Responsive Nonprofit Moves Management


Responsive fundraising allows you to create “major donor” experiences for all your donors, regardless of giving level. But how does responsive fundraising work with major donors? How do you pursue major gifts fundraising with a responsive approach?

Moves management.

Moves management is already responsive at its heart. It’s all about building personalized relationships with major donors that connect them with your mission in the ways that are most meaningful to them. With the help of a nonprofit CRM, marketing automation, and a 360-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 towards making a major gift.

Many prospective donors care about your cause, but that care alone will not inspire them to make a donation to your organization. After all, there are many organizations working in your cause area. Before major donors will make a gift, they have to be in a relationship with you and feel valued and connected. Moves management helps you accomplish that.

The principles of moves management are simple: donors on the journey to a gift pass through several stages. Your role is to see where donors are in the journey and set up the next steps to offer them based on their interests and signals. You continually build a relationship in a way that is both meaningful and methodical through a series of “moves.”

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

In the responsive fundraising framework, you:

  • Listen: Observe donor signals and behavior to learn what’s important to them.
  • Connect: Offer meaningful connections with stories, information, and inspiration based on their interests and passions.
  • Suggest: Suggest the next best action for the donor to take based on how they’ve connected with you.

Where moves management is a little different from the responsive approach you should take with all your donors 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 truly one-on-one personal 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 major 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 1-3 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–they should always be bringing in new prospective donors, cultivating their relationships, soliciting when ready, and following up with thanks. 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 path.

What Moves Management Isn’t

A robust moves management strategy is about creating donor journeys for major donors that deepen their connections to the cause and inspire generosity. 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 and to walk alongside them as they do so.

This kind of engagement isn’t about unlocking a magic set of actions that cause major donors to make major gifts. It’s personal. What moves one donor might not interest another. Each major donor will have a 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 isn’t about manipulating anyone. It’s about working together with major donors to find the best, most meaningful way for them to support your organization and help your cause.

At its heart, 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.

What are the Moves Management Steps?

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

There are five basic steps within the moves management process: Identification, Qualification, Cultivation, Solicitation, and Stewardship. As donors move through each stage, your relationship will deepen, and you’ll learn more about them.

Step 1: Donor Identification

Who in your organization’s circle 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.

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 quite a bit.
  • They’re on a board (your board or some other organization’s).
  • Wealth markers like real estate ownership.

But what if you search your CRM and find that no one is sending big-capacity signals? Sometimes fundraisers feel that without some millionaires in their pocket, they can’t pursue moves management or a major gifts program. It’s not true—you can develop major donor relationships around whatever constitutes a major gift to you. 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 towards is $1,000 or $1M, the moves management process remains 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, affinity for your organization or cause, and the depth of their connection to you.

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

Interest: What evidence is there about their interest in your organization or cause? Do they give to other organizations in your cause space? 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 try and interest them in your organization, but they shouldn’t be your top priority.

Engagement: The best major gift prospects are not brand-new to your organization. You have to already be in their lives 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 cultivation step is where you do the work of building the relationship. It’s where most of the “moves” of the moves management happen. Cultivation should be personal, intentional, and led by the donor and their interests.

Thanks to automation, all donors expect personalized interactions with nonprofits these days. 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 fraught. It’s the part where you actually 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 as an imposition or a big scary thing, it’s easy to get into a weird situation where you’re circling around, waiting for the donor to offer.

The thing is, asking someone to make a philanthropic contribution isn’t gross. It’s an invitation for them 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 in relationships, the “big ask” becomes a conversation about how you want to work together for your cause. It can be natural, friendly, and a positive experience for everyone involved.

To treat solicitation as the generosity opportunity it is:

  • Don’t be coy. You really don’t need the element of surprise 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.
  • 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 it can do.
  • Speak positively about what you’re asking for. The donor has already expressed interest in helping and care for the cause. They want to make a difference, and you’re here to help them figure out how best to do it. This can be a really positive, emotional experience for them–don’t cheapen it by acting like asking is a necessary evil.

