How Matching Grants for Artists Work
These days, you can fund your creative work in a variety of ways—crowdfunding, sustaining donors, grants, and more. But it can be overwhelming to know where to start and which options are the best for your unique needs and goals. One tool that artists can use to maximize the benefit of grants and individual fundraising is matching grants.
Matching grants combine traditional grants and individual fundraising into one funding opportunity that is greater than the sum of its parts. They help organizations who are giving grants make their money go further, and give recipients access to more money than with just a grant or individual fundraising alone. But, they require additional fundraising efforts from the grantee to secure that funding.
Let's take a look at how matching grant opportunities work for artists, and how you can determine if they might be right for you.
What is a Matching Grant for an Artist?
Matching grants are different from more traditional grants because, unlike traditional grants, matching grants require the grantee to fundraise on their own to receive grant funding. Matching grants allow foundations or organizations to make their money go further by combining it with money being raised by the grantee according to set terms. Funders who provide matches are lending their names and their credibility to a project so that the project can build its own audience and network.
For example, Donor A is matching up to $5,000 to fund Project X. That means that if Project X fundraises $5,000 they will receive the full match and come away with $10,000 total. If they only raise $4,000, they’ll receive $4,000 in matching funds for a total of $8,000. If they raise $6,000, only $5,000 will be matched by Donor A, so their final total will be $11,000.
A foundation might offer a 1:1 or a 2:1 grant for every dollar raised. They might offer to match every dollar up to a certain dollar amount, or they might offer to match dollar for dollar once a grantee has cleared a specific financial threshold. The organization or foundation providing the matching grant sets the terms for the amount they will match and any other restrictions around the match.
You have probably seen similar forms of giving advertised before: "This philanthropic organization will match every dollar donated to this project through the rest of the month.”
The philanthropic organization providing the matching grant might have an upper limit to what they will match. They might match every dollar up to $10,000 as a part of their grant. These terms will be set out in the grant itself.
If you’ve ever listened to a pledge drive from your local NPR affiliate, you’ve certainly heard matching grants in action. You might have heard hosts say something along the lines of “between 8 and 10 AM, this foundation will match every dollar. So, if you commit to $10 now, we’ll be getting $20 every month from you.” Listeners are encouraged through matching grants to donate then and there to make their money go further.
And through matching grants, foundations make their money go further, too.
Offering grants in this way allows a foundation's money to go further than it otherwise would while at the same time encouraging generosity in others. The grant recipient is able to access more funding than they would have with either their own fundraising alone or with just a traditional grant - they can use the matching grant to inspire new donors with a sense of urgency. If, for example, they only have a certain amount of time to receive matching funds or if they need to raise a certain amount of money to access matching funds.
Crowdfunding for a Matching Grant
In order for a matching grant campaign to be successful, you need to be able to successfully raise money on your own. Luckily, raising funds for a matching grant is a great opportunity for you to spread the word about your work and activate your audience through crowdfunding. As crowdfunding becomes more popular and more streamlined, artists are better able to find patrons for their work at all financial levels.
However, no crowdfunding platform will magically make your donors appear. Once your crowdfunding campaign is up and running, you'll need to let people know about it so that they can support you.
The first step is to reach out to people who have contributed to your work in the past. Let them know about the matching funds and ask if they would be willing to help you reach your goal. Because they have already demonstrated that they are engaged in your work and believe in your vision, they should be the first people you reach out to. With a matching grant, you have a timely reason to re-engage with them.
In addition to reaching out to current and previous donors, you'll also need new donors to expand your base of support in order to get the biggest benefit from a matching grant. That’s where social media outreach will come in. Be sure to engage your friends, followers, and subscribers across your social media channels by sharing your campaign.
Ask them to donate and to share with their own networks. And if you’re asking for donations on social media, consider thanking donors on social media. Give shout outs in your Instagram stories or share thank you Tweets. If you have a wide social media reach, this can already go a long way.
One of the primary purposes of matching grants is to encourage other people to give money. Take advantage of this by reminding your audience that their money will go further if they give in conjunction with a matching grant. If someone hears that their $50 can become $100 it gives them an extra push to contribute.
