Case Study: A Successful Matching Gift Campaign

Earlier this year we worked on a matching gift campaign for the PKD Foundation. Merritt and I gave a presentation at NPConnect last month where we broke down the elements that combined to make it so successful. As nonprofits head into year end, I thought it would be good to quickly share the challenges, the solutions and the outcome of this winning matching gift campaign.

  • Framing the ask around an unsure outcome
  • Fluctuating match amount
  • The luxury of raising a lot of money
The PKD Foundation had a promising drug in the final stages of FDA approval. The campaign had to launch before we knew what the outcome would be. Donors' commitments to the matching gift were in flux and once it launched ... whoa, Nellie.


M&C recommended several specific strategies to manage the wildcard elements in the campaign and create a sense of urgency, enthusiasm and comfort in investing in the campaign for direct mail and online donors.
  • Simplicity. Rather than bog down the copy with the details of how the match came to be, who was doing it and the organizational underpinnings, we kept it super simple. The match is the rockstar and it came through in everything we sent out. Easy to understand. Easy to get excited about.
  • Focus on the feeling. The outcome of the drug testing wouldn't be known for a while, but what mattered was the sense of optimism and hope it gave major funders of the foundation. Our copy focused on the momentum in research. The fact that it sparked big donors to issue a matching gift challenge led to the entire community feeling it was a good time to make an investment.
  • Just keep going — add in the details later. Up until the announcement email launched, we were unsure of the actual match amount. We wrote around it and kept things moving. This way, we still launched on time and with some simple plug and play graphics, the branding was easy to maintain regardless of match amount.
  • Agility at all times. What do you do when you meet the match after the announcement email drops? Before the direct mail letter is even in the mail? You use your success as a rallying cry and reinforce the bold point you made that now is the best time to make a gift. The campaign continued and blew all expectations out of the water:
  • Goal: $125,000
  • Result: $224,542
  • Exceeded goal by 79.63%
  • Plus ... average gift of $229

Making Your Case

The other day I met a friend for coffee at The Sweet Guy.

I couldn’t help but notice the giant photos on the wall.

“Creating Passion with Chocolate” their slogan says.

And those photos – huge, dramatically lit close-ups of candies and gelatto – give testament to that claim (their products do too, btw).

At the time, I was also immersed in writing a case statement for a client’s capital campaign. I was struck by the fine line between tastefully (pun intended!) showcasing capabilities and the myopic chest-pounding that so quickly becomes off-putting.

Rather than telling me about your commitment to quality, how can you show it? How can you illustrate the need … and validate your claim to fill it?

Those photos were simple and straightforward. Dramatic and attention-getting, but still honest. Professional and well-designed, yet still in keeping with the setting. Inviting. Genuine. Believable.

Good copy should be the same.

And not just for capital campaigns, but for any case you want to make.

What did you expect?

The other day my son called. A meeting for which he had very high expectations hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped. He was bummed.

We talked … mainly about how we all have a tendency to create expectations for ourselves and then judge what happens by how it compares to that standard. No matter how realistic/likely/well-grounded (or unrealistic/unlikely/ungrounded) that standard might be.

In thinking about this later, I was struck by how much it applies to marketing as well.

We start by defining expectations: what do we want to deliver? How do we want our clients or key constituencies to think of us ... What do we want them to expect?

Then we set about creating those expectations: what do we offer people and why should they care? How do we communicate our promise?

The rubber meets the road when we have to fulfill the expectations we’ve created: how do we deliver on the promises we made? How do we ensure we provide satisfaction…or at least minimize the risk of dissatisfaction?

Finally, we refine expectations: how did we do? Did we meet our objectives? What is the likelihood this customer will come back? What would/could/should we do differently?

The key is to make a conscious and consistent effort to link these four steps together (also known as branding). Do our promises reflect our strengths? Do they focus on what we really deliver, or does our definition need to change? Are we systematically evaluating our efforts?

When we can do that, I expect the chances for success to increase considerably!