Are Charity Pledges Enforceable?

by Concerned Donor

I was awakened early in the day by a charity calling for charity donations.


The caller was extremely cheerful and relayed how the previous person he called was a grump. I thought that was odd but he continued and asked for a donation, which I hesitated to make.

When I agreed to $20, he told me he was disappointed and hoped I'd give more. Then came the press to get the money to him within 2-days...huh?

It clicked that this organization had called me before and used the same high-pressure tactics. Now, they will call me at least daily until the money is received.

I've written on their donation form that I'm not sending the $20. However, do I have any legal obligation to provide it? I said I would and it was confirmed by a "supervisor". Am I on the hook?




Concerned, You may be interested in reading our comments about
Whether your charity pledge is "enforceable" is an interesting question. Under contract law, a promise to make a gift to the charity at some future date probably would not meet the requirement for a contract. However, some states have enforced charity pledges as contracts on public policy grounds -- i.e., our society wants to further the work of charitable organizations, and we don't want people to make pledges if they don't intend to pay. You didn't mention where you live, so we don't know what your state would do.

From a PR standpoint, it would look very bad for a charity to sue a potential donor who reneged on a pledge, and generally, they would not do so unless the pledge was for a large amount, and they had already begun to take action in reliance upon the pledged amount.

In your case, we would think the likelihood of a charity coming after you to enforce a $20 pledge would be exactly zero. They can't pick up the phone and call their attorney for $20, much less get him to do anything about it. So as a practical matter, you probably don't have anything to worry about because you changed your mind about a $20 pledge.

You might be interested in reading this article about
charity pledge enforceability at the Association of Fundraising Professionals site.

You may want to enclose a note with your pledge invoice explaining to them that you changed your mind because, since making the pledge, you've learned how little of their money actually goes to support their cause, and because you don't appreciate the strong-arm tactics of their fundraisers. And while you're at it, put your request to remove you from their telephone and mailing lists in writing, too. Be sure to keep a copy of the note for your records.

Thank you for your diligence in investigating the charitable organization before you donate to charity. If all potential donors would do that, we could put the groups out of business who are using very little of their money to support their cause.

Janet, Editor

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