Are Pledges Legally Enforceable?

In some cases, a financial pledge may be legally enforceable.

Key point: A promise to make a charitable contribution to a church may be legally enforceable if the promisor receives something of value ("consideration") for his or her promise.

Can a person who promises to make a $25,000 contribution to a church be compelled to honor his commitment? That was the issue before a Georgia appeals court.

A church purchased property from an individual for $375,000. In the contract of sale the seller promised to donate $5,000 to the church each year for the next five years (for a total contribution of $25,000). When the promised donations were not made, the church sued the seller for breach of contract. The seller claimed that his promise to make the donations was unenforceable because of lack of "consideration" for his promise.

A trial court ruled in favor of the seller, concluding that a commitment or promise is not enforceable unless the promisor receives something of value ("consideration") in return. The court concluded that the seller received no value for his promise to make the donations, and therefore the promise was not enforceable.

The church appealed, and a state appeals court agreed with the church. It observed: "[A]lthough [the seller] asserts the promise to pay the church $25,000 was without consideration … nothing in the [record] shows that to be the case. [The sales contract] recites that the promise to pay $25,000 was made as additional consideration for the church to buy [the seller's] property." The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings. First Baptist Church v. King, 430 S.E.2d 635 (Ga. App. 1993).

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