For organizations that accept pledges (large or small) to be paid in installments over time, pledge reminders provide a key opportunity to keep those donors who’ve made pledges continuously engaged. Reminder communication proactively acknowledges your donors’ commitment and similarly furnishes an opportunity for you to continue showing your appreciation. Nurturing these relationships with solid communication and stewardship practices will help engender stronger donor support overall, allowing your nonprofit to reach new levels of mission impact.
More tactically, pledge reminders also encourage these donors to make the payments due to you in a timely fashion. This not only fosters cash flow but quite literally provides the funding you need to deliver the programs such donors have indicated a desire to support.
With these simple practices, you can be more reliant on revenue from pledges to help your organization achieve its goals and objectives.
1. Keep it short and sweet
Pledge reminder letters (whether printed and mailed, or sent by email) should be short and personal. Use the donor’s preferred informal salutation and incorporate a relaxed, comfortable tone. Be sure to keep the messaging clear by including information on germane organizational or campaign objectives, the amount and deadline of the current installment’s payment, and how funds raised have been used thus far, as appropriate.
It’s ideal to weave a relevant story, the campaign case statement, or your mission statement into each reminder. Your message should also emphasize that you’re collecting on the existing pledge commitment, rather than soliciting a new donation.
2. Make it easy
Provide multiple ways for your donors to pay with easy donation options. In each reminder, include instructions on how the donor can make a payment online, by phone, or by mail (and be sure to include a business or courtesy reply envelope.)
Online forms should be simple, flexible, and intuitive. Data integration tools should be deployed to automate sending online payment and related donor information to your main CRM database. This will support data quality and consistency by eliminating manual data entry errors and ensuring that your donor records are always up-to-date.
3. Incentivize your pledgers
Motivate your pledge-donors to complete their payment commitments by providing them information about matching gifts or challenge gifts. If the donor’s employer has a matching gifts program, provide the donor with the necessary resources to take advantage of that program. If a major donor has made an annual or campaign challenge against which pledge payments are eligible, ensure that your donors know their pledge payments will be matched internally. Even the most altruistic people are more likely to make charitable gifts when they know the payments they make can be leveraged for additional financial support.
4. Track everything
Pledge acquisition and payment retention rely on communication and persistence. Send pledge reminder letters at least 30 days before the installment’s due date, and then immediately after the due date if payment has not been made. It’s not unreasonable to follow up with reminders at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day mark if a donor’s installment payment has been missed. And, if payment is not received, check your CRM system for duplicates to ensure that an online installment payment from a donor was not incorrectly recorded as a new gift from a new donor.
If advisable, be sure to remind the donor towards which campaign the requested pledge payment is being applied. This is critical for donors who have multiple open pledges; say, one to the annual campaign and another to an endowment or capital campaign.
To optimize success, consider automating alternative communication techniques and frequency using different contact methods (e.g., email, phone call, instant/text messaging, standard mail), depending, of course, on your donors’ desired communication preferences. If automated outreach isn’t effective, consider a personalized approach and leverage various data points in your main CRM system such as the donor’s volunteer history, lifetime giving, event attendance, and other forms of past donor engagement.
5. Be understanding
If a donor doesn’t respond to a pledge reminder by the due date, make sure that follow-up reminders (eg, 30-, 60-, and 90-day reminders) are friendly, grateful, and supportive. When a donor can’t pay the installment, you may want to offer to suspend the pledge schedule and reminders for some agreed-upon timeframe or modify the payment terms of the pledge (working in conjunction with your finance team).
If the donor wishes to remain supportive but cannot do so financially at the current time, suggest other methods of engagement like sharing the organization’s posts on social media, volunteering, or promoting an event.
6. Thanks, and then some
Always, always, always say thank you. When you first accept a pledge (large or small) to an annual or special campaign or initiative, be sure to furnish the donor with an acknowledgment of their pledge commitment – no different from the acknowledgment you’d furnish to a donor who gives cash. (In fact, typically, from an accounting standpoint, both pledges and cash gifts count as current donation revenue.)
In addition to any auto-generated email receipt sent upon payment of a pledge installment online, a personal acknowledgment letter should be sent within 48 hours of when a pledge payment has been received. Personal acknowledgments should be sent again when the pledge is paid in full, as well as at the end of each year calendar year along with a payment log that can be used for tax purposes.
Saying thank you continues to be a great way to make the donor feel appreciated and helps strengthen their personal connection with your cause. But remember that ongoing donor stewardship does not stop with a thank you letter. All donors – including pledgers – need to be ensured that their gifts are being used as they intended, and need to be appropriately recognized for their generosity. Donors who pledge and make payments over several years, especially, have demonstrated long-term generosity that should be acknowledged commensurately.
Embrace the pledgers
Nobody ever said that pledge fundraising wasn’t hard work. Compared with conventional cash gifts, there are more donor management and operational processes associated with recording pledges, managing payment schedules, and the various reminder letters that need to be sent to these donors – to ensure they make good on their commitments, and so you have the funding on which you’ve been relying.
And because pledge-donor management and related data processing can be painstaking, all the more reason to ensure that your various donor engagement and payment systems are properly integrated – so you can be sure you always have the most current and complete information on your pledge-donors and their payments. For example, you don’t want to send a reminder letter to someone who’s just made their payment. With organizations using more donor engagement systems today than ever before – including phonathon and peer-to-peer fundraising platforms that collect and record pledges – data integration is more important than ever.
Pledges (and their payments) work really well for a large population of donors, those who are committed to your organization and who feel more comfortable with a level of control that aligns well with their own financial circumstances.
So, embrace it. These are likely donors who will be long-term supporters of your organization, and who will likely increase their level of support over time, especially if you provide them with the level of service they’ve come to expect. And isn’t it always better to get pledges (and payments) from those for whom pledges are the right giving vehicle, rather than exclude them from meeting their philanthropic objectives, just because monitoring and stewarding pledges is a little more complicated? We certainly think so.
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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.