What is a Pledge Card?
A pledge card or donation request form is a valuable tool used in fundraising during appeals, capital campaigns, or events to collect responses to donation requests. A pledge card asks potential donors to commit to giving a one-time gift or recurring gift to the non-profit organization, charity, or church that is sending the mailing, running the capital campaign, or hosting the event. It is used to collect information needed to complete the donation and help fundraising staff or volunteers steward the donor.
Pledge cards are completed by the donor to show their commitment to supporting your organization and contain information such as a donor’s name(s), address, phone number, amount of donation given or pledged, and selected payment method.
A pledge card should be easy for the donor to fill out, and easy for the nonprofit to process. Many non-profits choose to pre-print basic donor contact information to make it simpler for the donor and the nonprofit. This can be done with a simple mail merge of donor information. The nonprofit supplies the mail merge data, and the print house does a variable imprint.
Pledge cards are generally small, typically one-third to one-half of a sheet of paper. They are typically mailed as part of a direct mail appeal but, may also be used during an in-person meeting, at a fundraising event or sent electronically. Pledge cards are used with donors at all giving levels, but special care should be taken when creating a pledge card or donation form for major donors.
Pledge cards may be open-ended or have a personalized ask string (also called a gift array, gift table or ask ladder), depending on the type of donor.
There are several types of pledge cards or donation response cards, which may include: annual appeal pledge cards, capital campaign pledge cards or intent to give forms, church pledge cards, recurring gift forms, and more.
Different Types of Pledge Cards
Open-ended donation reply cards vs. a card with ask amounts
Pledge cards with ask amounts are used commonly with annual appeals and direct mail appeals.
Research shows that pledge cards with ask amounts raise the most money and outperform open-ended pledge cards in most circumstances. The standard pledge card will be personalized to each donor and will include 3, 4 or 5 suggested amounts, allowing the donor to check the box next to the amount he or she would like to donate.
Open-ended pledge cards do not include suggested gift amounts. Instead, they ask a donor to write in the amount of his or her gift. These are used often with major donors and on capital campaigns.
Research shows that presenting high-level donors with pre-determined ask amounts can depress giving, and some fundraising professionals feel that it cheapens the experience for those extra-generous donors who prefer to write in an amount instead of checking a box.
For these reasons, many nonprofits will separate their major donors from their general mailing audience and handle them separately, using open-ended pledge cards instead of cards with ask amounts.
In-person appeal response cards
When using pledge cards at events or in-person meetings be sure to include a link for donors to be able to give donations online and instructions for where to mail a check if this is the chosen gift method. The address where to mail donations may not be necessary if including a response envelope. Some prospective donors will choose to take the pledge card home and complete it later.
Depending on the event attendees or constituents you are meeting with you may want to include information on different giving options such as a gift of stock, gift from an IRA, donor-advised fund, or planned giving options.
Again, consider the level of giving and customize the pledge card for events depending on the type of donor- major donor or all other donors. You may choose to include a QR code or a text-to-give option at events for the fund-a-need or auction. A QR scan code will assist donors with making their donation while at the event without asking them to stand in a long line to complete a check out process.
Capital campaigns vs. annual appeals
When using a pledge card for a nonprofit capital campaign there are additional considerations. If you are working with donors at the top of the giving pyramid or gift chart, these will be major donors and you will not want to use an ask string with them. You may, however, have levels of giving outlined that come with naming opportunities (such as naming a room or even a building) or certain recognition such as giving levels on a campaign donor recognition wall.
During capital campaigns, the timeline for gifts is typically adjusted to allow donors to pledge gifts over 3-5 years. During an annual appeal, you may choose to have donors pledge gifts on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. When allowing pledges to stretch over several years, you will want to collect information about the method donors would like to use to receive pledge payment reminders.
