Matching Donations—The Real Story
They also created three letters telling recipients they had been randomly assigned to a group of ten people. One promised that if at least one of the ten donated, the charity would get an extra $50 in matching funds. Another said that if at least two of them made a gift, the nonprofit would receive that $50. The third letter pledged those $50 in matching funds if at least three recipients donated.
Note: Everything researchers told to the participants was true. There was actually a benefactor who promised to make those matches if the various thresholds were met, along with dollar-for-dollar matches if that’s what a donor’s letter told them would happen across the board.
Eight weeks later, they measured and compared the donation rates for the five kinds of letters.
Only 1.59 percent of the prospective donors who got the control-group letter with no match made donations, the lowest rate. The second lowest donation rate was for those who got a letter requiring one person in 10 to activate matching funds, at 2 percent; followed by a 2.34 percent rate for the people promised an unconditional dollar-for-dollar match. The donation rate among prospective donors told that gifts from two in 10 would activate the match was about the same, 2.35 percent.
For the people told matching funds would require three donors, the donation rate was much higher—3.68 percent. One might have thought that the higher goal would discourage donations. Instead, potential donors seemed to be reacting to the bar being raised by themselves rising to the greater challenge. It’s possible that as the goal rose, people felt more needed and so were more likely to give.
Katrina VanHuss has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Otis joined in the fun in 2013 as Turnkey’s resident human behavior expert. One thing led to another, and now as a married couple, they almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism and human decision-making, much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Through their work at Turnkey, the pair works with the likes of the American Lung Association, Best Buddies, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, using human behavioral tendencies and recognition to create attachment and high fundraising in volunteers.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P and Peer to Peer Forum, and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, Dollar Dash. They live in Richmond, Va.