Responsive Moves Management: The Ultimate Guide

Responsive fundraising allows you to create major donor experiences for all your donors, regardless of giving level. So, how does responsive fundraising fit into moves management?

Moves management is already responsive at heart. It builds personalized relationships with major donors and connects them with your mission in the most meaningful ways. With the help of your nonprofit CRM, marketing automation, and a 360-degree view of your donor data, you can make moves management part of your modern, responsive nonprofit strategy.

What is Moves Management?

Moves management is an organizational approach to major donor relationships. It’s a way to track and engage with major donors as they interact with your nonprofit, guiding them toward making a major gift.

Many potential donors are interested in your cause, yet this interest alone isn’t enough to motivate them to donate to your organization. After all, there are other organizations also involved in the same cause.

To encourage a major donor to contribute, it’s crucial to establish a meaningful relationship with them, ensuring they feel valued and connected to your organization. Moves management is a strategy designed to help you achieve this.

Moves management involves guiding potential donors through various stages until they are ready to make a major gift. As a fundraiser, your task is to identify the current stage of each donor in this journey and suggest subsequent actions tailored to their interests and signals. Throughout this process, you should focus on cultivating relationships with donors in a way that is both meaningful and methodical through a series of “moves.”

If you think that sounds a lot like responsive fundraising, you’re right.

In the responsive fundraising framework, you:

  • Listen:
    Listen to what current donors tell you about their interests and preferences through consistent communication, donor surveys, and nonprofit data collection.
  • Learn:
    Observe donor signals and behavior through your listening initiatives to learn what’s important to them.
  • Connect:
    Offer meaningful connections with stories, information, and inspiration based on their interests and passions.
  • Suggest:
    Offer the next best action for the donor to take based on how they’ve connected with you.

The Difference Between Moves Management and Responsive Fundraising

Where moves management differs from the responsive approach is the level of personalization.

Responsive fundraising can be done at scale, with every donor. Major donors are a smaller group, so the ways you’ll listen, the kind of connections you’ll make, and the type of suggestions you offer them are more likely to be based on intimate one-on-one interactions.

You’ll continue observing their digital signals and use marketing automation to follow up in real-time, but with major donors you also have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations at length.

The moves management process takes time. Occasionally you may encounter first-time donors who make up their minds quickly and want to skip right to making a gift, but most people will want to build trust and connection first. The time frame will vary based on the donor and the size of the gift, but it’s not uncommon for the development of a major gift to take multiple meetings over one to three years.

If you were only managing one major donor relationship, moves management would probably be intuitive and simple. But most organizations require a pipeline of donors.

Part of a major gifts officer’s job is to bring in new prospective donors, cultivate those individual donor relationships, solicit when ready, and follow up with a comprehensive gift acknowledgement process. That can quickly become an overwhelming number of relationships to track.

That’s why you need a moves management system to keep every relationship up-to-date and progressing along the major donor cycle.

Understanding What Moves Management Is Not

An effective moves management strategy is about creating donor journeys for major donors to deepen their connections to the cause and inspire larger donations. Your role is not to drag them along the path, rather it is to create points of engagement that encourage them to take each next step themselves.

This type of engagement isn’t about discovering a secret formula that prompts major donors to give more. It’s about personal connection.What moves one donor might not interest another. Each major donor will have their own distinct journey.

Dave Dunlop, who originated the concept of moves management, expressed concern that development professionals might focus too much on a “game of moves” instead of the true intent: inspiring people to do the things that they actually want to do anyway.

Moves management is about working together with major donors to find the best, most meaningful way for them to support your organization and help your cause.

Perhaps most importantly, moves management isn’t solely about money. It’s a way to invite major donors to give to a cause they care about in all the ways that they want to. This can include giving their time, influence, expertise, and connections as well as funds.

Your Responsive Moves Management Game Plan

Most people don’t propose marriage on a first date, and most major donors should not be asked for a large gift the second you figure out they’re capable of giving one. Like any relationship, it’s a process.

There are five basic steps within the moves management process:

  • Identification
  • Qualification
  • Cultivation
  • Solicitation
  • Stewardship.

As donors move through each stage, make responsive efforts to personalize each interaction. You’ll find that your relationship with the major donor will deepen, and you’ll learn more about them.

Step 1: Donor Identification

Who in your donor management software do you suspect has the capacity and interest to make a major gift?

You can’t identify prospects without some criteria in place. You have to know what you’re looking for. What kind of signals will you seek out? Potential major donors are already in your CRM, so decide how you’ll identify them. 