Step 5: Stewardship

Once a gift has been made, your major donor relationship continues with stewardship. This includes acknowledgment, 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, engaged in a relationship, only to make a major gift and then get dropped like a hot potato. Donors in that situation can understandably feel used.

With a stewardship plan, you can seamlessly keep the relationship going. You’ll be able to continue to engage donors in communications and experiences, eventually cycling back to cultivate their next gift.

Stewardship should be just as customized as the rest of the donor’s journey. Major gifts are deeply personal expressions of generosity and should be just as personally acknowledged. By this point, you’ll have learned a lot about the donor and their preferences, so you’ll have a lot of data on how to create a stewardship experience that is meaningful to them.

How Do I 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 donors? 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 and thinking about each stage of moves management.

Identification Strategy

Identifying prospects is about sifting 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 12-24 months
  • Event attendance
  • Wealth data

As you consider your data, look for donors who have given highly:

  • Recently
  • Frequently
  • Monetarily

This RFM analysis will point you to the likeliest prospects.

Recency: It’s much easier to cultivate donors who have interacted with you fairly 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?

Monetary Amount: What is the donor’s average gift amount? How much have they given in 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.

You can also use our handy free RFM Matrix tool.

Qualification Strategy

Once you have RFM data on your prospective donors, it’s time for even more analysis. Look for intersections of capacity, affinity, and engagement. Your best prospects will have all three points, but you shouldn’t discount those who have capacity and affinity, but haven’t yet been very engaged. You can always work to engage people more, but it’s challenging to make them more interested in something than they’re already inclined to be, and impossible to make them richer.

Experts differ on the precise number of major donors you should include in moves management. It depends not only on the number of prospective donors in your circle, but on your own capacity to manage them. If you have a large fundraising staff with multiple major gift officers, you’ll be able to handle a larger pipeline. If you are a one-person development shop running all the fundraising for your organization, 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 even good ones that you can’t actually cultivate, isn’t a good strategy, even if it technically means you have a “bigger” portfolio. Better to have 20 donors you’re pulling out the stops for than 100 you can barely keep in touch with.

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

  1. These are your top priority people. They are able, interested, and engaged. If you asked them for a gift tomorrow, it might not be the most appropriate thing, but they certainly wouldn’t be shocked. If you have more than 10 of them (lucky you!), pick the top ten who are the most engaged.
  2. The people in this group are able to make a major gift, have expressed some interest, but still need more engagement before they’re ready to be asked.
  3. 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 specifically, and engage a lot more before asking would make sense.

Cultivation Strategy

How will you connect 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’s possible and what you think your donor would appreciate.

Others will be standard and repeatable for most donors, such as:

  • Sending a birthday card
  • Invitations to donor events
  • Donor phone calls
  • Meeting with leadership
  • Touring your facility
  • Observing a program in action
  • Handwritten thank you notes
  • Personalize their direct mail with handwritten notes in the margins, on a Post-it, etc.
  • Recognize milestones, both personal and as givers (ie. wedding anniversary and first donation anniversary)
  • Ask to meet with you 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?

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 (and Virtuous partner) 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, Gail recommends giving them tiered options instead of a solo ask. Offer a relatively low 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 to underwrite 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 and 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 about 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 you can convey your overwhelming thanks.

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

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

Recognition: How will you celebrate them within your organization and community?

Appreciation: 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. Arguably, 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 towards their next gift, continuing to deepen and strengthen the relationship.

Some gifts will be so large and final that the donor is into “perpetual stewardship,” ie. you will keep thanking and appreciating them without asking for anything else, ever.  They have made their ultimate best gift, and your job is to celebrate it, and them, for the rest of their lives. With busy schedules and no goal to work towards, 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 at first automated processes may seem out of sync with what you’re trying to do. If automated workflows meant robots were “doing your fundraising” that might be a legitimate concern, but luckily, that’s not what automation is.

A responsive nonprofit CRM 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, it would be hard to know that a prospective major donor was visiting a particular section of your website or watching a video about your cause. 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.

Your nonprofit CRM allows you to easily record all of 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 responsive nonprofit 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 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 power 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. Book a demo today.

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