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  • Writer's pictureMichelle R Brown

To pledge or not to pledge - that is the question

Today we'll be discussing a topic that has been a cornerstone of many communities for centuries: the act of pledging money to your church.

Whether you're a regular churchgoer, someone curious about the practice, or a bookkeeping/tax professional seeking guidance on the topic so you can educate your clients, I hope to provide some insights into the why and how of pledging money to your church and I’ve also included some interesting court case decisions related to church pledges.

Let’s begin by defining what a contribution pledge is.

According to “A donor may promise a nonprofit/(church) to contribute money to it in the future. This promise is called a pledge. There are many types of pledges, such as ones that are to be fulfilled all at one time, in increments (or over a specified period of time), and with or without restrictions.” To further clarify… a donation is a one-time gift actually given, and a pledge is a promise to give at a later date.

Some churches use pledges as the primary basis for their budgets and fiscal planning for the year, with most churches who receive pledges saying that over 50% of their annual budget is based upon annual pledges received. If your church knows in advance how much money will be coming in over the upcoming year, they are better able to plan their ministry expenses including staffing and outreach opportunities.

Now that we know what a pledge is and how it benefits your church, let’s dive into the benefits you yourself can receive by pledging to your local church.

First, let's reflect on the idea of stewardship. Stewardship is a key discipline mentioned throughout the Bible, including financial stewardship. The finances we have are a steward from the Lord and we have been entrusted with a certain amount, each according to our ability to manage/steward them. Malachi 3:10 is the verse that ALWAYS comes to my mind when I think about giving to the church. In the NIV translation is says Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Now seriously folks, God almighty is telling you how to receive blessings by emphasizing the concept of stewardship. You CANNOT outgive God. In order to be able to tithe (and or pledge) individuals need to responsibly manage and utilize the resources they've been given. Pledging money to your church is a practical way to exercise stewardship by contributing a portion of your financial resources (generally using the tithe (or 10%) as a STARTING point) to support the work of your community.

Next, pledging money to your church aligns with the principle of gratitude. By contributing to your church community, you express appreciation for the spiritual guidance, support, and fellowship it provides. In Hebrews 10:25, Scripture says in the NKJV….”not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” This act of giving demonstrates gratitude for the intangible benefits your church offers, fostering a sense of connection and belonging. Ladies and Gentlemen, we NEED the church. We need community. We need connection. We need encouragement to know that we are NOT the only one going through whatever it is that we are dealing with at the moment and it needs to be shared in a loving Christian environment. So go to church! 😊

A third and final key benefit of why you should give a pledge to your church if they request them, is that pledging to give money to your church helps to nurture the idea of compassion and social responsibility. Like it or not, it takes money to get things accomplished in this world. Churches use these funds to support various charitable initiatives, outreach programs, and humanitarian efforts within their communities and beyond. By pledging money, you actively participate in promoting positive change and helping those in need not just in your community, but sometimes around the world through organizations such as NAMB, or Eliza Broadus Mission Offerings.

So, whether it's through stewardship, gratitude, or compassion for others, pledging money to your church can be a powerful way to align your values with your actions. It enables you to support the spiritual and material well-being of your community while nurturing your own spiritual journey.

But what happens if you make a pledge, and then falter? Does it matter? Some churches will put a disclaimer on the pledge form stating something to the effect that “should your circumstances change, and you cannot keep your pledge, please contact the church office as soon as possible to discuss.” That’s cool and totally understandable as we DON’T know what the future holds. (ergo 2020!) But, if you ask the court system in several different states, absolutely it does matter as they have ruled that pledges made by donors to a church are legally enforceable! As a tax nerd, I did some research and found a few court cases that involved individuals who reneged on their pledge and the church took them to court. Yes ~ they took them to court! Here’s just a couple of the most recent court decisions for your listening pleasure 😊

1. An Iowa Appeals Court in 2006 ruled that a pledge made to a church by a donor who told several family members what his intent for the pledge was, which was to help pay for approximately $125k in church projects was enforceable even after the individual passed away and his family fought the keep the money.

2. A New York District Court ruled in 2004 that pledges made to a synagogue were legally enforceable because of the following… “pledges, like any promise, generally are not legally enforceable UNLESS the person making the pledge receives something of value (called “consideration” in return). BUT there are exceptions to this requirement, and one of them is “detrimental reliance”. According to this exception, if a charity relies to its detriment upon the pledges of its members, then those pledges are enforceable even though not supported by consideration in a traditional sense.”

And Finally…..

3. As recently as 2012 the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a $250k pledge from a donor who had passed away was also legally enforceable EVEN though the donor never signed a pledge card. The court ruled that because the man promised the money and even showed up at church meetings and fund-raising events to show his support for the projects, that the synagogue had a detrimental reliance on that pledge (meaning that without the pledge the church would NOT have proceeded with projects, etc.), and even though no pledge card was signed, those actions bumped the pledge up to being legally enforceable.

So the takeaway here…. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. And be careful what you tell your family 😊 haha

~ podcast episode #22

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