As you build your donor circle through a matching grant campaign, be sure to keep that donor community happy and vibrant.
Communication Strategies for a Matching Grant
Just like with any other fundraising campaign, when you are fundraising for a matching grant, you get to choose when and how you communicate with your new donors. You can use the matching goal as part of your story to engage donors and let them know that their money is going further, even after you’ve maxed out the match.
You get to decide when and how to tell donors that you’ve hit your matching goal so that you can keep excitement strong for as long as possible. Once you’ve hit your matching goal, thank all of the donors who helped you get there and then set a stretch goal even if it won’t be matched! While a matching grant’s primary goal is to generate money for a project, its secondary goal is to attract more donors. Whenever you hit your financial goal, you still want to keep attracting members.
Finding a Matching Grant
Many matching grants come from local or national organizations that are dedicated in some way to the arts. In particular, many government grants have a matching component. Unfortunately, there isn't a database for matching grant opportunities. This means that looking specifically for a matching grant can be difficult and is generally not your best way of seeking funding for your projects. Matching grants are often the result of a previous relationship with a funder rather than the first contact you’ll have with a foundation or organization. Funders who have already engaged with a project, an artist, or a collective tend to be more likely to offer a matching grant.
The forums and communities that you already frequent as part of your work also may contain a list of grants available or may have members who can point you in the direction of grant opportunities for artists working in your medium.
One way to increase the pool of grants that are available to you is via fiscal sponsorship. Fiscal sponsorship lets artists receive some of the benefits of being a 501(c)(3) without having to go through the process of incorporating as a nonprofit. That means that artists who are fiscally sponsored can apply for a wider variety of grants and solicit tax-deductible funds both from individual patrons and from foundations or corporations.
Pros and Cons of Matching Grants
Like most things in life, there is no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether a matching grant is a good fit for you as an artist. There are compelling reasons both for and against applying for a matching grant. Ultimately, whichever direction you choose will come down to your own personal preference, bandwidth, and the scope of your project.
You are the best person to determine what kinds of grants or financial support make the most sense for you. So while we can’t make a decision for you or push you in one direction over another, we can give you some things to think about when deciding whether or not you want to look for a matching grant or go for a more traditional grant with fewer additional steps required after securing that grant.
If you are an artist, you are likely already doing some form of fundraising. If not, then you are likely planning to. This is especially true if you are thinking about applying for a grant. A matching grant is a great way to increase the amount that your fundraising efforts put into your pockets and help you get the biggest benefit out of both your grants and out of your other fundraising efforts.
One of the biggest benefits that it provides you with is the sense of legitimacy and urgency that it will create around your campaign. Strangers who know that you are backed by the foundation giving the grant are more likely to take you seriously than if you were just fundraising on your own. Both strangers and friends alike will act more quickly when there is limited time to raise a certain amount of money. Finally, the matching donation part, as we've discussed before, will make people more likely to give.
While a matching grant can provide a significant boost to your existing fundraising efforts, it requires a serious amount of effort on your part. If you are already exhausted from applying to grants and have limited bandwidth to run a crowdfunding campaign post-grant, a matching grant might not be right for you. If you feel uncomfortable with the prospect of reaching out to your network to ask for funding rather than an institution, it might be too challenging to run a crowdfunding campaign.
With traditional grants, when you apply for and are awarded the grant, the work is over. With a matching grant, getting approved for it is just the beginning. Getting the funds to qualify for the maximum amount the grant allows for is very time intensive and will require a lot of effort on your part. We know that not all artists have the time and energy to really make the most of a matching grants opportunity.
Are Matching Grants Right for Me?
Matching grants aren't available to everyone, and they're not right for everyone. But if you find yourself with an opportunity to access funding through a matching grant and have the bandwidth to run a concerted campaign around that matching grant, they can be a great source of funding. At Fractured Atlas, we help artists find the right financial support to turn their projects into reality - through crowdfunding, increased access to grants through fiscal sponsorship, and by sharing the knowledge that we have as artists and art professionals with you. Learn more about grants - from finding the right grants to putting together all of your application materials.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Content Specialist at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.