Aunt Frances’ Key to Relationship Building

Aunt FrancesMy Great Aunt Frances turned 107 last week and she’s as warm, loving and sharp as ever. She’s unknowingly taught me so much, including this recipe for strong and lasting relationships that I want to share with you today.

Years ago, when I rushed to Manhattan after college graduation, I found myself living just a few blocks from Aunt Frances. Having grown up in Philly, I had visited with her just a handful of times before then, so didn’t really know her.

Like most new grads, I was busy with fun—writing back cover copy for Penguin books, meeting new friends and hanging out with those who came with me from college, and getting to know the city in a way impossible until you live there. But somehow—even in the midst of that 20s frenzy of living—I started to visit with Aunt Frances (and her gentle husband, Uncle Mike) on a weekly basis.

Although the initial frequency of visits was spurred by my mom—who urged me, as moms do, to do “something nice for someone else”—that soon changed. I found myself relishing the richness of those visits; appreciating the perspective Aunt Frances could provide and her joy of life, basking in the warmth of her generous love plus simply getting to know her as a friend. In a strange way, the enormous age gap between us opened up a unique path to forging a tight bond.

Over the years, her life changed (Uncle Mike and many of her dear friends passed away, she battled more isolation and physical challenges) and mine did too (new jobs, moved in with my boyfriend, started grad school at night). But our mutual admiration and friendship continued to grow.

We discussed the challenges and joys of my life and hers. She was thrilled when I got together with the wonderful man who is now my husband and shone as the oldest guest at our wedding (she was 95). And I was nourished by her stories about the teriyaki salmon recipe she had tried the night before (now one of our favorites), the accomplishments of one of her great-grandchildren or the way her mother kept the live fish in the bathtub before making gefilte fish for Shabbat.

Although the weekly visits stopped when I moved to the suburbs with my husband, in preparation to adopt our daughter, the friendship has not. Aunt Frances moved to a nursing home on Long Island several years ago and I haven’t seen her in person since. But the love and admiration is still there.

Last week, when I called to wish her happy birthday, the conversation was as warm and lively as ever. I told her how much our friendship and love has always meant to me, and thanked her for being such a wonderful light in my life—steady, bright and warm. Then she, amazed at my statement, told me how how silly I was, how she had always marveled at my loyalty and persistent friendship despite the difference in our ages, and thanked me. We both felt we got the best deal from the relationship, that we got far more than we gave.

Later that day, as I was polishing an annual fund campaign for a client, I realized that’s exactly the feeling you want to inspire in your supporters—that they get a lot from supporting you, whether it be with time, effort and/or money. Like the satisfaction I feel after doing my monthly stint at the local food pantry, or my husband, Sean, and daughter, Charlotte, feel after their weekly shift at the youth garden, where they grow and harvest vegetables for another local food bank. Sean loves my garden at home, as an observer. But the youth garden experience has spurred his interest in hands-on gardening and kick-started his skills. He can’t wait to go every week! That’s exactly the response you want to create for your supporters.

Giving, rather than taking, is what relationship building is all about. The more you give your supporters (in experience, satisfaction, appreciation, skills or otherwise), the more likely they are to feel like they’re getting the great deal and will be back for more. Take it from Aunt Frances!

How do you give back to your supporters? Please share your approaches and challenges here so we all get better at this skill so crucial to building strong and lasting relationships.

Nancy Schwartz on July 17, 2013 in Relationship Building | 8 comments
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  • Rebecca Patterson

    Great blog – we should all speak to our supporters like we speak to Aunt Frances! Here is an excellent example of how Amnesty does relationship building really well http://pellandbales.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/thank-you-we-got-it/

  • Daryn Kobata

    Thank you for this great and touching post – it’s a good reminder for NPOs that “giving” needs to be a two-way street, as well as of the power of a story in sharing a message. Your Aunt Frances sounds like an amazing person. I hope you have a chance to see her again soon!

  • Chapin

    What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing that relationship with your readers and thank you for circling it back to the ways nonprofit marketing is making a mark on this world. We are all doing such important work; it is our job as nonprofit marketers to share the stories with supporters and demonstrate that they are changing the world.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Chapin, thanks for your note. Aunt Frances has taught me so much… more to come!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    You’ve nailed it, Daryn. And two-way means that a thank you note or call is just the first step!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Thanks for sharing your own experience as an Amnesty supporter, Rebecca. It’s a great model for other orgs.

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