A match made in giving


Magazine article

UK giving may not be growing, but the number of ideas dreamt up to make people give more, or better, seems to be increasing. One method that has been around for a while is matching donors’ gifts. But is this an effective way to get people to give in the first place and, when they do, to give well?

There are good examples of how matching has been used by community foundations in the UK. In 1990 The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and the Mott Foundation came together to offer a £2-million endowment match challenge. The three foundations chosen – Greater Bristol (now Quartet), Cleveland (now Tees Valley) and my own – each had to raise £1.34 million to get a matching share of £667,000 to achieve a £2m endowment. The Mott Foundation believed that such a challenge enabled a community foundation to reach ‘take off’ point. Between 2001 and 2005 the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s Time for Growth scheme took forward this idea, investing £1 million in operating support to ten other community foundations, giving them each the target of achieving a £2 million endowment. Overall, £19.5 million was raised.

In 2008, the Government took an interest, with the Grassroots Programme for England which matched gifts into local endowments. By the end, donors had given just shy of £50 million. The present administration has put in place Community First, a further £50m endowment match challenge through community foundations running to March 2015. The Catalyst scheme, meanwhile, aims to boost private giving to culture and heritage organisations. It includes a £55-million endowment match from Government, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. And, on a smaller scale, the Government has matched three fundraising campaigns with the aim of getting more people to donate.[i]

Against their individual targets, the completed schemes described all succeeded. But what effect did the match have? That is hard to tell since none have been the subject of a randomised control trial. Nonetheless, experience and qualitative evaluations are positive. Greater Bristol told Mott in 1999 that “the challenge money was absolutely essential to attract other donors.”[ii]  In Tyne & Wear, we generated conditional pledges simply as a result of putting together our bid, we increased our challenge ratio to £1m for £2m raised with the support of Sir William Leech, who was keen to take the opportunity to encourage a new generation of philanthropists to follow his example. The evaluation of Grassroots found that many donors cited the match as a powerful incentive: over a third reported they would not have given without it.[iii] Here we found the match also worked to incentivise existing donors to increase their philanthropy, or to move some from annual gifts into endowment funds for the first time.

If we accept that match is broadly a good thing, we then need to understand how the terms of individual schemes affect the donations generated. Those run by trusts and foundations have, unsurprisingly, been the least restrictive, whereas Government schemes have been tied to wider policy objectives and rules. Community First is less generous than its predecessor:  the match was up to £1 for £1 under Grassroots, including Gift Aid, whereas it is a maximum of £1 for £2 raised under Community First, with Gift Aid ineligible. Whilst this can be understood in the fiscal context, it is confusing that Catalyst still matches pound-for-pound. Neither current scheme is yet evaluated, but anecdotal evidence suggests the going is tougher – although how much that is down to the economy, and how much to the terms offered, we may never tell. Certainly development capacity in community foundations and arts institutions varies, and for a starved organisation, unless operating costs are themselves supported, a match scheme may just be another impossible hurdle.

One of the more controversial questions might be whether money already charitably deployed should be matched. The CAF/Mott Challenge was open on where gifts came from, so contributions from other foundations were happily matched. Community First, on the other hand, does not match gifts from ‘active’ foundations, but it will from ‘dormant’ trusts and operating charities. That a Government scheme incentivises new charitable commitments is not unexpected (although again consistency is lacking since gifts from foundations are matched through Catalyst). However, many philanthropists that set up small family trusts as vehicles for their giving would likely be surprised that in doing so they were excluded from match opportunities. For larger charitable funders, there can also be strong drivers for matching. The Esmée Fairbairn scheme, for example, was described as: “a reinforcement from independent grant maker to other independent grant makers...”[iv]

So, to learn the real lessons about match schemes, I would suggest we need to turn away from the institutions providing and receiving the match, and instead focus on the donors whose giving they are meant to incentivise. Our experience is that the availability of match has rarely encouraged someone to make a major donation if they were not already on a journey towards or in philanthropy. But a match has in many cases been a tipping point to give, to give more or to give differently (for example, moving from annual gifts to endowments). And we have seen some donors themselves taking up the idea of a match as a means to engage peers in giving collaboratively. The challenge there has been to win over others to the individual’s chosen cause.

I cannot say a match funding scheme always works. But I can say it works best when the terms give the flexibility to meet donors’ intents, and when time to engage with donors and understand their interests (rather than just selling the match and expecting gifts to roll in) is supported. That match schemes do not succeed without development costs may be the most important message of all.


[ii] In Focus Volume 2, Number 1, Charles Stuart Mott Foundations, March 1999 www.mott.org/files/publications/infocusV2N1.pdf

[iii] Grassroots Grants Final Evaluation Report, CDF, November 2011 www.cdf.org.uk/content/research/previous-research/grassroots-grants

[iv] Time for Growth – Findings on an endowment challenge programme for ten UK community foundations 2001-2005, Christine Forrester, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, July 2005 www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/news-and-learning/publications/time-for-growth



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  • Matched Giving