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The Evolution Of Pledging Donations: From Donor Pledge Forms To Digital Pledges

Published: Jul 9, 2021

Today, ‘the best experience anywhere is the expected experience everywhere.’ Meaning we’re (nonprofits) all now held to the same benchmarks as Amazon, Starbucks, and other for-profit companies.

Emily Eakin, Traction on Demand Principal Strategist

One of these benchmarks is adopting digital technology more aggressively. 


Because as time passes, tech-savvy millennials and Gen-Zs will be taking center stage as your supporters. And traditional ways of connecting with these audiences won’t be as effective. 

One aspect of nonprofit fundraising that needs a substantial digital update is pledging donations. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at what donation pledges are and what you need to do to make a shift from traditional ways (like using donor pledge forms) to more novel methods. 

What is a donor pledge? 

Donor pledges are simply promises made by donors to give a certain amount of money to an organization on a future date or over a set amount of time. 

Primarily, there are three methods of pledging donations: 

  1. Conditional Pledge: This is when donors commit to donating a certain amount only when a condition is met. For example, residents of a city pledging a part of their earnings to a disaster relief organization for emergencies.  

This is a conditional pledge, with the occurrence of a disaster/emergency being the condition.

  1. Unconditional Pledge: This is when a supporter commits to paying an amount at a later date without any reservation. For example, a business may pledge 5% of its revenue to a nonprofit at the end of the fiscal year.  
  1. Hybrid pledges: These pledges are a combination of the above methods. In this, a donor pledges to pay a certain amount at a future date and an additional amount only when a condition is met. For example, a major donor may pledge to donate $200,000 to their school football team at the end of the year and an additional amount of $5,000 for every game the team wins. 

What is the difference between a pledge and a donation?

While the result of both is the same (you securing funds from your donors), the process is where significant differences lie. 

Those differences are:

Payment time frameAt a specific date in the future or over a period of time. Only a promise is made in response to the ask. Immediate. A donation is made on the spot in response to the ask. 
Payment conditionsThe promise may or may not be conditional. For the former, the donor may not go through the donation if the conditions are not met. There are no conditions for making a donation. 

How do you receive donor pledges (the traditional way)

Pledge fundraising campaigns are campaigns that collect pledges (instead of donations). Generally, most of these campaigns are in-person (like fundraising events) or campaigns in which volunteers go door-to-door collecting pledges (e.g., for disaster relief).  

Given the nature of these campaigns (and the fact these campaigns came into existence before a lot of the tech we have today), organizations relied on the following methods to collect pledges:

  1. Donor pledge forms
  2. Donor pledge cards

Let’s look at them in detail. 

1. Donor pledge forms

These are pre-formatted forms that are used to record a donor’s pledge to a fundraiser. 

Donor pledge forms are typically distributed during events to reach out to new and existing donors and compel them to promise a donation. These forms are usually designed to be longer than cards (that we’ll discuss below) as a way to get detailed data on new supporters. 

Apart from the fields for basic details (like donor name, address, pledge, etc.), these forms also often include: 

  • Text fields for preferred methods of giving. 
  • Recognition preferences (do they want to be anonymous or not).
  • Other ways the donor can help (like matching gifts or corporate philanthropy). 
  • Fields for payment information and details.
  • Information about the nonprofit or mission statement (typically at the back of the form).

Donor pledge form sample 

Here’s a sample of a donor pledge form from the Woodbury Community Foundation.


2. Donation pledge cards

These cards are similar to donor pledge forms except that they are more concise. Typically, these cards are used to reach out to existing supporters during meets or through direct mail. 

Since organizations are likely to have most of the data they need on existing supporters, the cards don’t have to be very long. They do, however, ask for the primary contact details to properly make a record of the pledges against the right supporter. 

Donor pledge card sample 

Here’s a sample of a donor pledge card handed out by The Beyond Project.


While donor pledge forms and cards vary in the amount of information they collect, there’s no hard and fast rule about their usage. You can still use forms for direct mail fundraising and cards for events if you’d like. 

Challenges with traditional ways of collecting donor pledges

While they are widely used, the pen and paper model for pledging donations pose the following challenges: 

  • Increased expenses: You will have to spend a lot on printing out a number of physical copies of donor pledge forms. Cards can be even more expensive, given that you have to print them out in color on card stock (which is a thicker form of paper)
  • Excessive manual labor: You will have to assign volunteers to help you with many administrative tasks. These include getting the printouts, going door-to-door to distribute them, collecting them back, etc. 
  • Manual data entry: Once you get the pledges back, manually entering the data into your spreadsheets is another task that you have to struggle through. Apart from the task’s arduous nature, the possibility of error when manually entering data is also a challenge. 
  • Complicated tracking: After the tedious manual data entry process, you’ll also need to manually keep track of people to follow up with and collect donations. 

New ways of receiving pledges

To overcome the challenges of the traditional ways and to cater to the tech-savvy generations, you have to adopt new practices to receive donor pledges. 

Here are two simple strategies that you can adopt.

1. Online donor pledge forms

Online donor pledge forms are just digital copies of your physical forms hosted on your nonprofit’s website. So instead of having to distribute physical copies, you can just share a link to the page and get people to pledge donations. 

There are two primary ways to host online donor pledge forms:

  1. On a dedicated landing page: This landing page would be exclusive to your pledge fundraising campaign.  
  2. As part of your donation page: On your donation page, you can also provide the option for pledging donations rather than donating immediately. 

Fundraising tools like Funraise can help you collect pledges in both ways.

2. Text-to-pledge or Mobile Pledge

With over 85% of people owning and actively using a smartphone, it’s only obvious to leverage mobile phones to get people to pledge donations. 

It’s easy, people are comfortable with the technology, and since everyone has their phone at hand most of the time, it’s quick too. 

Similar to text fundraising, there are two ways donors can go about pledging donations over mobile:

  1. Text-to-pledge: Donors simply text an amount, their name, and other details in a specific format (based on the requirements of the carrier solution). This data is fed into your CRM, wherein you can set up reminders to follow up and collect donations.  
  2. Mobile pledge: Donors can text in a keyword to receive the link to your online pledge form. They open it with one click and fill it out. The data is imported to your CRM, wherein you can segment your lists, set up reminders, and follow-ups with donors.  

To implement text-to-pledge, you’ll have to sign-up for a service like Give By Cell that offers this solution. Mobile pledging can be carried out using a comprehensive SMS marketing tool

Benefits of collecting pledges in the new ways

There’s no doubt that the digital methods of pledging donations help overcome the challenges of the traditional ways quite easily. 

  • Data entry eliminated: Since digital tools seamlessly integrate with CRMs, the transfer of data is automatic. So the need to enter data manually by reading them off a piece of paper is eliminated. 
  • Better user experience: With online methods, donors now don’t have to find a pen, fill out all details, and hand over the form (or mail it back). They can simply pledge donations with a few clicks and taps, which ensures a much better experience. 
  • Automated tasks: An added benefit of the digital approach for pledging donations is that routine tasks like sending out reminders for pledge deadlines, collecting donations, and sending thank you or confirmation messages can be easily automated. 

These benefits prove that a digital-first approach for pledging donations will be much more cost and resource-efficient for your organization. 

Moving forward

Hopefully, the overview of pledge fundraising campaigns has equipped you with enough knowledge to adopt online or mobile donor pledge forms for pledging donations. 

But, just like any nonprofit fundraising technique, there’s always room to improve a strategy with a few best practices. So before setting up your pledge fundraisers, check out these Pledge Fundraising Tips to help you make the most of your efforts. 

Featured image source: Photo by Womanizer WOW Tech on Unsplash


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