Many nonprofits will mail pledge reminder letters to the donor’s home or office, but some donors may prefer an e-mail reminder. Also, ensure that you have a database or record-keeping system that will help staff in follow up with donors who have pledged to the capital campaign. Donor data management is essential for timely and accurate responses. CRM (customer relationship management) systems or database systems should have an option to set actions for future dates or run lists or queries for a specific timeframe if your staff mails reminders on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Accurate donor information is always crucial in development work, but especially in a capital campaign. Consider how the donor wants their gift to be acknowledged; do they want to be listed as Mr. and Mrs. Smith or John and Jane Smith? If a donor chooses to make a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one, ensure this data is accurate in your records.
Another consideration is the branding for your capital campaign, during annual appeals use your organization logo on the pledge card, but if the capital campaign has a specific logo or theme, be sure to include this on the capital campaign pledge card.
Accurate information on a pledge card or intent-to-give capital campaign pledge form will help ensure development staff or campaign volunteers know how to contact the donor for stewardship actions and will help build the relationship for potential future gifts to your organization.
Major Donor Strategy
Open-ended pledge cards perform best with major donors, which many nonprofits define as a donor who contributes $5,000 or more per year. When creating an open-ended pledge card, simply leave a line where the donor can fill in the amount they would like to give. You can still include checkboxes for the frequency of the gift, such as a one-time gift or the time interval, such as monthly or annually, a recurring gift will happen.
When creating pledge cards for major donors there are additional considerations. First, each non-profit must define what a “major donor” is for their organization and for the appeal they are creating the pledge card for. For many nonprofit organizations, a major donor may be an individual, company, or business giving $5,000 or more, but for larger organizations or capital campaigns, this amount could be higher. Second, research has found that a full-page donation form or pledge card may work better for major donors instead of the more standard one-third or one-half page pledge card.
Consider major donor stewardship unique as well, such as asking how a donor(s) would like to be listed on recognition plaques and a statement permitting the inclusion of their names, may also be needed when working with major donors.
For donors below the major donor threshold identified by your organization, use a pledge card with personalized ask amounts based on what you know about each donor. It is critical that you set the ask amounts at the right level for each donor. No two donors are the same, and each donor deserves to be invited to participate at a level that is not too low or too high and makes the donor feel like they are making an impact.
Tear-off response cards vs. standalone pledge forms
Many nonprofits ask if they can use a perforated card that tears off from the bottom of the fundraising letter instead of a separate, standalone card. The answer, like many things in fundraising, is, “it depends.” There are many factors to be considered when making this decision.
A perforated, tear-off pledge card is more cost-effective than a separate standalone pledge form. Many printers will offer a one-color ink charge and a full-color ink charge. Note that when choosing one color, it does not have to be black, but should be easy to read. Additionally, utilize space on both sides of the tear-off pledge card. There may be additional handling charges if you have the printer stuff the envelopes for you with a standalone card.
When printing standalone pledge cards, it is necessary to match the address or salutation on the letter to the correct pledge card and there is room for human error. Some nonprofits use a small code in the bottom corner of the letter and the pledge card to help the printing company, staff, or volunteers match these up before mailing. Most standard reply card sizes are 3.5″ x 4.75″ and fit into A1 envelopes.
Impression to the donors, impact on gift size
Full-size, separate pledge cards or donation forms perform best with major donors. A nonprofit organization may choose to do a split test or A/B testing to see what impact the pledge card has on donors.
When choosing a tear-off pledge card or a stand-alone pledge card, you must consider how the donor will return this card. Will you include the address to mail it back in their envelope or will you provide a #9 return envelope? Nonprofits may choose to do their own testing with these methods but remember one additional goal is to drive donors to online giving. Online donors tend to give more, and it also makes it easy to enroll in a recurring giving program.
Whichever method or methods your nonprofit chooses, talk to your local print vendor to discuss the options they recommend, costs, and postal regulations. There may be additional handling charges for matching multiple pieces of the mailing versus an attached and perforated pledge card with a response envelope. It is typical to use a #10 envelope for mailing and a #9 envelope for responses.
A representative from your print house may be able to provide insight into cost-effective ways to help with your appeal. You may consider adjusting the weight of the paper, the ink color and/or the type of envelope used. A nonprofit organization may also consider how to maximize the impact of the envelope.
