Pledges vs. Donations Image

Pledges vs. Donations: What’s the Difference?

While building your fundraising strategy for your organization, you may have come across two different terms for types of fundraising: pledges and donations. At some point, you’ve probably thought to yourself, what is the difference between pledges and donations, anyway? 

Although they’re similar, pledges and donations aren’t the same things. Understanding the difference between these fundraising types can help you plan more thoughtful fundraising events and initiatives to engage your supporters. 

With that in mind, in this post, we’ll explore: 

  • The Difference Between Pledges and Donations
  • When to Ask for a Pledge
  • When to Ask for a Donation
  • Choosing the Right Software Tools for Collecting Pledges and Donations

Both pledges and donations can help you boost your organization’s fundraising efforts and connect with your donors on a deeper level. Read on to find out how!

The Difference Between Pledges and Donations

pledge vs. donations infographic

A pledge is a promise a supporter makes to donate a certain amount at a specified time or after certain criteria have been met. A pledge can be conditional, meaning the organization has to do something in order to eventually receive the donation. It can also be unconditional, meaning there are no strings attached to the transaction. Essentially, a pledge will eventually lead to a donation, but it isn’t an immediate contribution. 

On the other hand, a donation is the immediate transfer of money or goods from a donor to your organization. Donations can be accepted at any time. They include individual donations, in-kind donations, legacy or planned donations, matching gift contributions, volunteer grants, and other monetary contributions. 

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When to Ask for a Pledge 

You might consider asking for donations to be the default fundraising option, but there are certain scenarios where you might want to ask for pledges instead. You can ask donors to pledge donations when you’re conducting fundraising initiatives like: 

  • A fun run or a-thon-style fundraiser. In an a-thon-style event, participants try to complete a certain activity for as long as possible. For example, in a dance-a-thon, participants dance for as long as possible. In a fun run, participants run for as long as they can or complete as many laps as possible. Donors pledge a fixed donation amount and contribute donations once the event concludes based on how long participants engaged in the activity. 
  • Your annual fundraising efforts. When conducting annual fundraising efforts, you can ask donors to pledge a certain amount to your annual campaign and fulfill that pledge before the end of the year. 
  • A text-to-pledge campaign. In a text-to-pledge campaign, you can text supporters directly asking them to pledge a certain amount to your fundraising efforts. Then, you can follow up later on, send them your online donation form, and ask them to complete their donation. 

With a text-to-pledge or annual fundraising pledge campaign, supporters can choose their own donation amounts. You can offer a handful of suggested donation amounts to help supporters choose the right amount for them and give them an idea of the type of donations you’re looking for.

Another advantage of pledges is that, when hosting an event like an a-thon challenge, participants will be motivated to engage in the activity for longer to raise more money from pledged donations. They can be a great motivational tool to reach your fundraising goals. 

When to Ask for a Donation

Of course, there are plenty of scenarios where it makes sense to ask for straightforward donations. These include during: 

  • Online or direct mail fundraising campaigns
  • Events
  • Peer-to-peer or crowdfunding campaigns
  • A matching gift drive or other corporate philanthropy initiatives

These donations will go swiftly and directly to your organization’s fundraising reserves, allowing you to put them to use right away. 

To help you determine whether to ask for pledges or donations, let’s take a look at an example of different ways you might incorporate these fundraising types. Perhaps you’re looking for effective baseball fundraising ideas to raise money for your youth baseball team. If you want to collect pledges from supporters, you can host a hit-a-thon fundraiser where supporters pledge to donate a certain amount for every ball participants hit during the challenge. This encourages participants to try to get as many hits as possible throughout the event. 

If you’re looking to collect direct donations, you can launch a more traditional fundraising campaign like a handwritten letter campaign, bake sale, or merchandise sale. This allows you to earn on-the-spot donations from your supporters. 

Either fundraising style can bring in plenty of donations for your cause. Choosing the right option depends on the style of fundraising event you’re hosting. It also depends on whether you hope to gain access to donations immediately or if you’re able to wait for pledged donations to be fulfilled at a later time. 

Choosing the Right Software Tools for Collecting Pledges and Donations

Whether your fundraiser is focused on collecting pledges or donations, you’ll need to use the right software tools to easily gather these forms of support. There are plenty of platforms and resources available for nonprofits, schools, youth groups, and other organizations looking to fundraise on a budget. 

Here are a few different types of fundraising software solutions that can help you raise more: 

  • Pledge fundraising software helps solicit pledges and collect donations. Check out 99Pledges’ roundup of effective fundraising platforms to review some of the top options available. These solutions allow you to quickly set up and share donation pages in conjunction with your fundraising events or campaigns. 
  • Online donation tools allow you to collect direct donations. They offer the ability to create branded online donation pages and collect donations using a secure payment processor. These tools range from user-friendly platforms that help you create streamlined online donation forms to systems that also allow you to create peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns and track donor information. 
  • Marketing tools help you promote your pledge or donation campaign. These tools include email marketing platforms and social media scheduling tools that allow you to create and schedule marketing campaigns. 

Conduct a tech check-up for your organization to determine which fundraising tools you may have to invest in. Search for tools that are free or offer low platform costs to help stick within your budget. 


Now that you know the difference between pledges and donations, you can confidently choose the right fundraising avenue for your organization. Remember, whether you’re asking for pledges or donations, you must show donors you appreciate their support. Expressing gratitude will make donors much more likely to give the next time you have a fundraiser! 


Picture of Brad Dowhaniuk

Author: Brad Dowhaniuk

Brad Dowhaniuk is the co-founder of 99Pledges, which provides schools and teams with an easy-to-use, web-based fundraising solution to manage and drive success in Fun Runs, jog-a-thons, baseball hit-a-thons, and much more.

Published by

Matt Hugg

Matt Hugg is the president of Nonprofit.Courses.

See his bio here.

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