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The benefits of ‘matching’

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John Modzelewski

John Modzelewski

John Modzelewsk

There are two ways of “matching” campaign funds that can greatly leverage your donors’ dollars, but that nonprofits may overlook: corporate matching gifts and challenge grants.

Matching gifts – Some reminders and tips

  • Many donors know that employers will often match their charitable contributions of cash or stock, but fewer know that they may also match the gift of a spouse or of a retired employee. It is worth exploring for the benefit of both donor and organization.
  • Incorporating a “matching gift” option onto a commitment or pledge form is a good way to remind donors to check with their employer. Include a simple check box and a line for the employer’s name. You also might give them an extra prod by asking whether their matching-gift form is enclosed or will follow. That way if the form doesn’t come, the development office can follow up with the donor.
  • A reminder about matching gifts can also be incorporated into individual conversations with a prospect and included as part of group presentations.
  • Especially in today’s economy, we have encouraged donors whose families have a long history with the institution to consider a family gift, either across generations or among siblings. If several family members work for matching gift companies, they can be credited for a family gift and leverage all of their matching gifts to achieve a larger gift and higher level of recognition.
  • At the highest levels, those who sit on multiple corporate boards may be able to have their gift matched more than once.
  • Remember to credit your donors for the total amount given, including the matching dollars. The matching corporation will usually be soft-credited in a nonprofit’s recordkeeping, and recognized appropriately in publications and reports.

Challenge grants

Challenge grants can take two paths depending on the donor’s intent, and can have a very positive impact on a campaign.

If the donor has a specific concept in mind, for example setting up a memorial scholarship in the name of a faculty member or an alumnus who just passed away, then the nonprofit is best off accepting the offer as is.

On other hand, if the donor is more flexible about the terms of the challenge grant, then it can be used strategically to boost both energy and dollars in your capital campaign.

In this second case, in meeting the donor’s objectives, the institution should carefully consider its donor base when structuring the challenge grant in order to use it to the nonprofit’s best advantage. Is it best to challenge the board(s), the medical staff, a reunion class? Can it be a two-to-one challenge? A three-to-one challenge?

Depending on the nonprofit’s constituency, a challenge grant can be very helpful at the beginning of a campaign. Challenge grants are also very effective at a plateau, when gifts have leveled out, there are still major donors or new constituent groups to approach and, for whatever reason, the organization hasn’t been able to speak with them.

A challenge at this point can re-energize the campaign, and you might rally a whole new constituency that otherwise might not have been reached.

When a campaign is about to come out of its quiet phase, challenge grants can provide excellent leverage in approaching broad-based constituencies that are learning about your campaign for the first time.

If it is in line with your case for support, both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts make challenge grants.  The NEH program awards grants that require three-to-one and four-to-one matches for each dollar granted.

The Kresge Foundation’s challenge grant program is probably the best known of all. An entire marketing and solicitation program can be built around a Kresge challenge. Some organizations prepare special publications, promote the challenge through donated billboards and media space, blast e-mails and telemarketing, as well as direct mail, personal solicitation and the submission of grant proposals.

One of the most important things with a challenge grant is to keep the lines of communication open with the donor throughout. And, if your organization is struggling to meet a challenge, be forthright – meet with the donor and review your progress and stumbling blocks.  Then discuss how the challenge might be restructured to ensure success. Perhaps there aren’t any prospects remaining in the challenged constituency and you would like the donor to consider including another group. Communication can help resolve the issue and the donor will be further invested.

All fundraising hinges on relationships, and the way to keep those relationships healthy is to keep the donor, whether an individual or foundation, informed throughout the course of the challenge.


John Modzelewski is vice president at Ghiorsi & Sorrenti, a fundraising and public-relations firm based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

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