While the pledge should be a simple, easy-to-read design, you can get more creative with the envelope. Some nonprofits choose to use a colorful envelope or graphic to stand out in the piles of mail donors receive.
For more information on getting creative with the annual appeal envelope, read our recent blog: 3 Donation Envelope Design Tips.
How to Design a Pledge Card
Your nonprofit team spent hours crafting a heartfelt annual appeal letter with a powerful message and your appeal must raise the goal for this project or cause. Now it is time to design the pledge card. The pledge card should not be an after-thought, it should be thoughtfully designed so that it is easy to fill out and easy to process.
If you are like some nonprofit organizations, you have a pledge card template you have been using year after year, and you may not have given much attention to it. The right pledge card design can help a nonprofit raise more money with no additional costs.
Why is it important to have a well-designed pledge card?
Additionally, it will collect essential information, help increase giving, and inform the donor of recurring gift options. It will also provide donors with the information needed to make their donations online if they choose to.
Donors must have a pleasant experience when supporting your organization; in some instances, the pledge card may be one of the first philanthropic interactions they have with a nonprofit organization. And let’s be honest, everyone wants to make a good first impression.
Designing a pledge card or donation form for nonprofits seems like it should be easy, but it is surprising how many nonprofit organizations either overload it with too many details or forget to include crucial information that could assist with donor stewardship in the future.
For most people, filling out forms is not an enjoyable experience, but a well-designed pledge card can go a long way toward impressing your donor and increasing support for your mission.
When writing a fundraising letter, nonprofits should always make the donor the hero of the story. The pledge card is the vehicle by which the donor fulfills his or her heroic gesture of support. One way to engage the donor is by including an affirmation statement at the start of the pledge card. Your nonprofit can help donors feel excited about their gift by checking to say, “Yes! I want to help make a difference!”
After compiling a database of hundreds of pledge cards, our team researched several factors such as layout, ask strategy and ask strings. We collected the data and shared our findings to help nonprofit organizations of all sizes and shapes design pledge cards that are scientifically proven to increase generosity.
Designing the World’s Greatest Pledge Card
Lastly, throughout the fundraising process, it is important to have accurate donor data. Database administrators need accurate information to process donations and issue thank you letters and tax receipts; gift officers need correct data to contact donors for stewardship meetings and future qualifying donors for campaigns, and the finance department needs gift data to align with their records when reconciling fundraising efforts with financial statements for audit purposes.
A clean, properly designed pledge card can help with this.
How to design your pledge card
After helping clients with tens of thousands of appeal letters and pledge cards, here is what we have learned.
Start with the basics on your pledge card:
- Your organization logo.
- Your organization’s contact information.
- A space for donor contact information like phone, address, and e-mail.
- Ask string (the amount of money they will donate- also called gift array) and an option for them to write in “other” amount for the pledge. This should be in ascending order, smallest to largest, left to right.
- A brief statement about what this appeal will fund.
Other tips for a high performing pledge card:
- Include an affirmation statement.
- The pledge card should be easy to follow, consider numbering steps.
- Use pre-printed donor information to save time for the donor and assure the accuracy of the information, with a simple mail merge and variable imprint. This will save your staff from trying to read donor handwriting. If you have questions, your local printer should be able to assist you.
- While you should include a pre-printed name, address, phone number, and e-mail; leave a space where donors can correct or update information, as necessary.
- Include a link and/or QR code to an online donation page for your organization. If you have the staff capacity and budget, you may consider different landing pages for different segments of donors.
- Include a small code for internal tracking purposes. This may include information such as constituent code and letter type. For example, a healthcare organization may want to know if a patient or patient family made the gift, and a church may want to know if a priest or parishioner made the gift. Some nonprofits include a code for the letter if they send more than one letter to each donor.
- Payment details- will they be making their donation by check, credit card, or another giving method, such as a gift of stock, a gift from an IRA, or a donor-advised fund. Include information on the types of payments your organization accepts.
- Donor badges- This may include things like giving societies, the number of years giving to the archbishop’s annual appeal or recognizing the donor for the cumulative number of years they have been supporting your organization.
