Hidden Pitfalls: Not Following Up on a Pledge

Is your organization good at following up on pledges from donors?

In my experience, most organizations aren’t. And it’s especially apparent with major donor pledges.

The lack of follow-up usually comes from fears around ‘bothering’ or ‘badgering’ the donor. People fear they will ‘drive the donor away’ or ’cause a problem in the relationship’ — especially when the donor is a major donor or a board member.

And only one person needs to voice these fears and they spread like wildfire.

But these fears are mostly unfounded and do far more damage than you think.

When follow-up on a donor pledge is absent or insufficient, here’s what that communicates to the donor:

It says that the donor’s gift isn’t important.

Because if their gift was important – if it really mattered – the organization would be in touch with the donor early and often. It would be telling them how important that gift is. The organization would actively be trying to get the gift!

It says that the donor herself isn’t important.

Donors know that other people are giving to your organization. They imagine that you’re out having wonderful lunches with the big donors, happily giving and receiving, making the world a better place and enjoying it while you do. So when a donor isn’t followed up with, they feel like they must not be important enough to get the good treatment.

It says that your organization doesn’t have its act together.

The donor knows you have to pay bills, pay salaries, and use money to help the people who need help. When a donor makes a pledge and doesn’t hear enough about it, it feels to her like your organization must not track money very well. It makes her wonder what happened to the other donors who made pledges. And if you’re really raising as much money and helping as many people as you say you are.

The donor doesn’t feel like their gift makes a difference.

The most important one. If a donor doesn’t hear directly and often about her pledge, she wonders if her pledge was really going to make a difference. Because if it was really going to make a difference – if it was really needed – wouldn’t the organization have gotten in touch with her? Maybe her gifts don’t make that much of a difference after all . . .

Makes you want to do a good job following up with the pledges you receive, doesn’t it? Here’s a quick list for how to do that well:

  1. Always have a deadline. Deadlines are amazing at causing action to happen – both on your part and on your donor’s part!
  2. Communicate with your donor(s) early and often about their pledge. I recommend 3 times: once immediately after the pledge, once about halfway from the pledge to the deadline, and once a month before the deadline.
  3. In your communications, mention that their gift is important, that it matters, and that it will make a difference. You want your donor to know that her gift matters and that it is needed.
  4. Be sure to mention that you understand if circumstances change and they can’t give the amount they pledged or fulfill their pledge by the deadline. You want to give your donors an honorable way out.

Think of the whole thing as a ‘kind business process’ that’s honoring to your donors and honoring to your cause or beneficiaries. Don’t let fear get in the way of loving follow-ups! If you do, you’ll lose revenue and harm relationships with donors.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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