How to Look at Pledges in a New Light

by Barbara Barron | Posted March 13th, 2024 | Subscribe to this newsletter

It’s that time of year when you may be looking at a batch of outstanding pledges.

Whether they are to the Annual Fund or are campaign installments due now, it’s time to send a reminder.  Many of us don’t love pledge reminders. In fact, we may even put them off and find something else to do. Heaven knows, there are always plenty of choices!

Instead, what if we looked at this as an opportunity instead of a chore? What if we set about to make this moment one of stewardship and future cultivation? Because, my friends, that is exactly what this is. Or can be.

A pledge is a promise. A promise to our schools, to their inspiring missions, to the people who tirelessly strive to deliver that mission every day –our teachers.

Feeling a bit more energy for this yet?

We use the word pledge as a noun, which is it in our vernacular. But try thinking of it instead as a verb. It means to make a promise. Even a “solemn” one. The word is used to mean “to stake one’s honor”. Wow. Now, without getting too grand here, it’s nice to remember that a pledge made in good faith, is meant to be fulfilled. When the donors made the pledge, they were, in fact, making a future gift. I’ll bet you recorded it as such, right?  Our job is to proceed with that same good faith, to assume the best, and to provide the friendly, helpful reminder that the time has come for our supporter to fulfill their promise. Simple as that.

How we do this work will determine if we help deepen the relationship, or simply check off the task from our to-do list.

Best practices rule here…

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Check yourself and your process:

☐ When the donor made the made, did you offer to send a reminder?

☐ Did you confirm the best timing of their payment, even down to the preferred week or day?

☐ Do you also know, because you asked at the time of the pledge, how they wished to pay it? Check? Credit card? Stock transfer? Other?

☐ Did you further confirm how they want to receive the reminder (in the mail, via an email or a text, a phone call – to home or work)?

☐ Did you record all those vital details so someone else could take up this important task if you were unable?

Great! So, you know how and when to deliver the reminder. You nailed the mechanics. Now, how about the message? What are we saying here? It’s far deeper than:

Hi Jane, It’s Barbara from ABC School. I’m calling to remind you that you owe us $5,000 for the Annual Fund. You said you wanted to send a check this month.

OK. Yuck and none of you reading this would do that, right? 

What can you say?

·       How about telling a story of something you witnessed recently that breathes life into this interaction?

·       How is their support for your school making a difference?

·       What impact are you hearing from teachers about the _____________ space or the _________ program?

·       What is a cool thing that happened at assembly this week that they may not know about?

It’s these moments that our donors’ support are making possible. How can you tell them that it is precisely their faith in the school and their abiding support for our teachers and administration that makes our school flourish?

Overstating it? I don’t think so. How many thank you letters (and that is what this is, reworded) have you received that made you feel ANYTHING beyond — whatever?

 Need some additional inspiration? I recommend:

“Donor Centered Fundraising: How to hold on to your donors and raise much more money”, by the fabulous Penelope Burk.

Her book contains so many gems and a full chapter on thank-you notes. She gives dozens of terrific tips and examples of how to avoid common mistakes and warm up and personalize this work. And it applies to pledge reminders IF we think of them as another form of thank you note.

The work you do on this task today can have big results, downstream.

The attention and intention you put into these small acts can have a ripple effect. Every choice we make can knit a donor closer or leave them cold. Choose well.

 As always, thank you for all you are doing! 

Barbara Barron
[email protected]

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BARBARA BARRON is one of the most respected and highly sought-after independent advancement professionals in the country, having worked with dozens of schools in every corner of the United States.

She has raised over $20 million for schools where she served as the Director of Development. Barbara is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and presenter who currently advises dozens of schools in various capacities. She is considered a thought leader in the world of advancement, with her writing widely shared by professionals in development offices worldwide.

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