How Ben Franklin helped drive a 600% increase in a single e-mail appeal

I found something remarkable about what donors respond to this past December. And, it turns out, Ben Franklin figured this one out more than 250 years ago!

The chart below shows how much was given in response to each of the seven year-end emails we wrote for Sustainable Harvest International.

match appeal chart 1

Promise of a match made the difference

The obvious question for me is: What happened in email #5 on 12/19?

There was a matching gift commitment that this organization announced that day. The subject line simply promised: “Your Gift Will Be Doubled!”

Each member of the board of trustees had committed their own stretch gift that would only be made if it was first matched by gifts from the general donor base.

More donors and higher average gift

There was also a 400% lift in number of donors who responded. Their average gift was higher than any of the other appeals:

match appeal chart 2

match appeal chart 3

Ben Franklin: Founding Father and Fundraising Pioneer


What does Ben Franklin have to do with all this? One of his lesser-known inventions (but perhaps one with the greatest impact) was that of the matching gift!The first matching gift campaign is responsible for founding the historic Pennsylvania Hospital.


Here’s from that hospital’s own history:

With Franklin’s talent for popularizing an idea, funds were obtained from both the Pennsylvania legislature and private citizens in 1751; Franklin received a promise from the legislature to match whatever he collected from the public. This fundraising method, now known as a matching fund drive, was a new technique.

How you can use the magic of the matching gift

  1. First, secure the match commitment. This may be a way to re-engage a lapsed major donor who will see their own gift doubled by the campaign.
  2. Choose your audience. Try to leverage this match and its natural motivation by restricting it to first-time gifts, or increase over prior giving where only the increased amount is matched.
  3. Promote the match challenge and indicate the deadline. Try a match campaign that is during a time when giving is typically lower for your organization.
  4. Report on the progress and final results. People want to know …. Did you make the match? And don’t just report on the money, report on the impact to your mission. How are lives changed because of this campaign?

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