One only has to look at direct mail for a month or two to realize a fundraising fact: the matching or challenge gift is a mainstay in our appeals. In recent weeks leading up to the new year, you likely received mail that told us right on the outside envelope…

  • Matching Grant! Respond to have your gift doubled.
  • Matching Gift Opportunity that could double the impact of your support.
  • $1 = $2
  • Matching Gift Challenge Enclosed.
  • Take advantage of the Special Matching Gift Challenge!

One thing that is less common in direct response fundraising is a lead gift – the large gift that helps you toward your goal before you even announce it to your core donors. We certainly use this for the public stage of a capital campaign, but it seldom shows up in direct mail or eAppeal campaigns.

Maybe it’s time to revisit that. In a recent blog post, Nick Ellinger looked at a 2012 paper that compared results of mailings with a matching gift component vs. a lead gift. The variations of a match received the highest response rate, but the lead gift produced a significantly higher average gift.

Ellinger wrote, “There is some evidence here that simply stating that a lead gift has been made can increase the anchoring effect and support the idea that a program is worth funding without potential negative byproducts of crowding out donations.”

How can you use a lead gift in your fundraising? Perhaps a foundation, corporation or individual will make a larger donation toward an expansion of services, for example, but you look to your donors for the balance of the funding. Test the idea of positioning that as a lead gift rather than a match.

Do you get fewer gifts but at a higher value? Those donors may be more valuable to your organization over time than more donors giving smaller gifts. You may even be able to cultivate a few of them into middle-level or major donors when you employ a deliberate strategy for nurturing them.

Don’t throw out the concept of matching gifts. They do work (usually). But consider testing a lead gift. It just may be a fresh enough concept for your donors to spark their interest and result in gifts – and a deeper commitment.