Behind every successful nonprofit organization are talented individuals who exemplify the value of fostering real, human relationships. These professionals must be able to convey how gifts from donors further their mission, but they are also responsible for maintaining relationships with donors. The foundation of such effective donor management is communication, including those communications that, however delicately, hold donors accountable for their commitments.
Organizations that raise a significant portion of revenues in pledges know that they can generate considerable fundraising revenues and at the same time create a predictable stream of incoming cash flow. However, that strategy requires that pledge acknowledgments, pledge payment confirmations, and pledge payment reminder letters become a mainstay of donor communications. Particularly with larger contributions, donors require more personal and ‘stewardship-forward’ pledge reminders because of the impact their gifts have on your mission.
There are many ways nonprofits engage with their pledge-making donors, but one part of relationship-building that can go overlooked is developing the right messaging across all forms of contact. And if there is one donor outreach tactic where nonprofits must rely on effective messaging and call-to-action, it’s through the commonly-used pledge reminder letter.
Pledge commitment and payment-due reminders can be tricky and even awkward, especially when engaging with higher-profile donors. So here are a few tips you can use for developing and utilizing effective pledge reminder letters.
What is a Pledge Reminder Letter?
Reminder letters are typically sent to donors who have pledged a contribution to a nonprofit organization and plan to make defined installment payments over a specific period of months or years. Reminder letters are also often used for donors who make smaller gift commitments and plan to make a single payment, for example, after a phonathon or a peer-to-peer fundraising event.
Because pledge commitments, especially major gift pledges, can span the course of months or even years, there may be a lengthy period of time from the organization’s first expression of gratitude until the last payment is made. Reminder letters about the pledge commitment and how the pledged funds will be used are helpful to show ongoing gratitude, to keep pledge-donors aware of your mission, and also to ensure they follow through with their regularly scheduled payments.
Collecting pledge payments throughout the course of the commitment period is generally expected, but the unfortunate reality is not every pledge is fulfilled. While a donor may intend to fulfill their commitment, there may be factors that prevent him or her from following through. A gentle pledge reminder letter will keep the original commitment top of mind, even if the payment period ends up being extended.
Pledge Reminder Letters vs. Solicitation Letters
Pledge reminder letters are not the same as solicitation letters. While the two are both trying to achieve a similar tactical objective – donors making a direct payment in support of a nonprofit – they have distinctly different intentions. Solicitation letters are typically utilized to garner initial support for a specific initiative, such as generating contributions to a campaign, obtaining program-specific funding, boosting special event attendance, or securing auction items. Conversely, pledge reminders are requests pertaining to existing donation commitments and are intended to remind donors that it’s time to make another payment towards their current obligation.
Pledge Reminder Best Practices
When it comes to writing a powerful and effective pledge reminder, there are some critical aspects you’ll want to focus on to motivate your donors. Here are things to keep in mind when writing a pledge payment reminder letter:
1) Messaging Consistency
No matter how an individual interacts with your nonprofit, your goal should always be to ensure they are receiving a consistent experience. Whether they read an email message, share a post from you within their social network, or network with staff members at public events, every nonprofit should ensure the message is consistent.
Pledge reminders are intended for individuals who have already bought into your mission, but they also serve as an opportunity to ensure your correspondence matches your nonprofit’s overall messaging approach.
Depending on your relationship with the donor, you may determine that keeping the message informal is a good approach. Although you may use a pledge reminder template, try not to make the letter appear ‘templated’; you can do this by infusing personalization based on donor information you already have. For example, use the donor’s preferred salutation; reference a recent interaction or event they attended; discuss a recent newsletter, cause, or program that you know resonates.
However, avoid using these reminders as collections letters. Donors are generally not obligated to give, and you never want to risk your relationship by appearing demanding or insensitive. A donor may fall behind on their payments. Pledge reminders are a good – and unobtrusive – way to help make sure their commitments are eventually fulfilled.
2) Reminder Message Content
Remember that when it comes to writing a letter to donors, it’s essential to capture the reader’s attention, otherwise your carefully crafted message will go straight into the trash. In most cases, your pledge reminder should aim to get to the point as quickly as possible, while leading with your ongoing gratitude.
In some cases, donors will miss their scheduled payment due date, at which point you’ll want to follow up with them again. There are lots of reasons why donors miss their payment windows, and it never hurts to send another reminder letter or a follow-up email message or give them a quick phone call. But remember to always lead with stewardship.
If you do decide to send a more substantial reminder letter, the stewardship aspect becomes imperative: thank the donor again, and discuss how donations like theirs are making an impact. Pledge reminders, like all correspondence, should express gratitude for previous and future contributions, no matter how far behind a donor may be on their payments.
3) Specify Pertinent Information
Another important consideration when writing pledge reminder letters is to make them easily digestible for your reader. Among the most important components of the message are:
- Giving history, including information about past programs or initiatives that they’ve supported
- Their total pledged amount
- Amount paid-to-date
- Upcoming payment-due dates, and future installment dates
- Specific programs or fundraising efforts that this pledge and its payments are supporting.
This information is relevant because it establishes a sense of urgency while also demonstrating just how much their generosity has contributed toward your mission. Ultimately you want your donors to feel like they are a part of something significant; you want to convey that their donations truly matter.
