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  • Debra A. Gill

Get a Move On

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

The power of a plan.


Chess Board

A hot topic with my clients right now is Moves Management. What I’ve discovered is that there are a lot of varying perceptions about Moves Management and how to integrate an effective plan. My take is that teams are making this process more complicated than it really needs to be. At the end of the day, it is about making sure that there are intentional individualized plans, with clear customized strategies, for moving each major donor closer to finalizing their next gift.


Think of Moves Management like the game of chess. Players, or those who have watched the Netflix phenomenon Queen’s Gambit, know how much strategy goes into each move. Often the opponents know exactly how the game is going to end before it begins because they have analyzed the other player’s strategies. That’s Moves Management. Each major gift prospect - whether an individual, corporation, or foundation - is carefully evaluated to establish a series of planned moves that will ultimately result in a meaningful gift for the win. This is not a one size fits all approach of applying moves to a broad group of donors. Moves are specific and exclusive to the donor for whom they are established.


Moves Management requires flexibility. From time to time something changes in the donor relationship that requires a new strategy. Perhaps your chess partner made a move that you didn’t anticipate, and you must step back and reevaluate your side of the board. From a philanthropic perspective, if you think that your donor is well suited for a gift to your cardiovascular department and then discover that a close family member has recently been diagnosed with cancer, you may need to adjust your strategy to accommodate their current priorities.


There are varying opinions as to what constitutes a move. When we deep dive into the details, I find that several actions that are being categorized as moves, are better described as a “touch.” From my point of view, a touch is something that happens in support of the next move such as social media, direct mail, emails, text messages, casual conversations at Rotary, church, or the grocery store. These touches are important because they are part of the evolving relationship. The question is, are they moving the donor closer to making a meaningful gift or are they part of a serial cultivation culture (aka failure to ask)? Authentic moves are individualized and customized, creating an opportunity for the fund raising professional to have a personal conversation with the donor about their giving intentions that brings them closer to finalizing their gift decision.


So, what are some examples of successful moves? Every organization has different tools in their belts. In my experience, tours are one of the most effective ways to connect with donors. Universities, hospitals, food banks, libraries, parks, and the like all have something to tour. Tours create the opportunity not only to demonstrate the work that is being done but to explore the donors’ specific areas of interest. Are they moved by the swing set or the teeter totter, athletics or liberal arts, the ER or the maternal newborn department, books, or digital options? You get the idea. Once you’ve determined what the donor is most interested in, your next move is to connect them with the person in your organization who is most knowledgeable on the topic so that they can share their passion and vision for the future.


Can you introduce your donor to someone who will give testimony about the impact of the services in which they’ve shown interest? Those who care about food insecurity may be interested in hearing from a customer about the impact grocery assistance has had on their family. Academic donors are very often gratified to hear the aspirations of their scholarship winners. Virtually all donors value one-on-one time with those in leadership positions or the visionaries for the organization such as a curator or maestro.


The critical aspect is that effective moves must be interactive. Sending a thank you letter is an essential cultivation step and an important touch, but it does not constitute a move because you are not interacting with the donor in such a way to bring them closer to making their next gift. If you pick up the phone to thank the donor and engage them in a meaningful conversation about future giving, that is a move.


Moves take time. In the high pace hustle and bustle of most philanthropy offices, it can be easy to let days and weeks go by without giving intentional thought to executing moves. I encourage my clients to hold each other accountable with regular huddles focused on each development officer’s top 3-5 prospects. Put the database to good use tracking moves and next steps. Whatever it takes, making Moves Management a priority is essential.


How will you know if your Moves Management program is working? Donors will cycle through the stages of identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship on a regular basis. While we never want to propose on the first date, we also don’t want to get stuck in serial cultivation. There must be a time specific plan to move donors from the cultivation stage to the solicitation stage and the only way that this creates the desired result is when enough moves have been completed to know for certain that the donor is ready to be asked.


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