The GiveWell Blog

We’re offering matching funds to new donors via podcasts. Here’s why.

We’re offering matching funds to new donors who hear about our work on podcast advertisements. A donor has agreed to make a 1:1 match of any donations to GiveWell and/or our top and standout charities. The donor will match up to $1,000 per new donor until the matching funds run out.

Offering donation matching will enable us to better track the impact of the ads we fund. However, we’ve been critical of donation matching in the past. This post will explain why and how we’re planning to match donations today.

Podcast advertising and the challenges of tracking donations

We hope to grow significantly the amount of funding our top charities receive as a result of our recommendation over the coming years. Improving and increasing our outreach efforts to reach potential donors is a key part of our strategy to achieve this goal. One of our first outreach endeavors was running ads on podcasts that were popular with GiveWell staff and existing donors.

We ran podcast ads in early 2017 and again during the peak time of year for donations (November and December) in 2017 and 2018. We believe the system we had for tracking donations made due to our ads likely missed many podcast-driven donations. We measured promising early returns but are highly uncertain about the total impact of this work. We only felt confident attributing a new donation to a podcast ad if the donor filled out an optional free-form text field on our donation forms (example) or post-donation survey to tell us that they learned about our work on a particular podcast on which we ran ads. Given that donors had to take a non-required step to report podcast ad-influenced donations to us (and because of some of the challenges of interpreting data from free-form text fields), we knew the number of donations we tracked as being due to ads was lower than the true number of donations due to our ads.

Our intuition remains that podcasts might be a great medium for connecting with new donors, based on our impressions of the popularity of podcasts among current staff and donors, the early success we saw with podcast ads in 2017,[1] and our view that we’ve so far undercounted the returns by some amount. This giving season, we’re planning to run podcast ads and provide matching funds to new donors who learn about us through these ads. We expect that matching funds will enable us to better track our impact and ultimately make informed decisions about our marketing budget and allocation. People who hear about the matching funds may also be particularly motivated to donate.

2019 matching funds

Structure of the match

First-time donors who hear our podcast ads during the 2019 giving season will be offered a 1:1 match of their gifts up to $1,000, until the total matching funds of $100,000 run out. Each podcast will direct listeners to a different landing page on GiveWell’s website through which they can submit a donation to be matched. This will enable us to better track the impact of advertising on each unique podcast.

We only plan to match new donors and we will be manually reviewing donations to process them for the match. Our intention is to only match donations of people who learned about us via podcasts, as best we can tell.

Avoiding a “false” match

Our 2011 critique of matching funds noted that many donation matches aren’t “true” matches. In other words, the donor providing the matching funds would have donated the funds anyway, and so donors aren’t really “doubling their impact” when they get the match.[2]

We plan to avoid this by having the matching funds donated by a donor who we feel confident would not have otherwise given to our operations this year. We will not receive additional funding from this donor in 2019 if it isn’t matched by new donors who hear about us on podcasts.

We referred to this type of matching in our 2011 critique as “influence matching” in which “the matcher makes a legitimate commitment to give only if others do, in an attempt to influence their giving.”[3] We promised to be explicit if we ever engaged in this type of a match (although we did not forecast the use of a match motivated by donation-tracking purposes).[4]


We hope that the use of matching funds will enable us to learn whether our podcast ads are successful. We also hope to better understand whether matches appeal to donors. We expect to write about whether this project is successful in the future.


Sources for this post are available here.


  • Michael on December 10, 2019 at 8:10 pm said:

    Won’t this track the impact of “podcast ads + donation matching”, rather than of podcast ads alone, and thus overestimate how impactful podcast ads would typically be (when donation matches aren’t offered)?

    One option that comes to mind (perhaps for a future giving season) would be making the podcast ads still direct donors to a specific landing page for each podcast, but not mention a donation matching possibility. It seems like that could avoid overestimating the impact, while capturing more of the impact than relying on non-required free-form answers did. (Though I’d still expect this approach to underestimate impact somewhat, as some listeners may donate via GiveWell’s main site anyway, rather than via the landing page mentioned.)

    Mentioning donation matching in the podcast ads seems more obviously worthwhile if a major part of the goal is to increase the number of donations. But this post seems to only mention that objective in passing (with the sentence “People who hear about the matching funds may also be particularly motivated to donate”).

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 11, 2019 at 11:12 am said:

    Hi Michael,

    Our outreach efforts aim to direct more donations to highly effective charities—so the goal you mention of increasing the number of donations is certainly one we’re excited to work toward!

    This particular strategy (podcast ad matching) was chosen because our past experience suggested that podcast ads might be a particularly effective way to increase the donations to our top charities, but we lacked sufficient information to make strategic marketing decisions in this domain.

    Our primary objective for the 2019 podcast ad match is thus getting better data on which podcast ads are most successful (and a rough sense of how successful they might be), which is why the post focuses on that. We felt the matching funds were necessary to incentivize donors to visit a particular landing page so that we could track the success of the ads. You mention this in your comment, as well—without a reason to go to a more complex URL/landing page, donors may choose to give through the main site, reducing our ability to track the impact of the ads.

    We agree that it will not be easy to disentangle the effect of the two strategies (matching and podcast advertising) this year. One assumption (that we think is reasonable) is that donors across podcasts are likely to be equally motivated by a match, so we expect to get a signal of which podcasts are most promising to advertise on in the future. We are also interested in learning about the role matching funds can play in incentivizing donations, but that was not the primary reason for this experiment.

    I hope this helps explain our thinking! Glad to continue the conversation here.

  • Michael on December 11, 2019 at 7:37 pm said:

    Ah, yes, if this is less about tracking the “impact of podcast ads” as a whole and more about tracking *which* podcasts seem to be working best, that makes sense. (And then perhaps a sort of consistent discount rate could be applied when estimating how impactful the ads are likely to be without matching.)
    I don’t see any particular reason to believe donation matching would increase the effects of ads on some podcasts more than on others, so I’d agree that it seems reasonable to assume the rank order would stay roughly the same when matching isn’t used.

  • on February 2, 2020 at 11:31 pm said:

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