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Challenge/Matching Gift Programs
For Your Fund-Raising Campaigns

by Tony Poderis

Challenge Grants Can Multiply Your Success

Challenge grants are indeed challenging to fulfill, and once secured, they are unusually rewarding opportunities for non-profit organizations to greatly energize and enhance their fund-raising campaigns. They can significantly increase the chance to raise more money than would be possible otherwise. Challenge Grants may be utilized to jump-start a campaign, or as a mid-course correction to energize a flagging campaign. The best thing to know about Challenge Grants is that they almost always are a required key element of capital and endowment campaigns, but are equally effective and productive when they are employed in annual fund, sponsorship and underwriting campaigns.

From Whom and for How Much?

To help identify a potential Challenge Grant donor, your best source is your Board of Trustees. Perhaps one of your Board members has the financial capability to lead a challenge, or knows of another individual, company, family or community foundation that has such potential. It is always best to identify several possible donors in priority order. The amount of the Challenge Grant request will depend on a variety of factors:

  1. the need: based on the Fund-Raising Campaign Goal.
  2. the rated capability of the Challenge Grant prospect.
  3. the rated potential of those in your donor base from whom you will seek matching funds.

Do you have reasonable certainty that you can match the challenge dollars at least on a one-for-one dollar ratio? Based on your fund-raising potential as indicated above, you can determine if you will seek the usual one-for-one (dollar for dollar) match, or increase the ratio to perhaps, one-for-two, or even one challenge dollar for every three dollars you raise so you can raise as much as possible from the challenge amount. Again, it all depends on your fund-raising potential.

Visit the Prospect

With the help of your Board, identify the appropriate individual solicitor(s) who, based on their relationship with the prospect, would have the best chance to secure the Challenge Grant. Those so identified should then visit the prospect. The case for support/need for the Challenge Grant should be cited. Relate what makes a Challenge Grant so attractive. Let the prospect know of the explicit, unique advantage of a Challenge Grant program: specifically, to provide inspiration and enthusiasm to your leadership and volunteer solicitors, and to compel the gifts of others.

  1. It's a great solicitation "tool" for the volunteer solicitors to use with excitement and to bolster their confidence when making personal solicitations. They have yet another strong "talking point" to present when they ask for money. Imagine the confidence a volunteer solicitor has when, immediately after asking a prospect to give a stated amount, the solicitor is able to follow with, "... and your gift will truly generate even more money for our campaign because your dollars will be matched on a ___(ratio)___ basis."

  2. It's a compelling solicitation "ask," which lets donors know that the gifts they give will not only help to make your organization's campaign success a reality, but that the money they give literally multiplies as it is matched by the challenger. They have the added satisfaction of knowing they were responsible for the additional money you will receive. In every solicitation, you cite the excitement and the opportunity of the generous challenge in the first place, and how equally generous donors such as they, can have their gifts multiplied.

Then Start with Your Board of Trustees

Once you have secured a Challenge Grant, your first effort to meet its requirements begins with your Board. Make your "case" to them to pick up the challenge and meet it. Having them know and implement the specific components comprising a successful challenge program will determine your chances to meet or to exceed the challenge. Start off by telling your leadership that the entire fund-raising profession employs challenge programs all the time because they do work, and work very well. Let them know that you have the plans, the tools and the challenge grant to help meet your organization's campaign goal. And your Board of Trustees sets the precedent---they must be the first give to the challenge campaign before you go out to others. They must give at the top of their capability --- and, most importantly, demonstrate 100% participation. Trustee leadership and involvement are the first things the philanthropic community sees and responds to when a major fund-raising campaign is operating. Your Board owes it to the "Challenger" to reward his or her generosity with their maximum support.

Publicize, Publicize, Publicize

Announce the Challenge Grant to the remainder of your donor base and others by sending out special letters. Publicly herald the Challenge Grant and the generosity of its donor in every possible mailing and publication your organization produces. (Should the Challenge Grant donor wish to remain anonymous, comply with her or his wishes. However, try to dissuade anyone from anonymity, as people more favorably respond to real people, rather than to those who remain anonymous.) You can even resolicit donors who have already contributed, should the Challenge Grant be secured later in the campaign (..."thank you for your already generous gift, but do you know that any additional dollars you provide will be matched"...). Let all know that their contributed dollars will "multiply" for the good of your organization. And do it often.

In Summary

With a Challenge Grant, everyone wins. A Challenge Grant will energize a campaign with your plan to multiply the gifts from the Board, from current annual fund donors who have major giving potential, and to seek major new gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations.


About the Author: Tony Poderis was for 20 years to 1993 Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra and its Summer Home, Blossom Music Center. He was responsible for Cleveland's largest annual institutional fund-raising campaign. Since 1993, Tony has been a fund-raising consultant serving all non-profit institutions' needs to develop and to maximize their potential to raise Annual, Endowment, Capital, and Sponsorship & Underwriting funds.

Tony's experiences have won him a wide audience. At many hundreds of seminars and workshops in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico over the course of his 30 years in fund-raising, he has addressed every facet of raising contributed income for social service, medical, educational, religious, and cultural institutions. He is a fund-raising Speaker/Specialist consultant to the United States Information Agency and the Mexican Government.

Tony is the author of a 115 page book on fund-raising published by FundAmerica Press titled "It's a Great Day to Fund-Raise!" In this publication, he has condensed his nearly three decades of fund-raising experience to provide a concise step-by-step guide to help all volunteers and professionals be as successful as possible as they carry out their fund-raising responsibilities for their respective non-profit institutions.

Visit his web site at for more information about his book and lots of other great fundraising advice.

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