What You Need to Know Before Giving to a Matching Campaign

Maybe you heard about a matching challenge in passing during the most recent NPR fundraising campaign. Or maybe you’ve received an email or a piece of mail from a charity that references one. Either way, you’re intrigued.

Could it really be as simple as it sounds? you’re wondering. The short answer: Yes and no.

What’s a matching campaign?
A matching campaign is one where a donor—which can be an individual, a group, or a foundation—has pledged to make a significant financial contribution to a charity if that charity can raise a predetermined amount from other supporters within a certain timeframe. (Has a certain game-show element to it, right?)

Often, the donor’s contribution literally matches the amount raised. But, it can also simply be a large sum that’s added to the amount raised.

Really, the charity’s doing the bulk of the heavy lifting here. It’s on them to first court a prospective donor and then, once the pledge agreement’s been signed, to raise the necessary funding within the stipulated timeframe in order to unlock the matching donation.

Once the charity has raised the full amount, it’ll report back to the matching donor. At which point, the donor will submit his matching contribution.

From your perspective, as the non-matching donor, the process is relatively unchanged from any other time you may have made a financial contribution. Of course, hearing that your donation is likely going to be doubled without stripping another cent from your checking account is probably going to make you feel even better about your decision to help out. In fact, it just may be the incentive that’s needed to pull you down off the fence.

That is, as long as there really is a matching donor.

How can you tell it’s not a ploy?
It’s a desperate, or even illegitimate, charity that’s willing to steer a matching campaign without an actual matching donor in place. But this time of year can drive suspect fundraisers to extremes.

If you have any reason to doubt the authenticity of the campaign, contact the charity. Matching donors tend to prefer anonymity, so you shouldn’t expect the charity to divulge a name. But it should be able to answer any other questions about the campaign, like, what’s the timeframe the money needs to be raised in? How will the money be used? And, do you anticipate running any other matching campaigns in the near future?

The last question is important because, if you have a limited amount to give each year, contributing to a matching campaign is an easy way to increase the impact of your donation. If you can plan future contributions accordingly, everyone wins.