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Pledge Fundraising: 4 Tips for Creating a Powerful Campaign

Author: Sayana Izmailova
June 2, 2020
🕑 8 min read

This is a guest post by John Killoran, founder of Snowball Fundraising.

As a nonprofit professional, discovering the most effective fundraising practices is essential.

And in the midst of a global crisis like COVID-19, the stakes are even higher.

Even throughout all the chaos, you still rely on donor funding to bankroll your nonprofit operations and mission-based programs.

And, especially if your organization is fighting for coronavirus aid and relief, your constituents need you now more than ever.

Although the current state of the world can be overwhelming for individuals and organizations alike, it’s important to be on the lookout for the opportunities that are unleashed as well. For instance, nonprofit organizations worldwide are using this time to transition to virtual fundraising strategies.

One particular strategy that you might not have considered is online pledge fundraising.

How do Pledge Fundraisers Work?

Starting a pledge fundraiser is simple, especially if you invest in the right tools.

All you need is a dedicated pledge campaign page that enables supporters to select their future gift (often chosen from different levels of suggested pledges) and, after it’s over, complete their donation.

Pledge campaigns differ from traditional fundraisers in that instead of soliciting donations on the spot, fundraisers collect promises of future donations to be collected at a future date — typically in response to an event.

This strategy is especially popular in relation to school fundraisers, although it’s an idea that can be used by nonprofits of all shapes and sizes and, now, adapted to the virtual sphere.

To help you understand how you can best run a campaign like this, we’ll walk through four of our tried-and-true fundraising tips for establishing a successful pledge campaign:

  1. Understand the difference between pledges and donations.
  2. Invest in the right nonprofit software.
  3. Plan a unique and engaging event.
  4. Encourage donors to have their gifts matched.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

1. Pledges Vs. Donations: What’s the Difference?

One thing that many people, fundraisers and donors alike, get mixed up about is the difference between pledges and traditional donations. While both allow supporters to get involved and offer crucial support to nonprofits like yours, they do differ in a few distinctive ways.

The main differences are:

  • Pledges are promises of donations that will be collected at a later date. Fundraisers simply recruit support in the form of future gifts, typically in response to the completion of a particular event or activity. Pledges are known to be extremely successful when paired with campaigns related to urgent needs, such as disaster relief or advocacy work.
  • Donations, on the other hand, are gifts that are collected on the spot. When fundraisers seek donations, they expect individuals to complete the giving process right then and there, whether that means writing a check or filling out an online donation form. Donations tend to work best for your typical campaigns such as annual drives and fundraising events.

Each of these tactics come with their own set of pros and cons, so it’s crucial to carefully consider which one will work best for your nonprofit fundraiser. However, let’s focus on pledge fundraising and the best ways to leverage it for your organization.

2. Make the Right Investment.

Investing in high-quality fundraising software can streamline operations, increase revenue, and boost donor engagement. To pull off an effective pledge fundraiser, it’s important to choose nonprofit software with pledge-specific functionality.

Putting the time and resources into software investments is always a good idea to set your organization up for future growth and success. Paying the upfront fees now will allow you to reap the benefits of a high-ROI campaign soon enough!

That’s why investing in pledge-specific software is so important for pulling off a successful pledge fundraising campaign. With the right pledge fundraising software, you can:

  • Provide participants with individual fundraising pages. One unique aspect of pledge campaigns is that each participant should have their own customizable fundraising page. This way, fundraisers can easily track their progress toward fundraising goals, compete with other participants, and share their personal involvement with the organization.
  • Get the word out online and boost excitement. Both individual fundraisers and your nonprofit team should be working to spread your pledge fundraising campaign far and wide. Thanks to social media and other online marketing tools, it’s easier than ever to share fundraising pages all over the world.
  • Allow payments to be processed quickly and easily. A huge perk of pledge fundraisers is that supporters can pledge a donation in mere seconds. Without having to input financial information on the spot, you can see a significant increase in promised revenue. However, you still need to have a method to collect pledges at the conclusion of your event. That means it’s important to have easy-to-use donation forms and a way to get a hold of sponsors to secure their payments.

