Match giving not universally effective for increasing donations, study finds

Researchers at University College London and the Behavioural Insights Team carried out experiment from which they concluded they could not be confident match giving elicited donations

Donations: does match funding work?
Donations: does match funding work?

Match giving is not a universally effective way of increasing donations to charity, a study by researchers at University College London and the Behavioural Insights Team has found.

The paper, Non-Standard Matching in Charitable Giving, which was funded by the Cabinet Office Trials Fund, found that several different types of match funding had no statistically significant effects on donor behaviour.

The researchers – Michael Sanders, Aisling Ní Chonaire, Veerle Snijders and Peter John – concluded that the results of two experiments indicated that charities might want to consider spending match funding on more cost-effective initiatives than novel matching interventions.

"In our experiments, we have spent £1,086 in matches and in so doing cannot be confident that we have elicited any additional donations," the paper says. "A charity facing a similar situation should consider what else match funding can be spent on."

In the first experiment, fundraisers taking part in the Tough Mudder obstacle course on behalf of either the anti-malaria charity Malaria No More UK or the de-worming charity Schistosomiasis Control Initiative contacted their Facebook friends through email or Facebook message to ask them for sponsorship.

A total of 3,537 people were contacted: a quarter of these were simply asked for a donation; a quarter were told their donations would be matched 1:1; a quarter were split into two groups and told the group that raised the most would have their donations matched; and the remaining quarter were told that the cumulative amount donated would be matched at an escalating percentage rate (the first £500 raised would receive a 50 per cent match, while any donations over £1,000 would be matched at a rate of 150 per cent).

The results showed the various types of matching had no effect on whether people donated or how much they gave. "However, we note that the motivation of participants in these experiments may be atypical of donors in general, thanks to the highly social component of giving in this environment," says the paper.

In the second experiment, the young people’s charity Inner Flame sent emails to its supporters asking recipients to donate money within four days to support an employee who was running in a relay race from Twickenham in south-west London to Cardiff in Wales. A total of 1,100 were contacted and were broken down in groups in a similar fashion to the first experiment.

The results again showed that matching had no effect on the participants’ donation behaviour.

The paper concludes: "Given that matching has been shown elsewhere to be effective, these findings are not sufficient to justify abandoning the hope that these interventions might ultimately succeed, but the results are not promising. Our main conclusion must be that matches are not universally effective and hence that context, match size and delivery play a role in whether matches will be effective."

The paper says that the context – online fundraising through sporting events – might have been the reason why matching did not lead to increased donations in the two experiments.

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