- Printing considerations- Design a pledge card that is easy to read with white space around the scanline. Talk to your selected printer about the variable imprint options, drop-out ink options, and optical scanning.
- Other information such as a line to write in information for a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one may also be included.
Nonprofits often ask whether to include credit card information on the pledge card. Every nonprofit must consider what is best for its donors; however, there are benefits to removing the ability to make a credit card gift through a direct mail reply card.
Online giving is more secure because the donor does not have to share his or her credit card number with the nonprofit to make the gift.
Payment Card Industry or PCI compliance is a set of standards for credit card processing that ensures there is a secure online environment to process credit card payments and ensure secure consumer data. This may include having a firewall to maintain the security of cardholder data and an encryption process for confidential information. Each business or organization is responsible for ensuring PCI compliance is maintained. According to Forbes Advisor (What Is PCI Compliance? Everything You Need To Know – Forbes Advisor), the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) created a set of standard requirements in 2006.
These standards were originally created for merchant processing but, were later expanded to maintain a secure online environment for payments and donation processing. The requirements, which are known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard or PCI DSS, are an important component of any credit card company’s security protocol.
Accepting online donations is crucial for the success of your nonprofit fundraising and the payment processor you use for online gifts can answer any questions you have about security protocols in their system.
Additional benefits to moving credit card donors online include:
- The donor is more likely to make a recurring gift online. A recurring gift means a greater donation amount raised. Recurring donors are also less likely to become lapsed donors.
- The online gift requires an e-mail to be successfully processed and the nonprofit now has a confirmed e-mail for future communication with the donor.
- Online donation forms make it easy to follow up on gifts and send receipts, as you receive accurate contact information from the donor and can consider what automated processes you set up. You may consider a workflow or automation that sends a thank you receipt and then follows up with another e-mail communication in a week, month, or quarter to tell the donor what they helped make possible.
How to increase donor giving and promote recurring gifts
What is a recurring gift? A recurring gift is a gift made on a regular schedule such as monthly or quarterly. Donors who select recurring gifts will give more than those donors making a one-time gift to your appeal, capital campaign, or other fundraising campaigns.
The pledge card can introduce donors to monthly giving by providing an ask string or gift amount options with checkboxes for both one-time gift options and monthly giving options. Using data and technology is a terrific way to increase giving and raise the donor’s sights on what they are able to contribute. For some donors, a monthly giving amount may feel more achievable than a large one-time gift. At AskGenius, we suggests setting the recurring gift amounts as one-tenth of the one-time gift amount.
For example, if you were going to start the one-time gift amount at $100, the recurring gift amounts would start at $10. If a donor gives $10 per month, they would be contributing $120 a year. Or imagine, you were going to start the ask string for the one-time gift at $1,000. If you start the recurring gift at $100 and the donors gives monthly, your nonprofit has raised $1,200 for the year from that donor. Imagine these results exponentially as you move more donors to recurring online gifts.
Recurring gifts can also be a method to help reduce the number of lapsed donors. Online, recurring gifts are sometimes viewed as a “set it and forget it” strategy and donors may continue to give year after year.
Lapsed Donors, LYBUNTs, and SYBUNTs
A lapsed donor is defined by your organization, nonprofit, or church and may be pre-determined in the database you use. Many organizations define “lapsing donors” as those who have not given in 15-24 months and a lapsed donor is someone who has not given to an organization in 2-5 years. Lapsing donors may also be LYBUNT donors- last year but unfortunately not this or SYBUNT- some year but unfortunately not this- donors.
If you do not know how many LYBUNT or SYBUNT donors you have in your database, this is an important list to run and evaluate annually. Your CRM system may already provide this statistic. A LYBUNT statistic may be displayed in a retention dashboard within your database, or you may be able to create a dashboard to quickly show you this data.
It is important to know how many LYBUNT or SYBUNT donors your organization has because it is more cost-effective to retain donors you already have, than obtain new donors.
