Unfulfilled Pledges

Dear Kim:

I have a sticky situation that I want your advice on. Our organization has a big, big donor who gave a large donation for the first year of a project (actually it was his idea that he shopped to us). He then pledged a 2 nd year of the same donation verbally to the lead staff , then appeared to renege on that pledge in a subsequent meeting with her, and then confirmed his pledge in a later phone call with me.

I feel the need for a written pledge (there’s a staff member whose work depends in part on this donation). However, he’s an eccentric character and I don’t want to offend him. We have to write back with some financial information and to follow up on our conversation. Would you send him a pledge form or sample language for a pledge letter, or just trust his word?

~Back and Forth




Dear Forth:

If you think this donor is going to renege on his pledge, then a pledge letter will not keep that from happening. He won’t sign it, or he’ll sign it and not pay, and then you will have to sue him to get the money, which is not advisable. From your description, I don’t see why you think he is not going to pay. I would follow the Quaker adage, “Assume good intent,” and act as if he is going to fund this work again this year. It is possible your lead staff person read more into a comment he made than was there. “…appeared to renege” is a strange and almost meaningless way to describe something as specific as a financial commitment.

Tell him that for cash flow planning, it would help to know when and how he is going to pay his very generous pledge. Few people are offended by that question, and that would give you the assurance you are looking for. After you either receive the money or feel better about the pledge, I would talk with him about his long term plans for this project. If this is an ongoing effort, you need to start raising money from other sources, so you don’t go through this anxiety ever year.

~Kim Klein