4) Make it Easy
Now that you’ve gotten your donors’ attention, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to make a payment.
First, ensure that you’ve given donors more than enough time to submit their payment, especially if their next due date is approaching. Typically, 30 days in advance should be enough time, but many organizations will deliver ‘soft and friendly’ 90-day, 60-day, and 30-day pledge reminder letters, to ensure that the upcoming installment remains top-of-mind. Even donors who have made small pledges and intend to make a single payment may need to be sent 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day reminders that make it easy to pay – by including a reply envelope and referencing an online payment-portal website link.
Beyond that, it’s essential to communicate the different ways donors can pay since they may find one method more convenient for them than another. Many will continue to give as they always have, but letting them know their options may make it easier for them to pay on time. For example, you may come across several donors who have historically written checks, but after learning that you accept PayPal, may opt to use that service for future gifts.
5) When and How to Follow-up
There will always be donors who miss their payment due dates despite receiving their reminder letters. How often you follow up with these donors is up to you, but it’s important to stay on top of these individuals in a kind and caring way. It’s critical to be respectful, empathetic, and sensitive to the fact that life happens, occasionally causing donors to fall behind on their payments.
If you’ve done 30-, 60-, and 90-day reminders and still have donors who have not made their expected payment, consider sending pledge reminder follow-ups on a quarterly basis to those whose payments are overdue. This is frequently enough to routinely keep up with these donors but avoids the perception of being overbearing.
And don’t refrain from including these donors in non-pledge-related stewardship correspondence — newsletters, program information, and especially information related to program initiatives for which their payments would be used. These types of interactions can help strengthen your relationship with these donors and keep them engaged while their pledges remain open.
6) Leveraging Your Main CRM Database to Support Pledge Reminders
If pledges are an important source of fundraising revenue for your organization, all the more reason to make to exploit the pledge reminder functionality in your main CRM database – such as Raiser’s Edge NXT or Salesforce NPSP. Both of these impressive systems, and most other main systems used by nonprofits today, can support pledge collection by ensuring that the pledge and payment schedules are recorded correctly, and the proper data are grabbed for creating your pledge reminders. If you use other applications to record pledge commitments and online payments, it’s imperative that you integrate that data into your main CRM system so that payment information is not only up to date, but properly attributed to the right donor, and as payment on an existing pledge rather than recorded as a new gift.
Different Methods of Sending Pledge Reminders
Sending letters by mail is still very effective, but in the 2020s that approach isn’t necessarily the de facto best method for pledge reminders. In today’s world, nonprofits aren’t restricted to engaging with their donors exclusively through the mail, and the fact is that not every donor will respond in the same way as others when they get a reminder letter in their mailbox.
Here are a few different ways you can remind your donors about their upcoming payments:
- Traditional Mail — No sense in messing with a classic if it continues to work for you. Most pledge reminders are still sent via conventional mail, and it is still a very effective method of communication.
- Email — As more people embrace digital technology, there’s no reason why email can’t be just as effective as traditional mail for pledge reminders. The important thing to keep in mind is that email is typically less secure than postal mail, so take extra precautions to protect your donors’ sensitive or personal information. Email can be a great tool to send quick reminders a month in advance or even one or two weeks before a given due date. And, email messages can include a ‘hotlink’ to a payment portal, making it extremely easy for a donor reading a reminder email message to click and pay on the spot.
- Text (SMS) Messaging— If you’re concerned with how many of your pledgers actually open their reminder letters or email messages, sending reminders via text message may be worth considering. According to a study by Dynmark, email typically has a 20% open rate, while SMS messages have a 98% open rate. Chances are that if your donor has a mobile phone that can receive SMS messages, they’re probably going to read your pledge reminder message faster than a letter or an email message. And, hotlinks to payment portals can be included in text messages as well. Be sure to be brief (but always grateful and relational).
Whichever method you use, always aim to follow the preferences of your donor and be sure you have their permission to send communication via email and SMS if advisable.
These pledge reminder best-practices can help ensure your nonprofit is continuing to collect the payments to which your donors have committed. To help you tackle pledge reminder letters, keep in mind these key takeaways:
- Remember what differentiates pledge reminders from solicitation letters
- Avoid sounding too impersonal or templated
- Get straight to the point
- Always be grateful – stewardship, stewardship, stewardship!
- Make it easy for donors to make a payment
- Follow-up when necessary without appearing overbearing
- Use your database’s functionality to make reminder processing as accurate and as easy as possible, and ensure your data are current, so you know which donors have or have not made their pledge payments
One more consideration: organizations today use so many different platforms and applications – not just for pledge and payment processes, but across the board. Data collected and residing in these various systems can support your pledge reminder and pledge collection endeavors, so be sure that data integration is a top priority. It’s not just about importing new pledges and ensuring that imported online payment transactions are properly attributed. It’s also about name, address, phone number, and email updates that get recorded first in other systems. And it’s about recent donor interactions – such as event attendance or program participation – recorded in other systems that can be used in pledge reminder correspondence. Using nonprofit cloud integration software can help to automate these updates in your main CRM database.
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Stu Manewith, CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.