Determining a plan to re-engage LYBUNT and SYBUNT donors and convert them to recurring gifts will impress your leadership and your board and help raise more money for your appeal or fundraising campaign. Moving donors from one-time gifts to recurring gifts can be an important strategy in reducing the number of lapsed donors your organization, nonprofit, or church has. Reducing the LYBUNT and SYBUNTs in your database means less time spent on re-engagement methods and more time spent thanking and stewarding active donors.
How to determine the right ask amount
If you work in fundraising, you may have heard the saying “fundraising is part art and part science,” but are you employing strategies to maximize the data science of ask amounts or ask strings?
Maybe your nonprofit is not sure where to start or what data is important to include in setting ask amounts for each donor. Or like many nonprofits, maybe you feel like you just do not have time. Many nonprofits have a small development department, and some even combine marketing duties with development duties, even the most enthusiastic staff can feel overwhelmed when thinking about data science.
Begin by avoiding these common mistakes when setting ask amounts:
Sending everyone the same pledge card with a standard ask string ($25, $50, $75, $100) is a sure-fire way to raise less money than you should. Many donors would be happy to give more if you would only ask them for the right amount.
Grouping Your Prospects by High, Medium and Low Capacity
Segmenting donors into high, medium, and low categories will raise you more money than the one-size-fits-all approach, but only by a little.
Asking For 10% More Than Last Year’s Gift
This approach is slightly more advanced than a one-size-fits-all or a simple segmentation strategy, but it fails to consider a donor’s true giving potential. Often, low-level donors have the capacity to give 200 or even 500 percent more than their prior gift while high-level donors could be insulted if you ask them to increase their already generous gift by another 10 percent.
Since these common strategies are mistakes to avoid, where do you begin when setting the right ask amount?
First, you will want to gather all the data points you have for donors. This should include what amount they gave to last year’s appeal, the appeal 2 years ago, the appeal 3 years ago, any capital campaign or special event gifts, their wealth research data, zip code, and other prospect research data you have.
Once you have gathered that data you will need to go line by line and set and adjust the ask amounts for each donor.
While every donor is unique, all nonprofits have enough data to notice patterns in their donors giving. AskGenius takes the data you already have in your database and sets customized ask strings using an algorithm that factors in the most recent best practice in fundraising. It eliminates the hours of manual processing data and creates a streamlined and customizable approach to setting ask strings.
Your nonprofit remains in control by choosing from among several proven strategies. You can decide whether you want to take it “Nice and Easy” with some donors or “Swing for the Fences” and ask them to elevate their giving. Before exporting the information for an appeal, the nonprofit also has the option to manually review any donor they would like and manually adjust ask strings.
The AskGenius Process
Connect Your Data
Connect your donor data securely to AskGenius.
Select Your Strategy
Aggressive or conservative? You choose. Apply one of our proven strategies that best fits your donor audience.
Fine Tune Your Ask Amounts
You know your donors best. Review the suggested ask amounts and easily make adjustments.
Send to the Printer
Export your data to Excel. Your file is ready for your direct mail vendor, or you can print your appeal in-house.
Results of Using AskGenius
Using AskGenius to set personalized ask amounts can help your nonprofit raise more money, engage more donors, and raise more recurring gifts to help decrease lapsed donors. Here is what AskGenius clients are saying:
“With more than 100,000 donors in our database, there is just no way we could sort through all that data and set personalized ask amounts on our own. We’ve used AskGenius strategies for the past two years and our average gift has increased more than 20 percent!”
– Canda de Leon
Director of Mission Advancement
“Stonehill Communities raised 27% more than the previous year by using AskGenius. An amazing 34% of donors increased their gifts from last year. We are thrilled!”
– Amy Schauer
Executive Director of Development
Working With Lockbox Vendors and Third-Party Payment Processors
If your nonprofit works with a third-party gift processor for online donations, discuss with them what elements of your pledge card could make gift processing more efficient and decrease errors. Consider asking for insight from your database administrator or other staff who input gifts received to see how the layout of the pledge card affects their work.
If there is an edit that can increase efficiency that is a win-win for everyone. Creating thank you letters and tax receipts in a timely manner will make donors happy and saving staff time is good for your nonprofit budget and return on investment (ROI) of your appeal.
