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"Double the Impact" Claims Don't Always Add Up

by Kelsey Gardipee | Nov 30, 2020 7:46:51 AM

So much of what we know has changed recently – the ways we shop, dine out and spend time with loved ones have been flipped upside-down. One thing that hasn't changed is that two times two still equals four. However, when you apply that math to impact, it doesn't compute as clearly. Double the donation doesn't always mean double the impact.

This time of year, charities fortunate enough to secure a matching gift tout that donors can double their impact thanks to a generous third-party. With Giving Tuesday, which is just around the corner, these claims are all over the internet and social media. Here's how it works: A generous donor, often a corporation, private foundation or wealthy philanthropist, agrees to make a large gift to a charity and that gift is structured into a matching campaign to encourage the support of others. These requests usually stipulate a timeframe contingency and a minimum threshold to trigger a matching donation.

  • "Double the donation, double the impact!"
  • "Your Donation + Matching Gift = Double the Impact! Through the end of the year, XYZ Corporation has generously agreed to match, dollar-for-dollar, all individual donations up to $500,000!"
  • "If we can raise $100,000, ABC Foundation has agreed to match that donation to double your impact!"

A $100 donation now becomes $200 and donors feel that they've gotten more bang for their buck. It seems like a win-win situation. Donors feel great about supporting a cause they care about, and the organization receives twice as much from the gift. However, there's a catch. Actually, there are two. These claims aren't intentionally misleading, but they aren't entirely accurate, either.

One claim, two catches.

First, many matching gift campaigns arise from funds earmarked for charity from the start. They would have donated that money even without the match. Structuring this gift as a matching campaign is a strategic marketing tactic to generate additional revenue. It is only a valid claim that a donor's gift is doubled when the matching donor would not otherwise have supported that charity. Meaning, if the conditions outlined in the campaign are not satisfied – such as raising $10,000 on Giving Tuesday – then the matching gift is not made. The individual donation only doubles when the matching campaign meets the true definition of a conditional gift and all contingencies are met. In any other case, the matching campaign is nothing more than a challenge meant to encourage giving.

Secondly, donations are an input, and impact is an output or an outcome. Increasing the input doesn't automatically influence the output. Equating funds raised to achieving mission-related goals leads to confusion. Yes, the increased fundraising revenue allows a charity to spend more through program services, but that alone isn't a measurement of impact or results. Monetizing the measurement of impact is tricky; program results cannot be boiled down to how much money is available to spend or ratios spent. When evaluating a charity referencing impact in matching gift campaigns, BBB requests substantiation of such claims and recommends editing the language of the appeal to avoid misleading donors by misrepresenting the organization's effectiveness. When claims are not substantiated and fundraising appeals are not changed, Standard 15 of BBB's Standards for Charity Accountability is not met.

Give confidently on Giving Tuesday.

With Giving Tuesday approaching on Dec. 1, BBB offers this advice to donors:

  • If a matching claim is your motivation for donating, take a careful look at the appeal to understand the campaign's conditions. If in doubt whether it's a conditional gift or more of a challenge to encourage additional giving, ask the charity to clarify.
  • Distinguish the difference between claims of impact rooted in money raised and focus instead on how effectively the charity produces results. Look for details on what programs and services the campaign will support and how. There's no single metric to measure effectiveness across the board, but organizations should have practices to measure their progress towards stated goals program and track results.
  • Do your due diligence and check the organization out on org or Give.org. If they meet BBB's Standards and are BBB Accredited, they should be free from misleading matching claims and already have policies for measuring organizational effectiveness. Better yet, start your research with this list of local and regional BBB Accredited Charities.

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