Most nonprofit organizations are familiar with pledges, as people, businesses, and foundations make promises to give in the future. Many times these promises are the results of fundraising campaigns or appeals. Depending on the situation, the pledge could be for a general or specific purpose, such as for a new child-care program.
Pledges, both short and long-term, may be shown as “Pledges” or “Unconditional Promises to Give” on the Statement of Position.
Promises to give may or may not be real. For example, if a person notifies an organization that he is including the nonprofit in his will, this isn’t a pledge. The same situation exists if someone promises to pay a certain amount twenty years in the future—it’s not a pledge. In both cases, donors can easily change their minds; circumstances can change, making the promises hard to keep.
- Promises to give must have no conditions to be recognized as real pledges.
Note that conditions are different from restrictions:
- Conditions determine if the amount will be given or not
- Restrictions determine how to use the proceeds
Suppose there is a condition associated with a pledge — the money will be given only if a relative recovers from a serious disease. In this situation, the nonprofit records the pledge only after the condition is met, that is, the person recovers. This situation is tricky since a lot can change, and it makes good sense not to recognize this promise until it’s paid. Same if the condition is the occurrence of a major disaster in California— this pledge is conditional, and the nonprofit should not record it. Once a disaster hits California, then the pledge may be valid. Managers should use common sense here.
Another example of a condition is a company matching donations made by employees. If an employee gives $10, the firm would also pay $10, matching the donor’s amount. As the employee donates, the condition on the firm’s pledge is lifted. Therefore, each time an employee pays, the organization recognizes a matching pledge.
The wording of a pledge is crucial to determine when a promise is conditional or just restricted. The key word in conditional pledges is “if.” Those are usually not recorded as real pledges by the nonprofit, although they may be filed for future follow up.
Once a pledge is determined to be valid, it can be unrestricted or restricted to a particular time or event, such as for a reading program happening in the future. The classification depends on donors’ intentions. A pledge made on a general appeal can be safely assumed to be unrestricted, while others specific to an individual program should be considered restricted.
Organizations must have pledge documents in writing whenever possible. If a donor doesn’t want to acknowledge the pledge, a thank you letter confirming the gift is a good idea. The letter can be simple and brief but should leave no doubt about the existence of the pledge and its intent.
Issues usually associated with pledges are collectability, pledges paid in installments and privacy of donors, all discussed next.
As promises are to give in the future, pledges may not be all collectible, and most organizations aren’t going to sue to collect promised amounts because of PR issues. Therefore, by its nature, pledges are riskier than regular accounts receivable. As expected, a pledge due in a year is less risky than another one due in two or more years since a lot can happen in a year or longer. Fundraising staff usually follow up on promises to pay, diplomatically, of course.
Due to the risk of default on pledges receivable, an Allowance for Uncollectible Pledges account is employed. It may be created and adjusted every year based on history. If an organization experiences 15 percent in uncollectible pledges, for instance, this percentage may be applied. It’s the same concept as the Allowance for Uncollectible Receivables in the for-profit world.
A strange situation with promises to give has popped up recently with a young, wealthy supporter promising to give a significant amount to an organization. As expected, people got excited, made a public PR deal with the pledge and started planning how to spend the money. Low-and-behold — it was all fake. The guy liked the attention, but was not wealthy and had no intention to fulfill the promise. The organization lost a lot of credibility with this deal. So, I recommend that nonprofits set up policies and procedures to evaluate significant pledges and to refrain from announcing it and making plans for it until all checks out.
Besides lump sum promises, nonprofits could also have pledges payable in installments; for example, a commitment of $25,000 payable at $5,000 a year for five years. In this case, organizations are to discount the payments to present value using a reasonable percentage. The discount is amortized as in the for-profit world. FASB ASC 820-10 (FASB 157) relates to this topic to be sure organizations evaluate pledges in a fair and acceptable manner.
- Government and other grants aren’t considered to be pledges and are presented separately in financial statements.
So, if an organization receives a pledge for $30,000 payable in 5 years, apart is considered to be current pledge receivable, and the rest is non-current. In addition, revenue is recognized along with a discount plus the allowance account may be changed. Don’t double count pledges – once as revenue when the promise is made and again when payments are made.
Many times big donors want to keep their donations and personal information private. To this end, nonprofits should implement proper care so that the donor is acknowledged, donations are recorded, and the donor’s identity is kept secret. So, to assure privacy, donor databases need to be kept secure. Only a few people should possess access to the donors’ records.
As an example, a nonprofit organization I worked with had celebrities donating significant amounts of money, and they didn’t want their names, email addresses or other information available. Therefore, instead of inputting the real names and information in the database, the organization used the names “Anonymous 1,” “Anonymous 2,” etc. The nonprofit kept the real names and personal information under lock and key in a file cabinet accessible only by a couple of people. This low-tech setup worked well.
Note that a pledge is assumed to be a donation, not an exchange, so FASB ASU 2014-09 Revenue from Contracts with Customers doesn’t apply.
( Excerpt from Nonprofit Finance A Practical Guide– Second Edition, to be published soon)