This is not as simple as running a query for a major gift amount—that will only show you who is already a major donor. Instead, you’ll want to look for donor loyalty and giving frequency, as well as third-party wealth data.

Virtuous Contact Giving History with Suggested Ask.

Virtuous makes it easy to manage your major donor portfolio by giving you a birds-eye view of giving history, wealth data, and suggested gift asks.

Clues that someone has major donor potential include:

  • They’re a major donor somewhere else (you can figure this out with the help of a wealth data tool or sometimes even a Google search)
  • While they haven’t yet made a major gift to you, they’ve made several smaller ones over the past year or two that add up to substantial donor lifetime value
  • They’re a nonprofit board member (your board or some other organization’s)
  • Wealth markers like real estate ownership or a high-income profession

But what if you search your donor database and find that no one is sending big-capacity signals?

Sometimes fundraisers feel that without high-net-worth individuals in their pipeline, they can’t pursue moves management or a major gifts program. It’s not true—you can develop major donor relationships around whatever constitutes as a major gift.

Start where you are: Who is giving the most at your organization? Those people are now your major donors. Whether the gift you’re growing toward is $1,000 or $1 million, the moves management process should remain the same.

Step 2: Donor Qualification

Once you have a list of prospective major donors, spend some time doing research to find out more about them. You want to learn as much as possible about their capacity to make a gift, their affinity for your organization or cause, and the depth of their connection to you.


Wealth screening and appended wealth data can help you understand if your guesses about someone’s giving capacity are correct.


What evidence is there about their interest in your organization or cause? Do they give to other organizations in your cause area? Do they have a personal connection to your cause? This is all useful information.

You may find that you have donors in your file with a great deal of capacity, but not a strong enough connection or interest in your cause.

For example, a very wealthy individual may have attended your annual gala and made a gift as a favor to a board member they work with, not because of any particular interest in your cause. You can continue to cultivate them and build interest with your organization, but they shouldn’t be your top priority.


The best major gift prospects are not brand new to your organization. You should have a pre-existing connection with them in order to build a relationship. How have they engaged with your organization? Do they get your newsletter, attend events, or volunteer? Are they connected with other people at your organization?

Look for signals that they want to learn more or become more involved.

Step 3: Cultivation

The donor cultivation step is where you do the work of relationship-building. It’s where most of the “moves” happen. Cultivation should be personal and intentional, and be led by the donor and their interests.

Thanks to marketing automation, today’s donors expect personalized interactions with nonprofits. However, personalization has always been part of the major donor experience.

Generosity is personal for everyone, but especially so when someone is making a capital, legacy, or otherwise high-impact gift.

The cultivation stage helps the donor learn about your organization, but it’s also where you learn about the donor. In your interactions and conversations, ask questions to get to know them. Why do they give? What about your work resonates with them? What first interested them in your cause?

When you know these things, you can create moves that will be more interesting to them, and ultimately, make the most appropriate fundraising ask.

Step 4: Solicitation

Of all the moves management steps, solicitation may be the most challenging. It’s the part where you finally ask the donor to make a gift.

Making the ask intimidates many fundraisers. They worry about being salesy or awkward or somehow offending the donor. If you think of the ask is an imposition or a big scary thing, it’s easy to get into an awkward situation where you’re circling around, waiting for the donor to offer.

The thing is, asking someone to make a philanthropic contribution shouldn’t feel intimidating.

Asking for a donation is an invitation for a donor to express their values and commit to something that is important to them. If you’ve followed the moves management steps and built a strong relationship, you’ll know what your donor cares most about. Asking for a gift is giving them a concrete way to help make a difference in a way they’ve already expressed interest in.

When you base your solicitation on relationships, the “big ask” becomes a conversation about how you want to work together for the greater good. It can be natural, friendly, and a positive experience for everyone involved.

How to Treat Solicitation as a Generosity Opportunity

Treat solicitation as a generosity opportunity by:

  • Not playing coy:
    You don’t need to beat around the bushes here. In fact, it will work against you. Major donors usually know when they’re being cultivated—it’s not a secret. If a donor asks, “Are you inviting me to coffee to ask me for money?” you should be forthright.
  • Being clear about the ask:
    Talk about what you’re asking for in terms of impact, change, and possibility. The money is not really the point, it’s about what your organization can do with it.
  • Speaking positively about what you’re asking for:
    The donor has already expressed interest in helping the cause. They want to make a difference, and you’re here to help them figure out the best way to do it. This can be a really positive, emotional experience for them—one that can be super cathartic.

