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The little-used but quickly growing source of funds - matching grants

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It wasn't as if matching grants saved the day for WGBH last year. The Boston public radio and television broadcasting station received only 3 percent of its donations from corporate contributions that matched, or beat, donations made by their corporate employees.

But that tiny share represents feisty growth.

Last year, total matching income for WGBH reached $198,241, a 54 percent increase from 1981. Part of the rise was because the station added 40 more companies to its matching-gift list. ''We should at least be able to get that many, and hopefully more, this year,'' says Courtney Earley, who heads the matching-grant drive for WGBH.

Matching grants are a minuscule but rapidly growing source of funding for the arts. A company gives matching grants when it meets, or betters, donations made by company employees. The Business Council for the Arts, a New York association of business leaders supporting the arts, counted only 51 firms across the country that had matching-grant programs in 1980. This year so far, the BCA has tracked 230 firms with such programs.

Daniel Fallon, spokesman for the group, says the idea is catching on because companies ''want to involve their employees in the grant decision process.'' And , he adds, ''From the management point of view, I think it's a mechanism to make employees feel the company they work for is interested in them and the things they are interested in.'' And the arts are doing their best to push companies in this direction, too.

At some companies with matching programs, the number of employees taking advantage of them is increasing - and so is the amount they are giving.

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