Let’s explore two fundraising scenarios. School A and School B are both holding month-long read-a-thon fundraising campaigns to cap off the end of the school year. School A asks students to collect flat donations of $10 from their friends and family. School B uses the pledge fundraising model and asks students to collect $3 pledges for each hour spent reading from their sponsors.

In the end, both schools are successful—but School B raises more money and has better participation from students. This is because the students knew that they could raise more to support their school simply by spending more time reading.

This guide will explore how your school or nonprofit can use pledge fundraising to boost its impact by breaking down some of the top frequently asked questions (FAQs). Let’s begin.

1. What is pledge fundraising?

A pledge occurs when a donor promises to make a gift of money, goods, or services that will be delivered to the organization at a later date. Donations, on the other hand, are paid immediately. Sometimes donors use pledges to stagger larger payments, breaking them into more manageable payments (e.g., pledging to give $1,000 over six months).

But how does this process work in practice? 99Pledges’ guide to kid-friendly fundraising ideas illustrates how your organization can weave this fundraising method into your next campaign:

These are the five steps involved in the pledge fundraising process.

  1. Work with a pledge fundraising software provider to set up donation pages for participants.
  2. Encourage your participants to share the donation pages online.
  3. Participants collect pledge donations from friends and family, usually corresponding with a unit of distance, time, or quantity (e.g., $1 per car washed during a car wash or $3 per mile jogged during a jog-a-thon).
  4. Track pledges using your fundraising software.
  5. Collect proceeds once the event wraps up. Your software should automatically send reminders and collect payments from donors.

Keep in mind that pledges are different from monthly giving initiatives. Monthly or recurring giving means that the donor has enrolled in your sustainer program and agrees to donate a specific dollar amount each month (e.g., $25 each month, on repeat). While a donor may pay some pledged donations in installments, this doesn’t make them a part of your monthly giving initiative.

2. Why accept pledges?

Pledge fundraising is an effective method for nonprofits, schools, and other fundraising organizations because it:

  • Is more flexible. Enhance your donors’ experiences and secure more donations by offering them different ways to donate. For example, during a walk-a-thon they may choose between giving pledged donations for each mile walked or donating a flat rate. Flat rates appeal to donors who know what they want to donate while pledges can be better for those who cannot or don’t wish to donate immediately.
  • Can increase donors’ capacity to give. Not all of your supporters can afford to give large amounts at one time. However, pledge donations give them the option to pay toward a larger sum over several months. While your organization won’t receive an immediate major gift, these small donations add up.
  • Provides more opportunities to steward supporters. With pledged donations, you’ll have at least two opportunities to connect with them: when they make the pledge and when they donate. If they plan to fulfill the pledge in multiple payments, you have even more chances to show your gratitude. Send donors heartfelt thank-you messages and share the impact that their contributions have to steward the relationship.

Pledges are also a great way for donors to provide targeted support to the causes or projects they care about most. For example, an afterschool program might use a sports team fundraising idea like a baseball hit-a-thon to raise money for its team sports program. When donors pledge to donate to this campaign, they’ll know exactly where their funds are going.

3. How are pledges collected and processed?

There are many different ways to manage pledged donations, and it’s up to your organization to decide what works best. However, there are some tips and best practices to follow that can keep the process running smoothly:

  • Use pledge fundraising software that will track pledges and fundraising progress during your campaign.
  • Accept a variety of payment methods like credit cards, PayPal, ApplePay, and GooglePay to make donating flexible and convenient for donors.
  • Leverage online donation pages. Since pledges are often collected through peer-to-peer fundraising, consider creating a donation page for the whole campaign and allowing participants to create individual pages.
  • Choose a payment processor or fundraising platform that is safe and secure. Typically, these providers are PCI compliant and employ security measures like data encryption and two-factor authentication.

Additionally, you’ll need to make sure you’re asking for these donations in an effective way. Because some donors may not be familiar with pledge fundraising, explain how the method works in your asks. If your organization is holding a peer-to-peer campaign, share some basic fundraising tips and marketing materials with participants.

4. What happens if a donor doesn’t fulfill their pledge?

Unfortunately, pledge attrition can happen in almost any campaign. However, an average of 84% of event fundraising pledges are fulfilled, so you can rest assured that this isn’t a rampant issue that will seriously impact your success. To offset any expected losses, set the expectation that you won’t receive roughly 10% of the total amount pledged.

In many cases, pledging to donate is not legally binding. This means that the best way to curb pledge attrition is through preventative measures. Start with clear communication—make sure donors understand what pledging to donate means, tell them when they will need to make the payment, and send out reminders. 

Additionally, some fundraising platforms require a donor’s card information to process the pledge. This way, your nonprofit can automatically collect the agreed-upon amount on a specific date (and neither you nor the donor will forget about it).

5. How can your organization encourage donors to pledge again?

You’ll need to make efforts to steward your organization’s relationship with donors to ensure they pledge again in the future. To do so, set up a gratitude system that includes elements like:

  • Sending donors thank-you messages. Share an email or handwritten letter expressing your gratitude for their support. eCardWidget’s guide to thanking donors recommends adding personal details like the amount donated, centering the donors’ impact, and ensuring your message fits the gift amount.
  • Creating donor recognition walls. Recognition walls are mounted, public displays in your facility that feature the names of your top, most loyal donors. These walls honor the donors’ contributions, physically represent your community of supporters, and make those featured feel deeply connected to your cause.
  • Giving top donors public shout-outs. Identify the donors that pledged the largest amount, contributed for the first time, or have joined in on the most pledge campaigns. Then, ask if they’d like to be featured on your website or social media. Consider asking them a few brief questions about why they support your cause. You can feature their answers in the post.

If your nonprofit or other organization shares an impact or annual report, consider adding a section that recognizes impactful donors. Spread awareness of your pledge fundraisers and boost supporter retention by adding a special section to highlight the impact of pledge-based fundraisers.

Pledge fundraising allows your organization to give its supporters a different way to contribute to your cause. The ability to make smaller donations over time or in the future can boost your donors’ capacity to give. Unit-based pledges can empower participants in charity races, dance-a-thons, and other events to go the extra mile during the campaign.

To motivate both your donors and participants to do more to further your mission, consider implementing pledge fundraising into your next campaign.

About the Author

Rodrigo Ramos

Rodrigo Ramos is the Manager of Customer Success at 99Pledges, the #1 online fundraising platform for schools, sports teams, music groups, and more. 99Pledges provides organizations with an easy-to-use, web-based solution to manage and drive success in fundraising. The platform’s robust functionality can support simple pledge drives as well as performance-based campaigns (e.g. fun runs, walk-a-thons, read-a-thons, etc.).

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