At first glance, matching gifts and donor retention are only loosely related in that the terms are both topics in the nonprofit sphere.

Donor retention is exactly what it sounds like and needs to be a major focus of any organization looking to have a sustainable and successful future. Matching gifts are the oft overlooked, additional funds that are awarded by donors’ employers.

To most, one is an apple and one is an orange, bonded by their mutual identities as fruit.

That’s not the case. In fact, matching gifts can be a major asset for nonprofits looking to improve donor retention. A more apt fruit metaphor for the pair would be stating that one is a tangerine and one is a grapefruit — separate entities that combine to form the delicious tangelo.

If you haven’t had one, head to your nearest farmer’s market as soon as you’re finished reading this. You won’t be disappointed. And you won’t be disappointed if you start using your matching gift efforts to increase donor retention.

In recent years, donor retention has averaged under 50%. That’s a problem. Strategically leveraging matching gifts can be part of the solution.

Here’s how you can do so!

Use Matching Gifts to Enable Donors’ Donations to Go Twice as Far and to Showcase How Well-run your Organization is

This tactic is going to be particularly important for your coveted major gifts donors.

One major gift is impactful. One matched major gift can improve your entire fundraising year. Repeat matched major gifts can be game changers for your nonprofit indefinitely.

Matching gifts will help with your major donor retention rates.

Major donors donate to and continue to donate to well-run organizations. Most of those donors come from high-level corporate backgrounds and they expect tip-top professionalism when it comes to the organizations they contribute to.

Proficiently handling a matching gift ask after receiving a major gift can really impress that donor and help influence him or her to keep coming back.

First and foremost, you need to expediently thank your supporter for the donation. One of the most damaging mistakes a nonprofit can make is thanking too late. In terms of following up with a matching gift ask, it will fall on deaf ears if you haven’t led with a sincere acknowledgement.

Once your acknowledgments have been appropriately addressed, you are at an opportune time to broach the subject of matching gifts.

Remember that your donors are very busy people and won’t be swayed to submit a request if it seems too labor-intensive or not worthwhile. You don’t want to just make a standard ask. This is your nonprofit’s time to shine and show off your stewardship skills.

Take your pool of recent major gift donors and examine their employers. If you don’t know much about your donors take the time to do a quick prospect screening or have an employee or volunteer search LinkedIn to try to find out where your major donors work.

With the employer list, find the donors who work for companies with matching gift programs and target your asks to them.

Your list won’t be massive, so you’ll actually have the time and resources to customize and personalize your correspondences. That’s an important step. You don’t want these donors receiving blanket, bland communications.

Show the donors that you’ve taken the initiative to do the research for them and that their incredibly valuable donations can exceed their wildest expectations.

You have options when it comes to making the matching gifts ask:

  • email
  • call
  • send a letter

Choose what you think would resonate with the supporter in question.

In the communication, go ahead and detail the parameters of that individual contributor’s matching gift program. Then provide instructions for the next steps. If the employer has an online matching gift portal, include the link.

You don’t want to be pushy by any means, but you want to alleviate any confusion or extra, unnecessary steps that would prevent that donor from making the request.

Your communications need to assist the donor with matching gifts, but they shouldn’t come across as an assumption that the donor is definitely going to submit a request.

A strong matching gift ask will impress your donor, which will go towards cultivating a long-term relationship.

Additionally, if someone is donating to your nonprofit, it is because that donor believes in your cause and the work you do. With matching gifts, donors’ gifts are financially more impactful.

Let Your Matching Gift Thank You Serve as an Extra Touch Point

Donor acknowledgement should be a given, but a follow-up thank you after a donor’s company submits a matching gift will be a welcome surprise.

The donor may not have actually made the second donation, but the gift wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It is important to recognize that your donor took additional steps to help your cause and deserves thanks for those actions.

A thank you following the receipt of a matching gift is the perfect chance to show your donors your appreciation without having to make an ask on top of that.

Donors respond to varied communication. They don’t want to constantly be contacted for money alone. They’re a part of your nonprofit’s community, not its bankrollers.

Take advantage of the chance to acknowledge and leave it at that. Don’t cloud the gratitude with further requests.

As Claire Axelrad advises, the thank you is the start of the donor-nonprofit relationship, not the end. You need to begin in a positive way. Put your best communication foot forward.

There are plenty of methods for acknowledging matching gifts. Let’s look through some examples.

Example 1 — A Thank You Email from NC State


Here, NC State does a great job of thanking for the gift, and the letter especially acknowledges the additional time that the donor put into securing that donation for the university.

Also note that the email is coming from a matching gifts manager.

Not all organizations will have the budget or resources to hire a dedicated matching gift officer, but it is recommended if possible. You could also appoint a staff member or volunteer as the lead on matching gifts, as an alternative to hiring someone full-time.

Exemplary matching gift stewardship can boost your donor retention rates, so you want to make sure your nonprofit isn’t letting donors fall through the cracks.

Example 2 — A Thank You Post on Facebook from Halos of Hope


Halos of Hope was creative with their acknowledgment text and it reflects positively on the organization.

The donor probably doesn’t want the amount that she gave announced on a public profile. The number of hats demonstrates Shari’s very real impact without revealing her gift amount. It is incredibly clever.

A thank you to a matching gift donor on social media will go a long way. It’s a great form of public recognition. It shows that your organization is grateful and wants to shout it from virtual rooftops.

The feeling of giving to charity is like getting an ice cream cone. Public praise of your donation is the sprinkles and chocolate syrup on top.

You’ll also notice that the second part of the post is a short matching gift promotion. It doesn’t ask anything more of Shari, which is crucial to note, but it instead urges others to make a similar difference.

Shari gets to lead by example, which is certain to make her feel good about her contribution and more likely to make one in the future.

Example 3 — A Thank You Postcard from the University of Michigan


This final example shows that matching gift acknowledgment comes in many forms, what is most important is that you make the thank you.

In our increasingly digital age, donors really appreciate something they can actually hold, maybe even put on their fridge. The postcard is put together well and conveys a genuine sense of appreciation for the donor’s effort.

73% of nonprofits spend less than $5,000 on donor retention yearly. Retention needs attention if its rates are going to climb.

Any donor retention woes your nonprofit is experiencing won’t be fixed overnight. You’ll need to approach the challenge with a variety of tactics. Leveraging matching gifts will be one rung on your ladder to donor retention success.

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