Should you reference a previous gift on the pledge card or appeal letter
Every donor is unique, and nonprofits must consider first the segment of donors your nonprofit works with. If you are sending an appeal letter with an open-ended ask on the pledge card to a major donor, you may want to reference and thank them for a previous gift to an event or capital campaign. This step personalizes the appeal, so it does not feel like a mass mailing.
For all donors you can use a Johnson box or callout box at the top right of the letter to thank the donor for a gift to a capital campaign, membership in a giving society or legacy society, or gift to a recent event. It is always helpful to add personalization to the donor letter and this goes beyond a personalized salutation.
For donors who give smaller amounts, referencing their previous gift may have the opposite effect that you desire, it may encourage them to give the same amount instead of elevating their giving. Use the ask string to communicate the gift amounts you would like to receive from this donor. Make sure each ask string is personalized to each donor and let the psychology of the ask string, (which our recent has shown should always be in ascending order), work in your favor.
If you do choose to reference a previous gift, ensure your data is accurate. There are instances where a spouse may have made the previous gift, or the gift was given from their business, and it was not soft credited (linked to their record) in the database. If you incorrectly reference a gift, it can do more harm than good. Use previous gift information with appropriate caution
For more information on using variable imprint to personalize the appeal letter itself, check out our webinar on How to Write the World’s Greatest Appeal Letter.
What type of gifts do you want to reference?
While you may not want to reference the previous year’s appeal gift, due to the potential inaccuracy concerns referenced, you do want to show your gratitude and recognize donors who are part of nonprofit or church giving circles or special designations such as Legacy Society, President’s Giving Circle, etc. You can use a call-out box at the top of the letter or a special badge to indicate their membership in this special giving society.
You want to make sure you are personalizing the appeal letter and pledge card as much as possible to deepen the relationship with the donor. Always make it more about the donor and what they help make possible than you make it about your organization. Heartfelt letters will raise more money than facts and statistics.
Options for Giving
It is important that donors know the giving options your nonprofit accepts. Include a link to your website or QR scan code if the donor wants more information about how to make a gift of stock, giving through donor-advised funds, estate gifts, and matching gift opportunities.
If your nonprofit organization has Giving Circles, Giving Societies, or other gift designations you may choose to include these on your pledge form or include this information on your website once the donor clicks the QR scan code link. If a donor is close to the next giving level in your giving society, you may want to reference this in the letter. For some donors, this may help to elevate their giving. Remember every donor is unique and not all donors will want this recognition.
Include information on your website for a donor who chooses to give from a donor-advised fund. This information may include information such as your organization’s tax id number and what the legal name of your nonprofit should be listed as on the paperwork.
Matching gifts can be a wonderful opportunity to raise more funds for your cause. Many nonprofit organizations will simply include a check box on the pledge card or online giving form (essentially, an online pledge card), where a donor can select if their company offers matching gifts and include the name of the company. This provides an opportunity for your staff to follow up on this gift later.
If your organization has a Legacy Society be sure to include information about this on your donation page. You may also want to include the language for including a gift in a will or estate.
To arrange a bequest from your will or trust(s), simply contact your estate-planning attorney to create or amend the necessary legal documents.
Another option for giving that a nonprofit may want to include on their website or donation page is a beneficiary designation gift. Some assets such as retirement plans, or life insurance may not be entirely controlled by the terms of a donor’s will. These assets will require a separate beneficiary form or a “change of beneficiary form” which can be obtained from the company that holds the account or policy. It may be prudent for the donor to consult a financial advisor before making such a gift but having the information available can help initiate the discussion about this giving option.
Gift of Stock
For gifts of securities, also known as gifts of stock, your nonprofit will want to include the necessary forms from the financial institutions you work with to process these gifts. Having these as a downloadable .pdf document will make it easier if a financial advisor or donor contacts you.
Free Pledge Card Template
Download our fundraising pledge card template and personalize it for your organization and donors.
Included in your pledge card download:
- Printable donation form to customize for your organization
- Donation form PDF instructions for personalization