hands of the NGO chosen by the donor.
  • Charities spend the money helping those affected by the disaster or crisis of that moment and report to donors and to government.

Lovely, really, except that it created its own problems, including that every marginal organization in the country was tempted to issue appeals regardless of their capacity to deliver, just to get the match. Both their effectiveness and accountability were low.

Today the landscape is quite different.

From the viewpoint of the individual donor being asked to give, the biggest change is this: those charities that appeal for donations during a crisis and offer a match from the Canadian government DO help generate matching funds from Global Affairs Canada, but MAY NOT receive any of those matching funds for their work.

The match is genuine. During the specified time frame of an appeal sanctioned by Global Affairs Canada, the government matches my individual donation.

However, today’s paradigm is that the government contributes the extra funds to a pool of funds administered by the government. Charities then apply to use those funds.

Some succeed in getting grants. Some don’t, based on the assessment by Global Affairs Canada of the most effective use of the funds overall. The upshot is that some agencies that participate in the matching appeal do not receive any matching funds.

But as a donor I responded to an appeal, thinking my gift would be matched. By law, the charity I gave to must use my gift as designated. But post-appeal, they did not qualify for federal matching funds.

The charities are operating in good faith. Consider:

  • When those charities appeal, they plan to use the funds, and are preparing a proposal to the government.They are listed on the Global Affairs web site as being among those whose fundraiisng results will be matched.
  • The agency cannot propsoe a program unless it can provide its share of the funds.
  • So even to apply for some of the matching funds, they must raise funds.
  • Yet their application may not succeed.
  • Consequently, not all donations are matched in the way donors expected.

The result is a gap for the donor between expectations and delivery.

Some donors will not care. They will be content that their gift is part of as pan-Canadian collaboration by a collective of charities working with Global Affairs Canada.

But others will be unhappy – those who thought that their gift to Charity X meant Charity X would also have the matching funds to work with. 

It doesn’t help that news announcements are unclear or incomplete. Coverage stresses the “dollar-for-dollar-match” aspect. Media stories will say, for example, that funds are being given to the “Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund” for example, but explain little, although in the case of the Myanmar appeal, some included a web link to the government site.

So the communicatons burden falls on charities. Charities have no choice but to strive for utmost clarity with donors. On this I salute The United Church of Canada, which during match-funding appeals for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis described the situation as follows:

"How Matching Works

"When matching is in effect, for every eligible dollar that registered Canadian charities declare they have received for the emergency, the Government of Canada sets aside one dollar for its Emergency Relief Fund. This fund provides assistance through international and Canadian humanitarian organizations.

"Registered charities, including the United Church, are eligible to apply to this fund to augment relief projects in affected and neighbouring countries. There is no guarantee that any specific project or charity will receive contributions from the government’s matching funds."

I added the bodface to the above quotation, but the entire stamernet should have beeen added to the appeals and newscasts.

My concern is not that something devious is occurring, and this may be good policy by government. My concern is that donors may not understand how things work. When donors are surprised by what happens to their donations, it's destructive for the entire philanthropic sector. We fundraisers must be as clear as possible. We can’t force someone to understand, but we can work hard to make sure they know what choice they're making.

Larry Matthews

Text and photos © KMA Consultants