October 1, 2022

New Donors and Your Board’s Magic Circle of Next

How to help your board expand your circle of influence.

In Funny Girl, Fanny Brice sings that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Nonprofits need people. That makes you lucky. This post explores a simple board action to gather more people, including potential donors. The task has nothing to do with asking for money. Instead, board members inquire about their contact’s interests to learn who belongs in your magic circle of next. The results will bring you luck.

Your Magic Circle of Next

Your magic circle of next includes all the people who don’t know about your work yet. People in this circle know someone who knows about work and could invite them to learn more. For instance, your magic circle of next includes your staff members’ dentist, your board member’s great aunt, and your fantastic auto mechanic.

Meeting people in your magic circle of next expands this circle outward. Marketers ask us to expand their circle of next outward all the time. They, for instance, ask us to share offers with friends, forward emails, and send coupons for us to give to relatives. Let’s think about how your board member can quickly help you expand your magic circle.

Ask, Listen, Communicate

I recommend that you take a similar entrepreneurial approach as marketers do. Request that your board members expand your magic circle using the Ask, Listen, Communicate Process. The process adds three simple behaviors to your board member’s everyday conversations. The behaviors include asking questions, listening for answers, and following up with you. When used intentionally, these actions expand your magic circle with people interested in your work. They increase your pool of connections.

Here’s what to ask your board members to do:

  1. Ask. Learn about their contact’s philanthropic interests.
  2. Listen for interests that link with your work,
  3. Communicate. Share information about any matches discovered with you so you both can determine the best next step.

What Does Ask, Listen, Communicate Look Like in the Real World? 

Scenario #1

On Monday morning, Roger Board Member arrives early to a work meeting. A manager from a distant branch comes in just after him. Small talk ensues. The new arrival mentions that her weekend was crazy. She was busy with a rescue dog. Ask: “How did you get the rescue?” your board member inquires. Listen: The woman explains her connection to a nonprofit and her life-long interest in dogs, launching into the pros and cons of different breeds. New arrivals interrupt their conversation. Communicate: Unless your organization involves animals, Roger makes a tick mark in his calendar that he completed an Ask, Listen, Communicate. Because you are high on accountability, he shares the total times he used the techniques at your next board session meeting.

Scenario #2

Elaine Board Member meets a new work contact for lunch. Ask: Elaine turns the conversation to outside interests, including nonprofit activities, before the meal arrives. Listen: Elaine learns that her lunch mate is new in town, used to serve on a board at another nonprofit that connects to your work, and is interested in getting to know more people. The contact asks, “How about you? How are you involved here?” Elaine shares that she serves your organization and the work you do in common with the newcomer’s past. Communicate: Elaine shares the name of this contact and her interests with you. Together, you decide the next steps.

Your Board Moves

What does Ask, Listen, Communicate have to do with income growth? By tapping and expanding your magic circle of next, you nurture more prospects, reduce pressures on current donors, and increase your options. Over time, using Ask, Listen, and Communicate will make your organization one of the luckiest in the world.

For more answers, check out the  Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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