According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, a drop in gifts from major donors and a decrease in donor retention have led to fundraising challenges for nonprofits this year. As a nonprofit professional, you know that major gifts don’t just appear out of thin air. It takes time and effort from your development team to get to know prospective major donors and win their support. That means that building a reliable, sustainable major gift moves management process is more important now than ever.

Moves management describes the steps of the major donor journey, from solicitation to renewal and upgrade. When it comes to major gift fundraising, the moves management process is essential for building genuine, long-lasting bonds with major donors.

This guide will review the four most common steps of the moves management process and how to engage with major donors at every stage:

  1. Cultivation
  2. Solicitation
  3. Stewardship
  4. Retention and Upgrade

The moves management process starts with finding the right prospective donors and building a compelling case for support that encourages them to give. You can customize these steps to fit the unique needs of your organization. Let’s begin by reviewing the major donor cultivation process.

1. Cultivation

What makes a prospective major donor stand out from other supporters? Major donor prospects will exhibit several wealth indicators that reveal a high giving capacity and philanthropic or warmth indicators that signal a strong connection to your mission.

In the first stage of the moves management process, you’ll identify prospective supporters based on these key markers:

  • Wealth indicators such as real estate ownership, stock holdings, net worth, and business ownership or connections.
  • Philanthropic or warmth indicators such as past donations to your nonprofit or similar organizations, history of board membership or volunteerism, or past event attendance.

Use your nonprofit’s constituent relationship management system (CRM) to filter your donor database based on these characteristics to find potential major donors. Some CRMs will automatically spotlight top prospective donors or give donors a rating based on their level of engagement or giving capacity, making it easier to identify these valuable supporters.

Begin cultivating prospects with a variety of introductory activities, such as sending them information about the impact of major gifts, inviting them to fundraising events and volunteer opportunities, and sending getting-to-know-you surveys that ask about their interests and giving motivations. These activities will foster a stronger connection to your mission and establish solid relationships with prospective major donors.

2. Solicitation

Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”? This phrase is especially true when it comes to soliciting major gifts.

Prospective donors may feel a strong connection to your mission, but they’ll decide whether or not to donate based on how you make them feel through your words and actions. That’s why asking for a major gift in the right way is essential to effective moves management.

Follow these steps to solicit major gifts successfully:

  • Identify the right prospects to ask. After conducting research and initial introductions, pinpoint the prospective donors who seem most interested and engaged in your mission. These are the individuals from whom you should request a major gift.
  • Develop a compelling case for support. A case for support is a powerful statement written to convince major donors that your nonprofit is worthy of support and that you’ll use their gifts effectively. Your case for support should clearly outline the project or program that needs support, your fundraising goal, and how you’ll use donors’ gifts. Make it more compelling by adding photos and direct quotes from your beneficiaries.
  • Choose a quiet, private meeting location. If possible, an in-person meeting is the way to go when it comes to requesting a major gift. Select a quiet, professional location, like your executive director’s office. Make the prospective donor feel comfortable by offering refreshments and starting the meeting with casual conversation.
  • Express appreciation. First and foremost, express gratitude for the donors’ past contributions to your organization or for engaging with your introductory activities. Thank donors for taking the time to attend the meeting and hear your request.
  • Ask for a specific donation amount. Include a specific dollar amount in your donation request so donors know what they’re committing to. Identify the right amount for each prospect by reviewing wealth indicators to determine their general giving capacity. For example, if a prospect has a significant stock portfolio or owns several high-value properties, this signifies a greater potential to give. You could ask this prospect for a donation at the higher range of your major gift pyramid.
  • Provide multiple convenient ways to give. If prospective donors are on board with your request, offer multiple payment options to appeal to a variety of preferences. This could include credit/debit card transactions, check donations, bank account transfers, gifts of stock, or cryptocurrency.

As you plan for your major gift request meetings, prepare for both a yes and a no. If a prospect lets you know they’re not willing to donate right now, ask if you can stay in touch in case they’re interested in a future gift. If they’re willing to give but want to give less than your suggested amount, thank them and let them know that you’re grateful for their support.

Taking these steps allows you to maintain positive relationships with all supporters—you never know who may be ready to increase their donation amount in the future!

3. Stewardship

Your work isn’t over once a major donor contributes. The next phase of the moves management process is donor stewardship, where you thank supporters for their gifts and maintain a positive ongoing relationship.

According to Bloomerang’s donor management guide, effective stewardship is crucial for boosting donor retention, so it’s important to develop a thorough engagement strategy. Start by incorporating these tips into your outreach approach:

  • Show gratitude. In addition to thanking major donors in person, send a variety of messages to express your gratitude, such as handwritten letters and emails. Have your executive director or board chair call donors a few days after they give to reiterate your appreciation.
  • Show the impact of donors’ gifts. Provide a personalized report that details exactly how your nonprofit used donors’ gifts and the extent of their positive impact. For example, let your major donor know that their $10,000 gift went toward purchasing new laptops for 20 high school students who were able to use the laptops to complete important projects and apply for college.
  • Offer multiple engagement opportunities. Invite major donors to engage with your mission in other ways besides donating. Spotlight volunteer opportunities, upcoming events like your annual silent auction or gala, or advocacy initiatives donors can get involved with. When major donors can find opportunities that appeal to their interests and passions, it will strengthen their ties to your cause.
  • Ask for feedback. Show major donors that you value their input by asking for feedback on everything from your donation process to your case for support and communication efforts. Send major donors a survey a few weeks after they give and let them know you’re reaching out to them because of their unique perspective as your top supporters.

Stewardship is all about building authentic, lasting relationships with donors based on mutual respect, trust, and genuine interest. What are your donors’ likes and dislikes? What are their favorite hobbies? What is the name of their beloved pet cat? Ask major donors these types of questions and more to build real relationships.

4. Retention and Upgrade

The final step of the moves management process is to retain donors by asking them to make an additional gift or upgrade their giving amount.

The average donor retention rate hovers around 45%. However, if you can encourage donors to give again, the repeat donor retention rate jumps to around 60%. This demonstrates how essential it is to secure that crucial second gift from major donors. (FYI — Bloomerang offers a free donor retention calculator to calculate your nonprofit’s unique donor retention rate.)

To encourage more donation renewals and upgrades, you can:

  • Strategically ask for another gift at the right time. Don’t ask for another major gift right away, but don’t wait too long, either. You don’t want major donors to forget about your nonprofit or think that you don’t need their support anymore. The right timing will depend on each donor’s preferences, so review supporters’ giving and engagement histories to help make the call. For example, a donor who is highly engaged with your social media posts and events may be more open to another gift request sooner than a donor who only occasionally engages with your outreach.
  • Identify prospects who are likely to upgrade their donation amount. Use your donor management software solution to identify highly engaged major donors who have a strong connection to your cause and may be ready to contribute at an even higher level. Use your wealth screening data to determine the right donation request for these donors.

From this point, you’ll continue stewarding donors and organically growing your relationships with them, in the cyclical process demonstrated in this graphic:

Steps of the moves management process (cultivation, solicitation, and a cyclical process of stewardship, retention, and upgrading).

Donors may even feel compelled to promote your cause to their family members and friends. Be sure to empower them with informational materials and resources they need to share your mission with their networks.

Adjust your moves management process over time as you determine what works best for your organization and your unique major donor pool. Above all, keep relationships at the heart of your moves management strategy. Strong connections will keep your major donors engaged and excited about your cause for years to come.