Matching-Gift Solicitations Raise Ethical and Legal Considerations
campaign from big donors and
then combine it into a pool of
The money is a gift, not a
pledge, and the nonprofit radio
station holds onto the full sum
regardless of the success of its
campaign with listeners.
Whether charities record
matching gifts in their books
until they’ve raised the money
differs from charity to charity and campaign to campaign.
Some wait until they have
Goal of its matching campaign: Took the idea of matching gifts to small-dollar donors.
Save the Children
gives curious donors
sheet on how
How it worked: The 2010 campaign relied on fundraising
software from Blue State Digital, the company that helped
the 2008 Obama campaign tap into small-dollar donations,
to give loyal donors with modest means a chance to match
small contributions from others whose giving wasn’t as
reliable. The loyal donors could write messages to would-be contributors describing why they support Partners in
How much it raised: $178,000 from 1,200 people.
raised the additional money,
but others record the gifts when
Occasionally, nonprofits do
hear from donors who want to
know what’s behind a matching
Ms. Hambuchen says Mercy
Corps gets at most 10 phone
calls from donors seeking more
information each time her charity sends a mass e-mail. She
says no donor has been dissatisfied with the organization’s answers.
Save the Children has an information sheet that helps donors understand the finer points
of how matches work.
The letter explains, for example, that the charity has sometimes been able to use unrestricted money to secure USAID
grants when it’s been unable
to raise the matching money
through a specific campaign.
Ms. McManus, the Canadian
fundraiser, is an international
Lessons: Charles Howes, the charity’s manager of annual
giving, says that the fundraising software doesn’t process
donations from the loyal donors until the charity receives
a gift from someone who hasn’t given regularly. He says
it’s unclear whether the nonprofit would get all the pledged
money from the first group of donors if it didn’t raise enough
from the second group. “Our goal was for that not to hap-
pen,” he says. “We sent extra e-mails to make sure we ful-
filled the matching amount.”
board member of the Associa-
tion of Fundraising Profession-
als. She says guidelines about
how to describe matching gifts
in appeals don’t exist.
To rise to the level of fraud,
Mr. Owens explains, a solicitation’s language would have to be
untrue—something along the
lines of, ‘If you don’t give a donation, we won’t receive a mil-lion-dollar grant,’ if that’s not
Some nonprofits say they
work closely with their finance
and legal teams on matching-gift appeals.
For instance, Diana Bogue,
director of special gifts at Save
the Children, says her colleagues sometimes ask her to
water down or change the language of an appeal.
She says the nonprofit group
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How its match offer worked: Stephen and Sandy Rosen-thal, a couple who have long supported the charity, put up
$500,000 a year beginning in 2008 to inspire others to give.
In 2011, two other big donors put up another $500,000,
bringing the total available to match gifts to $1-million. The
money did not require Water for People to raise a full million dollars to get the gifts.
How much it raised: In 2009, the drive brought in
$806,423, $46,691 of which came from new donors. In 2010,
those figures were $834,273 and $36,566; in 2011, they increased to $1,073,022 and $49,037.
Lessons: While the charity considers the campaign a big
success, the group worries that it’s not attracting enough
new donors. Water for People will try something new next
year because it worries the campaign could become stale.
uses words like “can mean” or
“may,” instead of “will,” in describing whether a donor’s money is doubled or more.
Fundraising consultants advise charities to take steps to
ensure appeals don’t undermine
“It would lend a lot
of credibility to the
organization to say
we went for it and
almost got there.”
Ms. McKee, of Sea Change,
says that nonprofits should endeavor always to attach donors’
names to matches.
Otherwise, people may question whether the matching
money really exists. Would-be
donors may also be skeptical of
whether a charity really faces a
deadline to raise the matching
dollars, she says.
She adds that charities should
keep the language relatively
simple. If it gets too complicated, she says, it may seem like
the charity is trying too hard to
concoct a match.
Some fundraisers also say
that charities should have writ-
ten agreements with donors who
put up initial matching money.
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TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL MATCHING-GRANT DRIVE
n Don’t be afraid to say no if the donor wants to put up a
match for a program that isn’t an organization’s priority.
n Keep the terms of the match relatively simple.
n Name the donor who is putting up the matching money.
n Draw up a written agreement with the donor about the terms
of the gift.
n Let donors know if the campaign falls short of its fundraising