Pledges – Investing In Your Success

Tim Sarrantonio

This is part seven of our blog series The Fundraiser’s Guide to the Annual Fund. Our team will be exploring how to turn your database into an integral tool for raising the general operation funds necessary for your success.

Sometimes your donors have an absolute intention of giving, but they just can’t do it at the time of your ask. This typically happens most often in the initial push of your annual fund process. Setting yourself up to not only track but also acknowledge and follow up on pledges throughout the year will be your strategy for success.

We’ve talked a lot about stewardship, but there are never enough ways to say thank you to a future donor. The key to pledges is that they are an intent to give and you should treat your future donors with the same level of stewardship that donations in the door receive.

Structure your annual fund to handle pledges
When creating materials for your annual fund, make sure to include an area where folks can pledge their intent to give. You should also write copy for an acknowledgement letter specifically for these pledges, so when you do your mail merge or email follow up you’ll be able to quickly generate these communications. The future donor should have an easy way to fulfill their pledge as well, so make sure to include a return envelope and a donation link to your online annual fund campaign page in whatever correspondence you’re sending out.

Have a strategy to get pledge commitments early
The earlier you receive a pledge, the more time you’ll have to fold these donors into your overall benchmark strategy for your annual fund. At the private school where I used to work, we had a phone-a-thon that utilized volunteers to make calls on behalf of the annual fund. A large number of people contacted would opt to pledge future money as opposed to giving an outright gift immediately. Coordinate your initial mailing to your possible future donors with a phone-based follow up ask. A great tip I learned is to make your giving community well aware that you’ll be doing a phone-a-thon and give them opportunities to donate to your annual fund ahead of time so they’re not called the night of.

A major part of your strategy should be providing as much information as possible about your prospective donors to the folks who are doing the ask.  It is a good practice for board members or dedicated volunteers to know previous giving history or special notes and activities about a possible donor before reaching out to them. Using a donor database can really help with this effort; by centrally storing all of your important donor data, it can be universally accessed by your staff, volunteers, and board members and used to make more successful asks. This is also a two way street – sometimes your solicitors might gather a piece of information you didn’t previously have in your database!  Make sure this new information gets entered as soon as possible.

Schedule follow up time on pledges
While you should have sent out an acknowledgement of the pledge the moment it is received, you’ll also need to follow up with your outstanding pledges throughout the year. When laying out your scheduled asks throughout the year, make sure that outstanding pledges are treated differently than folks who haven’t indicated a willingness to give. Create a different letter that includes the pledge information in the letter, to remind them of their previously committed gift or even ask them to consider increasing their commitment.  Many times you can integrate this into an email campaign as well, segmenting out your annual fund’s unfulfilled donors.

Sustain that donation
Cultivating a culture of recurring giving is something that more and more nonprofits are turning to.  Instead of one large gift given upfront, many donors are turning toward monthly giving and spreading this donation out over the course of a year.  Make sure to provide recurring donation options online with your annual fund donation page, and offer this as an option when reaching out by phone.  Recurring donations are something you should actively encourage since it’s a form of sustained pledging that may continue for many years if not forever.

Next time we’ll cover the thrill of success and how to make it count!

Got a question, comment, criticism, or concern? We’re here to listen, we’re here to help, and we’re here to learn. Leave something below or reach out to me directly at tim@z2systems.com. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

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