I frequently receive telephone solicitations for contributions to organizations that purport to engage in charitable activities — endowing brides, providing food at Pesach to poor Israelis, supporting needy families, orphans, widows, etc. Recognizing the mitzvah of tzedakkah, I am politely receptive to the appeals, but request printed information before sending money. The response is almost always, “OK. We’ll send it along with a pledge form. Thank you for your contribution.” The information I receive is usually inadequate (no street address, no telephone number, no charitable organization tax id, etc) but always includes a statement of “the amount” that I seem to have pledged. What is my obligation? Have I in fact made a vow? Is this ethical behavior by these organizations? And if not, why not?
You do not specify what you mean by “politely receptive”. Do not say: “I will give you X amount of money-just [or- ‘if you’] send me your material”. It is better to say: “Send me your material and I will consider [or even ‘favorably consider’] your request”. If you have made no commitment or if your commitment was conditioned on being satisfied with the material sent you, you have no obligation if sent material you find unsatisfactory. If – as you write- the material is objectively inadequate, you are under no obligation to contribute even if you were not careful in your phrasing.