Lolly Colombo

A Matching Challenge Could Be Your Best Campaign of the Year

Premier Non Profit Marketing Partner


A Matching Challenge campaign can potentially lead to increased response rates, average gifts and net revenue. To maximize your match, here are 3 steps on creating a campaign that’s most likely to succeed.

Everyone knows that 2 is better than 1.

And that’s the whole strategy behind a Matching Challenge gift!

A Matching Challenge offer, also called a Challenge Grant, takes your usual 1:1 offer and offers donors a limited window where their donation will be worth 2:1 instead. If you’re a nonprofit or fundraiser, you’re familiar with Matching Challenge language like:

✔ DOUBLE YOUR GIFT TODAY!
✔ $10,000 Matching Challenge
✔ Deadline: June 30


ResponseAvg. GiftNet Revenue Per Piece
2015 (Control Offer)6.94%$41.86$2.38
2016 (Matching Challenge)8.27%$52.40$3.80
Increase in Net Revenue Per Piece: +$1.42

Other sources bear out Brewer Direct’s results. According to Dean Karlan’s article “Small Matches and Charitable Giving: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment” in the Journal of Public Economics, one study showed that a Matching Challenge offer brought in 23% more donors and 18% more donations when compared to an identical campaign.  

So it’s clear that donors find a Matching Challenge gift offer appealing. But knowing that, what are the best practices for obtaining a Challenge and communicating it to your donors?  

Obtaining a Matching Challenge gift takes time to pre-plan and set into motion. The more preparation, the easier the process. One of the most popular and effective times to offer a Matching Challenge is during your Year End campaign. To ensure its success, the optimal time to begin planning is at least 6 months ahead of time.

Starting early gives you time to implement the 3 key steps to any successful Matching Challenge campaign!

STEP #1: The first step of any good Matching Challenge is figuring out your specific goal. Will the Challenge be focused on providing basic care like meals or medical care? Will it be tied to a Capital Campaign for expanded services? Will you launch a new program with the funds? The more specific your goal is, the easier it will be when you move to the second step of your Matching Challenge.

STEP #2: The next step is engaging your major donors, Board of Directors or corporate partners. This is why it’s best to have a specific goal in mind first – so that when you speak to them, you can clearly communicate the goal and engage them on how their involvement will help meet that goal.

As fundraiser Laurence Pagnoni in NonProfit Quarterly puts it, “Spell out what the Challenge gift will do to help raise more money from other donors… You can and ought to show the major donor how much a Challenge boosts response compared to a typical appeal. Use the same pitch on the Board. It’s all about leveraging the money.”

If you’re not sure which major donors, Board or corporate partners to approach, it’s time to go to your data! Assess who your most generous donors are based on the last year of campaigns or a recent event – and then, get in touch with them. A phone call is a great way to initiate contact and can lead to an in-person meeting.

Some development professionals may feel a little skittish about asking for such a large donation all at once – and that’s understandable. Don’t get hung up on the dollar amount! Your pitch should center on the Challenge goal and how much money needs to be raised to achieve that goal. Your major donors, Board or corporate partners will likely be more interested in putting up a Matching Challenge gift, especially if he, she or they know how much their gift will encourage other donors to give.  

This process may take time – and at least a few conversations! Don’t be discouraged if your initial phone calls aren’t successful. Look back at your goals and work on incorporating more specifics into your future calls and meetings with major donors.

STEP #3: Once you’ve locked down an individual or group to issue the Matching Challenge gift, then it’s time to prepare your communications with the rest of your donors. And that means effectively communicating the URGENCY of this offer.

A Matching Challenge is a limited-time offer and as such, utilizing a ticking clock, or a countdown to a final deadline, is a proven strategy for success. Donors feel the urgency to make their gift while it still has double the impact, provides twice the help and turns $50 into $100.

Don’t forget to reach out to donors through ALL the channels available! For example, in addition to direct mail, include this offer in your newsletters and your email appeals. Organic social media posts featuring stories of changed lives coupled with hard-hitting donation-driven asks is an effective way to reach donors during the last days and hours of a Matching Challenge campaign.

When you set specific goals, engage your most generous partners to put up the Challenge gift and communicate the offer with a sense of urgency, a Matching Challenge offer can yield some of the highest response rates, average gifts and revenue of your entire fundraising year. Begin planning your campaign at least 6 months in advance to take advantage of all the benefits that a Challenge gift can offer your organization.

  • Lolly Colombo, Exec VP Client Services

    Lolly Colombo, Exec Vice President, Client Services

    Lolly has been in the trenches with compassion work on both the program side and the agency side for thirty years serving some of the world’s most beloved charities and faith-based organizations including The Salvation Army, Operation Blessing International, Food for the Hungry, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, CBN, In Touch Ministries, and others.

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