FYI Blog

Matching Gift and Challenge Grant Guide

Matching Gifts and Challenge Grants play a key role in boosting response in direct mail, telemarketing, and online campaigns. Yet, the execution of a matching gift campaign must be very deliberate, and technical to ensure success.

Marketing Your Campaign Accurately

Challenge Grants and Matching Gifts are often confused or used interchangeably. Yet, they are distinct offers with different roles and results. The chart below defines the primary differences between these two types of donor incentive campaigns.


Challenge Grant Matching Gift
Terms:  Set amount is given, all funds typically need to be raised or nothing is granted. For example: $25,000 challenge grant means $25,000 needs to be raised to receive grant funds.

Note: Terms of gift vary, and gift may be provided if Challenge is not met.

Terms:  Guaranteed revenue up to match limit – does not require an amount to be raised. However, the match must be authentic: the gift will be received once the matching funds are raised.
Donor Perspective:  Large, shared goal with shared benefits (more funds for the organization.) Donor Perspective:  Individual gift matched = individual accomplishment of the donor’s gift initiating matching funds for the organization.
Alternate Type: Member-supported Grant – to encourage new members to join and to push current members to leverage their gift.


Note:  A Challenge “Fund” is a third category and is a technique to use when an actual gift does not support the campaign. In this case, gifts are not technically “matched” and additional funds will not be provided to the organization based on a donor’s gift. For legal reasons, it is important to not imply that a Challenge Fund can be interchanged with a Matching Gift or Challenge Grant. (Example of a Challenge “Fund”: “Our board has challenged the members to raise $100,000 for our action plan.” Or “Our board has given $100,000 and challenges our members to do the same.” In each case, it is not implied that the donor’s gift will be matched by other funds.)

Consider These Campaign Elements

 To ensure the most effective campaign possible, organization must execute many technical elements. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the top reminders to consider for each direct mail, telemarketing, and online campaign.


  1. Provide a capped dollar amount if there is a limit to the matching funds provided. Include it in the P.S. or other discreet spot, if needed – or can add urgency to body copy. For a discreet post-script example: “Gifts up to $185,000 will be matched, but we are hoping for even more from our generous supporters.” This ensures that if more gifts are received than expected, the donor is informed of the potential non-match, and eliminates any issue of returning non-matched gifts.
  2. Provide a deadline, both for urgency in message, and as a specific point to cut off gifts if needed. Language can reference a specific date “Gifts received by Dec. 31,” or can reference a timeframe “gifts received within 30 days.” The latter provides more leeway for defining “30 days” as needed, especially for gifts received by mail.
  3. Specifically reference a donor, group of donors, or source of the matching funds. “Anonymous” is acceptable, but there should be a clear source of the match. For example: “An anonymous group of donors has generously offered to match” or “A group of our most generous supporters…”
  4. Clearly define the terms of the match, specifically “Double your gift” or “Triple your gift.” Quantify the match opportunity as 1 to 1, 2 to 1, etc. DO reference the match calculation, as needed. For example:
    • Gifts will be doubled dollar for dollar, meaning your gift of $20 will be worth $40.
    • Gifts will be tripled, two dollars for every one dollar you give, meaning your gift of $20 will be worth $60.
    • This can also be spelled out in the call out box, landing page, or reply device.
  5. Specify the matching amount on the reply device/donation page, if possible. If an upgrade match, clearly indicate the required level of the matched gifts (circled, asterisk, etc.). If all gifts qualify for the match, state this clearly, with the deadline if applicable.
  6. For a series of emails, multiple mailings, or ongoing telemarketing campaigns, DO increase urgency by specifying the time to the deadline, and the amount towards the goal, if relevant.
  7. Copy/script should note what the additional funds will help accomplish.
  8. If matching funds are limited, DO consider a “special offer” online or in one channel instead of all.
  9. Make the match prominent – DO include with the first ask in the copy, if possible.
  10. Confirm the terms of the match in writing, before the campaign begins: match amount, type of match (if restricted – program, upgrades only, double vs. triple), donor preferences, deadline, reporting deadline.


  1. Be open-ended, vague, or minimal in the language used to describe the match.
  2. Assume that the end reader understands what a matching gift is.
  3. Limit the reference to only one spot in the package/email, etc.

Extenuating Circumstances

Many matching gift and challenge grant campaigns will face extenuating circumstances that do not fall within the parameters above. Below is a list of potential scenarios that your campaign could face.

  1. Long-term and non-urgent matches – if your match is ongoing, consider using a deadline per campaign or per channel, to increase urgency. For example, a phone drive deadline works well, or a special deadline for online gifts.
  2. Extending the match – if your campaign is extended with additional funds, clearly restate the new terms, and build momentum by stating the success of the campaign and that more opportunities are available. Include the match amount and deadline.
  3. Meeting a match amount before the campaign series is complete – there are many options if your organization has the fortunate experience to reach the match before the end of the campaign:
    • Encourage additional gifts with language that declares the match fulfilled but more funds needed for important work.
    • Extend the match by identifying new sources of matching funds.
    • Depending on campaign strategy and timing, refocus the campaign to a non-match-based appeal.

Legal Considerations

Each organization should consult their own legal counsel if any questions should arise about the legal terms of the match.

The above recommendations should ensure that each campaign is executed to the fullest and with the best interests of your organization in mind.