Obtaining quality fundraising tools doesn’t have to break the bank, either. Check out this list of free and low-cost fundraising software to get your pledge campaign up and running in no time. While free tools often come with limited functionality, it can be a great way to get started with a tight budget.

3. Plan These Kinds of Events

A pledge campaign’s most distinguishing characteristic is often the event that runs alongside it. Although major in-person events have been cancelled into the foreseeable future in order to keep event attendees safe, many organizations are pivoting events to take place in the virtual realm instead!

To boost attendance and participation for your virtual event, be sure to choose activities that your particular audience will be drawn to (just like with a traditional face-to-face event!). In the wake of COVID-19, many supporters will welcome a fun and engaging distraction in the form of a virtual event.

Consider hosting a virtual a-thon style event, such as a:

  • Walk-a-thon: Encourage fundraisers to register and secure pledges for every mile walked. Then, have participants go out on the same day and walk around their respective neighborhoods or favorite (secluded) parks! Thanks to smart watches and mobile apps, users can track their distance travelled to receive corresponding donations. For example, March of Dimes has transformed their annual walk-a-thon to a virtual one this year in response to COVID-19.

march of dimes virtual walk

  • Read-a-thon: Similarly, fundraisers collect pledges from willing sponsors who agree to pay a certain amount per book read in a specified time frame. Participants read as many books as they can, which are then tallied up at the conclusion of the campaign. Recently, BookCon hosted a virtual read-a-thon in support of independent bookstores!

  • Dance-a-thon: When hosting a virtual dance-a-thon, consider using live streaming software for maximum engagement. This way, participants can interact with one another while raising money per dance/song, and it’s fun for dancers and viewers alike! Check out Quinnipiac University’s QTHON virtual dance marathon for a great example.

With a pledge campaign, supporters can get involved in many ways— from participating themselves to becoming a sponsor for another fundraiser. To get started, check out this guide from 99Pledges on how to host a walk-a-thon fundraiser. Then, you can apply those basics and adjust to whichever event-a-thon fundraiser you choose.

Looking for more information on how to run a virtual event? We have a checklist you can use to get started.

4. Encourage Donors to do This.

One of the best ways to significantly increase the impact of your pledge fundraiser is by taking advantage of corporate giving programs through your donors’ employers!

As a program included in their corporate philanthropy strategies, many businesses are willing to financially match charitable donations by their employees to the nonprofits of their choice.

And yet, the majority of this revenue goes unclaimed, largely due to a lack of awareness surrounding the availability of these programs.

To get started leveraging matching gifts for your organization, all you have to do is:

  • Educate donors about the availability of matching gift programs. Be sure to include snippets of information in your marketing and outreach materials, and direct your audience to further resources to learn more. Donors love the opportunity to have their gifts go twice as far, but many are completely unaware of that as an option.
  • Allow donors to check their own eligibility with a matching gift search tool. One of the simplest ways that donors can determine whether they’re eligible to have their donation matched by their employer is if your nonprofit offers access to an easy-to-use employer database and search tool. All the user has to do is input the name of their employer and the search tool will provide useful information about the giving program and next steps. This little search box on the donation page of WBUR, a Boston NPR radio station, is a great example:

WBUR matching gift

  • Drive donors to their own employers’ matching gift portal. The less research individuals have to do on their own, the better. By sending eligible donors straight to the link where they’ll end up submitting any match request forms, you can increase the likelihood that donors will go through with submitting a match. Then, all you have to do is wait for the company to confirm and send their match!

Corporate giving revenue is a largely untapped source of funding for many nonprofits, and it can be used to boost just about any campaign. For more information on how you can double the impact of your pledge campaign, learn more about corporate matching gift programs here.

Pledge fundraisers offer a unique ability to gather support, reach new community members, and sustain your nonprofit operations throughout a difficult season.

If you’re never hosted a pledge fundraiser before, now is the perfect time to do so. Don’t allow your donors and supporters to forget about you amid the pandemic. Instead, give them something fun and exciting to focus on — like your event-a-thon of choice. Good luck!

John Killoran headshotJohn Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations.

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.

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