Step 5: Stewardship

Once a major gift has been made, the relationship continues with donor stewardship. This includes acknowledgement, reporting, recognition, and appreciation. At this stage, you thank them for the gift, report on the progress of the programs or projects they funded, and celebrate their generosity.

A donor’s stewardship experience can make a big difference in whether or not they’ll give again. It doesn’t feel good to be pursued by an organization and engaged in a relationship only to make a major gift, and then never hear from them again. Understandably, donors in that situation can feel like the relationship was purely transactional.

With a stewardship plan, you can seamlessly keep the relationship going. You’ll be able to continue engaging donors in communications and experiences, eventually cycling back to cultivate their next gift—leading to an increase in donor retention rate

Stewardship should be just as customized as the rest of the donor’s journey. Major gifts are deeply personal expressions of generosity, and you should acknowledge them personally.

By this point, you have learned a lot about the donor and their preferences, so you’ll have a lot of information on how you continue building that relationship.

Want a deep dive into donor retention? Learn how the right tools can deepen relationships and maximize your nonprofit’s impact.

How to Create a Moves Management Strategy

As you follow the steps, the details of your moves management strategy will be unique to your organization. What kind of journeys can you create for your major donor development? And what points of connection can you offer? What are the stories you’ll tell and the suggestions you’ll make?

Before you can get into the warm relationship part of your major gifts strategy, you’ll need to do some planning for each stage of moves management.

Identification Strategy

To identify qualified prospects, you need to sift through data to determine who might be a good candidate for moves management. Remember, at the identification stage, you’re trying to discover who you already know who might have the capacity and interest to make a major gift. The answer to “Where are all the major donors?!” is “already in our circle.”

Look for:

  • Regular gift activity over a range of time
  • Amount given over the past 12 months to 24 months
  • Event attendance
  • Wealth data

As you consider your data, look for donors who have given recently, frequently, and monetarily.

The Donor Engagement Matrix

We’ve created a Donor Enagement Matrix tool (also known as an RFM matrix) to help point you to the likeliest prospects:

Recency: It’s much easier to cultivate donors who have interacted with you recently. You know their interest probably hasn’t waned, they remember supporting you, and your cause is likely to still be important to them.

Frequency: How often do donors give? Once a year? Twice a year? Every month? Understanding how often a donor gives is a good indicator of how loyal they are to your cause. 

Monetary Amount: What is the donor’s average gift amount? How much have they given total over the last year? The last two years?

For an easy start to using this data, take each category and choose ranges. For example, for recently, you might choose the ranges: within the last three months, six months, last year, last two years, last five years.

Then assign that range a value on a scale of 1-5.

  1. Last five years
  2. Last two years
  3. Last year
  4. Last six months
  5. Last three months

For frequency, you might set the parameters as all gifts made in a two-year period.

  1. One gift
  2. Two gifts
  3. Three gifts
  4. Four gifts
  5. Five or more gifts

For monetary amount, you could choose different ranges of total giving in that same two-year period.

  1. $1,000- $4,999
  2. $5,000-$9,999
  3. $10,000-$14,999
  4. $15,000-$19,999
  5. Anything over $20,000

Then it’s simply a matter of adding up the score.

If Individual A has given in the last six months (4), has made three gifts in the past two years (3), for a total of $7,000 (2), they’d have a score of 9.

Calculate the scores of your prospects, and you’ll quickly see who the most likely candidates are for major giving.

Qualification Strategy

Once you have RFM data on your prospective donors, it’s time for more analysis. Look for intersections of capacity, affinity, and engagement.

Your best prospects will have all three points, but you shouldn’t discount those with only capacity and affinity. You can always work to engage people more. Still, it’s unlikely that you will be able to make them passionate about something they’re not already interested in, and impossible to make them wealthier.

Experts differ on the number of major donors you should include in moves management. It not only depends on the number of prospective donors in your circle, but on your capacity to manage them.

If you have a large fundraising team with multiple major gift officers, you can handle a larger pipeline. If you are a one-person development shop running all of the fundraising, you may find you can only give adequate attention to 20 people, maximum.

Within reason, a smaller pipeline is not a problem. In fact, packing your pipeline with poorly qualified prospects or good ones that you can’t actually cultivate isn’t a good strategy—even if it technically means you have a bigger portfolio.

It’s better to have 20 donors you’re pulling out the stops for than 100 you can barely keep in touch with.

