Challenge Grants - The Power of Company

on in Fundraising

A wetlands preservation association finally got a meeting with a new, wealthy local landowner. The group’s volunteers leaders made their case, then sat back quaking.

I can see your point,” he told them. “But if I give you a donation, I want to make sure others do, too. So I’m going to give you $10,000 – as a challenge grant. If you can use that to rally other people’s support to match it, the money’s all yours – and you can come back later for more.

Could they manage that? The largest amount they’d ever raised from a single fund drive was $6,700.


Well of course you know the end of the story – they made it, and more (their final total was over $13,000 in matching donations raised – almost double their previous high achievement). No mystery there, that’s usually the way the challenge grant story ends.

But the why – that’s the mystery. Why are challenge grants so successful?

One reason is the power of the crowd.

In a way, challenge grants are like the “who’s coming” list on an e-vite website. They let the prospect know they’re in good company. That others are giving and hoping they’ll come along. “Get on the boat,” they signal. “We’re waiting for you to join us.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_going-up-as-a-team.JPGBut beyond even the multiplier rationale – that your money can be worth double or triple your actual donation – is the comfort-in-numbers motivation. More than any other type of giving except perhaps special events, challenge grants assure us that we’re not alone.

Sure, there are other reasons for challenge grants’ success as a fundraising tool (urgency of deadline, desire to please the lead donor, clarity of goal, and more…).

But at its essence, challenge grants play on the fact that humans are social animals. It feels good – warm and fuzzy – to go along with the crowd. And challenge grants embed that yearning into their very pitch.

To give is to be on the team.

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