The GiveWell Blog

Why you’ll see more matching campaigns at GiveWell

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.

[Updated August 6, 2021: To see our current approach for structuring matching campaigns, please visit this page.]

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).1As 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.

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

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.


  • Kendal on June 27, 2020 at 2:36 pm said:

    Hopefully this works. From a utiliarian viewpoint, the somewhat disingenuous matching claims offered by other charities might still be best. But a lot will depend on the type of donor an organization has. It seems that thoughtful donors would be skeptical of most matching campaigns. Personally, I am glad Givewell is sticking with principles on this, which will hopefully help to contribute to long-term credibility.

    I love the idea of a credible matching opportunity. Here’s what would do it for me: Require that the matching donor put the donations in a 3rd-party account, so that this matching donor can’t get their money back. Then, require that the third party follow a simple agreement. If target donations are obtained (from other donors), the appropriate matching funds are delivered to Givewell charities. If the targeted donations are not obtained, the matcher’s funds go to a different previously agreed-upon charity (say, the United Way). Also, no funds count for the match unless they are greater than the maximum amount that a targeted donor has given during the last three years. Something like this would be very inducing to me personally.

  • Richard Y Chappell on June 30, 2020 at 7:54 pm said:

    If the matching donors would otherwise have given to a comparably effective organization, even a “true match” doesn’t necessarily translate into a true *benefit* from the match. So I’m not sure that this is all that different from standard matching campaigns. (Unless you implement Kendal’s suggestion and threaten to send the unmatched funds to somewhere demonstrably worse!)

    Still, if it works to get more new donors, that’s all to the good!

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on July 2, 2020 at 1:48 pm said:

    Hi Richard and Kendal,

    Thanks for your feedback! You’re correct that we have primarily focused on whether we believe the matching donor would not have given to GiveWell or one of our recommended charities, which we can determine based on their giving history and our conversations with them.

    We agree with the general point and prefer to avoid asking donors to reallocate from organizations that may be as cost-effective as our recommendations. However, it can be difficult to determine, even in conversations with donors:

    * whether the donors would have otherwise used the funding they’ve offered as matching funds to support other (non-GiveWell) charities.
    * if so, whether those charities are comparably cost-effective to GiveWell and our recommendations, particularly if they work in areas outside of our focus.

    We plan to keep this in mind going forward, particularly as we expand the matching funds we offer.

  • ofhsoupkitchen on July 8, 2020 at 10:42 am said:

    I thought so too! There will be more interestingly matched campaigns that are being prepared! I think it’s best to just support those instead of comparing which of them will benefit more/the most. Moreover, transparency with donors should always be prioritized to gain more support from them.

  • Sheridan on July 18, 2020 at 2:24 pm said:

    I’m a bit skeptical of this–it’s just hard to imagine who’d agree to do this with GiveWell that wouldn’t counterfactually still donate. I think Kendal’s idea is pretty solid (pick a moderately but not extremely effective “default charity”). Corporations are also legit for this, I think, because much of their motivation to do it is from the PR, and “matching employees” is better PR than simply “we donated.” But idk how you get corporations on board with non-employee matching (pay them? lmao)…

  • Ben Rachbach on July 28, 2020 at 3:59 pm said:

    The most significant thing I’d look at to determine whether a match offered through GiveWell is a “true match” is:

    Does each individual donor get to choose any top charity to give to, and then that gift is matched with a matching gift to the same charity?

    If so, it feels like a true match because as a donor, I get to influence which charity the matching funds go to.

    This would be a bit more in the spirit of the Facebook Giving Tuesday match [], as opposed to a more traditional match where a charity is just raising money for itself

    (I used to work at GiveWell, just mentioning for full disclosure)

  • David on August 1, 2020 at 9:52 am said:

    This does not make sense. I Cannot imagine someone saying “I would not have given you the money to save a life if you failed to match my donation from some rich guy.”

    Am I donating from spite? The premise seems rather flawed.

Comments are closed.