Why you’ll see more matching campaigns at GiveWell

by GiveWell3 min read2nd Jul 2020No comments

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Lots of charities run matching campaigns with claims like "Give today and double your impact!" We're generally skeptical of these claims, which are true only if the matching donor would not have otherwise given to the charity.

We guess that many donors who are motivated to make a large gift to charity (as donors who put up funding for matches typically are) would do so whether or not their support is matched by others. What may often be happening with matching campaigns, then, is that a matching donor would have given to the charity anyway but has agreed to structure their donation as a "match" for marketing purposes. We've written about these concerns in the past.

But we don't think matches are inherently problematic. In fact, if executed such that the matching donor would not have given otherwise, we believe they can be highly motivating for donors.

We're aiming to increase the amount of funding we direct each year, and we're planning to start regularly running matching campaigns in 2020 ourselves, in the hopes of reaching new donors and learning which channels are the most successful for marketing. We plan to take extra steps to structure our matching campaigns to offer a "true" match to the extent possible.

How we'll structure matching campaigns

In order to make a more truthful claim about matching, we plan to verify that the donors who provide matching funds for GiveWell campaigns would not have otherwise donated. We are taking the following steps to do so:

  • Approaching donors who have shown interest in increasing GiveWell's reach.
  • Asking if they would be interested in making an additional gift this year to underwrite our matching campaigns.
  • Assessing their giving history and our expectation of their likely giving in 2020 so that we can see if matching funds appear additive.
  • Confirming with potential matching donors that we are only interested in donations they would not have otherwise made.
  • Communicating to potential matching donors that we will only accept their gift in the amount we are able to match from other supporters. This might mean asking the donor to wait to give until the matching campaign is complete so that we only receive the correct amount, or returning unused funds to the matching donor.

It will be impossible to say with certainty that a matching donor would not have given but for the opportunity to provide matching funds, but we believe we can make a credible case following the above steps. We expect this to become more difficult over time (see footnote for details).[1]

Why we're excited to run matching campaigns

We believe matching campaigns are an effective way to bring in new donors. Matching also helps improve our ability to track the performance of specific ads.

Our matching campaigns this year will build on the successful matching campaign we ran in late 2019 for podcast ads. Four donors put up a total of $250,000 in matching funds for that campaign, all of which was matched by 740 new donors. [2]

In addition to bringing in new supporters, the 2019 campaign helped us track which podcast ads were most successful. The campaigns asked donors to visit custom landing pages where they could make use of the matching funds. This enabled us to see which ads were driving donations.

What we'll test in 2020 matching campaigns

A key takeaway from the 2019 campaign was that podcast ads were successful in driving new donations. This year, we're planning to scale what worked by running additional matching campaigns via podcast ads.

We also plan to offer donation-matching for new donors on our website and in paid marketing to see if it increases the number of new donors, the size of their donations, or the frequency with which they give.

We're excited to try new things to increase our impact. We think matches may be a great way to do this.


  1. As we offer opportunities to fund donation matching campaigns more consistently over time, we think it’s possible that some donors may hold back their gifts to wait for a matching opportunity, and that it will be more challenging for us to tell if they are making a counterfactual gift. ↩︎

  2. This information comes from our internal records, which we do not plan to publish to maintain donor confidentiality. ↩︎

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