How to Break Down Your Prospect Groups

Based on your analysis, divide your prospects into three groups:

  • High-priority donors:
    These are your top-priority people. They are able, interested, and engaged. It might not be the most appropriate thing if you asked them for a gift tomorrow, but they certainly wouldn’t be shocked. If you have more than 10 of them (lucky you!), pick the top 10 most engaged.
  •  Mid-priority donors:
    The people in this group are able to make a major gift, have expressed some interest, but still need more donor engagement before they’re ready to be asked.
  • Low-priority donors:
    This group has solid potential in all three areas, but are still a ways away from a gift. You need to learn more about them, gauge their interest more, and engage a lot more before asking would be a possibility.

Cultivation Strategy

How will you connect major donors with your story, cause, and organization? What are the “moves” of your moves management strategy?

Major donors are a smaller group to manage, so you have the opportunity to offer them unique points of connection. As you find out what they’re most interested in and what motivates them to be involved with your organization, you can create experiences to delight them.

Some moves will be incredibly personalized, like asking a former librarian to help you choose books for your after-school program, or inviting a local history enthusiast to explore your archives. These moves are high-impact and determined only by what you think your donor would appreciate.

Repeatable Moves in Your Moves Management

Other moves are standard and repeatable for most donors, such as:

  • Birthday cards
  • Invitations to donor events
  • Donor phone calls
  • Meeting with leadership
  • Facility tour
  • Participation in a program
  • Handwritten thank-you notes
  • Direct mail personalization with handwritten notes in the margins, on a post-it, etc.
  • Milestone recognition, both personal and as givers (e.g., wedding anniversary or first donation anniversary)
  • In-person meeting so you can learn more about their interests

As you create your moves management strategy, choose the standard moves that make up your major donor journeys. What are the first ways you engage? What do you offer next to invite deeper connection?

Standard Donor Journey for Events

For example, a standard journey for major donors that you meet at events might be:

  • Call the next day to thank them for attending
  • Send a handwritten thank-you in the mail that same week
  • Ask if they’d like to sign up for your newsletter
  • Watch how they engage with your content to get an idea of their interests
  • Send them an update on something you talked about at the event or something you’ve noticed they’re interested in
  • Invite them for coffee to learn more about them and tell them more about the program they’re most interested in
  • Send a handwritten thank-you note after coffee
  • Invite them to tour your facility
  • Invite them to a small cultivation event
  • Follow up afterward to answer any questions they have about your work
  • Invite them to coffee and make “The Ask”

Once you have some standard journeys established, you can personalize them further as you learn about your donors. Always let the donors lead—their pace is more important than you ticking off boxes in your moves management strategy.

Major gifts consultant Sherry Quam Taylor says, “I see so much money left on the table when donors are treated as one-size-fits-all. Successful fundraisers create systems for exclusive, exceptional donor experiences that both serve the donor’s mission for giving and lead them to a yes, every year. ”

Solicitation Strategy

How will you approach asking donors for money?

If you’ve followed the moves management steps so far, an ask is an invitation to do something the donor has already expressed interest in doing. You’ll know what they care about and why, and you’ll be ready to offer ways for them to help that speak to their passions and priorities. If you don’t know these things, it’s probably too soon to ask.

Major gifts expert Gail Perry advises asking major donors for permission before asking them for money. If you say, “Can I tell you about some ways you may be able to help?” and they say, “Yes!” you know they’re interested and no longer need to worry that you’re pushing them.

After the donor has agreed to learn more, Perry recommends giving them tiered options instead of a solo ask. Offer a relatively lower amount, followed by something bigger, and then something really big.

This gives the donor more to say yes to. If you offer, “Fund the entire library or nothing,” that doesn’t give the donor any way to engage if they don’t want to do the one thing you suggested. But if you offer underwriting the summer reading program (relatively small), funding a job-searching center (bigger), or naming rights in a capital campaign (big), the donor has options.

Make sure you invite conversation in your solicitations. Give the donor space to make their own suggestions. They may have something in mind that’s even more than you planned to ask for.

Stewardship Strategy

So you’ve built donor journeys, walked along the path with your major donor, made an ask, and received a gift. Hurray!

Now what?

You need a stewardship plan. What are the steps in your major donor’s journey after they make a gift?

You should consider this as carefully as any other phase. The way you thank, recognize, and appreciate donors is as important as leading them to the gift.

Your stewardship strategy is more than “When do we put someone’s name on a plaque vs. in an event program?” It’s about gratitude. It’s an opportunity to celebrate your donors and what they’ve helped make possible. So think about where the plaque goes, but even more, think about how to convey your overwhelming gratitude.


What kind of thank-you communications will your major donor receive?


How often will you update them on the impact of their gift?


How will you celebrate them within your organization and community?


How will you continue to express gratitude after the initial thanks?

