Are Charitable Pledges Enforceable?

With the economy still in the doldrums, many people [and many charities] must face whether charitable pledges can be enforced if the donor runs for the hills.  The short answer, at least in New Jersey, is that charitable pledges are enforceable, as a matter of public policy, even if unwritten, not backed by consideration, and although the charity did not act in reliance. 
In Jewish Federation of Cent. New Jersey v. Barondess, 234 N.J. Super. 526 (Law Div. 1989), an individual made an oral promise to give $2,000 to a religious institution.  The promise was not to be performed within a year and – at the time – such promises were barred by the [now repealed] Statute of Frauds.  It also appears that the charity did not give consideration for the pledge, nor act in reliance.
The court was not troubled by finding itself “hard-pressed” to locate either consideration or reliance.  Rather, the court stated, “The real basis for enforcing a charitable subscription is one of public policy — that enforcement of a charitable subscription is a desirable social goal.”  (Id., at 528.)  That being so, the court felt it therefore illogical “to permit the institution of a contractual defense to undermine that policy.”  It enforced the pledge. 
And see  More Game Birds in America, Inc. v. Boettger, 125 N.J.L. 97, 101 (E. & A. 1942), where the court stated: “A careful study of the cited decisions and many others to like effect, together with opinions of text writers on the subject, impels the conclusion that public policy forms the basis upon which consideration is spelled out in order to impose liability on charitable subscriptions.”

Joel Glucksman is an experienced civil and bankruptcy litigator specializing in the representation of secured lenders and other creditors in complex suits and bankruptcies. His court appearances take him throughout the State and Federal courts in the metropolitan area, focusing in particular on the Bankruptcy Courts for the District of New Jersey and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. For more information, please visit Joel Glucksman’s full biography at Scarinci Hollenbeck

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