After most major donors have made a gift, you’ll engage them with stewardship and then cycle back to cultivation. Some of your stewardship activities will double as cultivation for the next gift. You’ll continue to simultaneously steward the gift they’ve already made and cultivate them toward their next gift, continuing to deepen and strengthen the relationship.

Some gifts will be so large and final that it puts the donor into “perpetual stewardship” (i.e., you will keep thanking and appreciating them) without asking for anything else, ever. They have made their ultimate gift, and your job is to celebrate the donor and their generosity for the rest of their lives.

With busy schedules and no goal to work toward, it’s easy to let “perpetual stewardship” turn into “send a Christmas card and never quite get around to calling” if you don’t make a plan.

Using Your Nonprofit CRM for Moves Management

Moves management is so personal and tailored that automated processes may seem out of sync with what you’re trying to do. If automation workflows meant robots were doing your fundraising, that might be a legitimate concern, but luckily, that’s not what marketing automation is.

A responsive nonprofit CRM like Virtuous can help you keep track of each donor as they move through their journey. Your CRM can record donors’ signals and trigger workflows, tasks, and next best steps, prompting you and your team to take action.

Without a CRM and marketing automation tool, knowing that a prospective major donor was visiting a particular section of your website or watching a video about your cause would be hard. It would be difficult to track their engagement across your organization and your channels. In this case, you can still do a lot of the traditional “moves,” but without data, it’s hard to be personal and relevant.

Virtuous in Action: Chicanos Por La Causa

For Chicanos Por La Causa, Virtuous’ marketing automation made a world of difference for its small team in identifying, engaging, and connecting with major donor prospects. 

“The marketing automation was the number one selling point for us. To be able to have responsive email streams that respond to people’s actions and their interests, and automate that to give everyone the impression that we have a one-on-one relationship, that’s really been a game changer.” 

Veronica Carrillo, Donor Relations Manager

Tracking Your Major Donor Pipeline

Your nonprofit CRM allows you to easily record a major donor’s signals and interactions, not just the ones that happen with you. A 360-degree view of your donor data means that you won’t miss important details, like that your major donor is also a volunteer or that they always take your calls but never open your emails.

You can also use your CRM to track where donors are in the major gift pipeline, help target solicitation amounts, and create accurate forecasts. Bringing data into every step of your moves management process can help increase your confidence in your moves and asks while creating the most relevant and meaningful journey for the donor.

Virtuous makes this easy with a Kanban-style drag-and-drop board: The Gift Ask Pipeline. It provides a high-level view of asks your team has made and plans to make. You can move gift opportunities through your customized pipeline, never missing the potential to make a move.

It’s a simple way to track your moves management program in detail, while always keeping an eye on the big picture. Within the system, individual staff members can create their own dashboards to focus solely on their donors and progress.

Moves Management: Responsive Fundraising for Major Donors

Like all responsive fundraising techniques, moves management works best when you let donors lead. You create journeys for them to take and carve out paths for them to follow, but in the end, it is their passion and generosity that powers the process. While you plan and undertake moves to inspire them, donors ultimately move themselves with their care for your cause.

With the help of your responsive CRM, automation, and your own relationship-building skills, you can give them the best paths possible for their journey to making a major gift.

Are you ready to see how a responsive nonprofit CRM can streamline your major gifts program, giving you more time to interact with donors, while helping you bring the major donor experience to every donor in your file? Virtuous can help. Schedule a chat with one of our team members today.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

If you know another nonprofit pro who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via Email, Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

The Responsive Maturity Model
5 Steps to More Personalized Donor Experiences
Get Responsive Fundraising Tips
Get updates delivered directly to your inbox.
Actionable tips and insights for personalizing donor engagement with responsive fundraising.
Discover the Core Practices of Innovation in 'The Responsive Nonprofit'

Discover the Core Practices of Innovation in 'The Responsive Nonprofit'

Announcing 'The Responsive Nonprofit'—learn eight core practices to transform nonprofit innovation and drive impact. Get your copy today!
Unveiling the Psychology Behind Fundraising Strategies for Rare Disease Nonprofits

Unveiling the Psychology Behind Fundraising Strategies for Rare Disease Nonprofits

Explore key fundraising strategies for Rare Disease Nonprofits, focusing on donor psychology and engagement.
How to Retain Donors By Adding AI to Your Workflows

How to Retain Donors By Adding AI to Your Workflows

Giving is down, so how to retain donors? With AI, you can build a retention workflow at scale.

Grow generosity with Virtuous.

Virtuous is the responsive fundraising software platform proven to help nonprofit organizations increase generosity by serving all donors personally, no matter their gift size.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
Todd Shinabarger
Chief Information Officer