Aunt Frances on marketing and braised red cabbage

From the editor: Today’s guest blog is by Nancy Schwartz, a marketing pro who works with contagious passion and refreshing practicality to help nonprofit organizations connect with their people – donors, volunteers, and other key supporters – and inspire them to action. A renowned coach, speaker and consultant, Nancy also publishes the popular blog, Getting I relied on her expert advice many times when I was a nonprofit communicator and I continue to read her terrific blog.

I grew close to my wondrous Great Aunt Frances over the years I lived a few blocks from her in NYC.

Aunt Frances was a warm, loving, down-to-earth lady who’d had many life adventures and was a fantastic cook.

Her stories of life as a girl in the Bronx—where her mother stored the live fish, bought to make gefilte fish each Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath), in the bathtub overnight—were memorable. So were those she shared from her life as a young teen,, briefly-working young woman, and long-term mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. On top of that, she forced her delectable homemade cookies on me on every visit, as only a Jewish grandmother can. Who could resist?

Aunt Frances passed away at the age of 107½, and I’ll miss her greatly. But she’s left me – and so many others – with so much.

Relationships are the key

Here are three relationship-building skills I learned from Aunt Frances. You can use these to strengthen your congregation, non-profit organization or business.

1) As different as we are from one another, we also share a lot in common. Marketing success is about strong relationships, which grow from finding that commonality and nourishing it.

Aunt Frances had incredible people skills, which nurtured her huge network of friends and family. When I broke up with my long-time, live-in boyfriend years ago, she empathized as I expected. Then she launched into the story of her older sister Jean’s breakup experience, which motivated Jean to hitchhike cross-country (in the 1920s!) and, subsequently, to a career in hat design and a satisfying marriage!

She didn’t tell me there would be an upside to what felt like a disaster at the moment (I couldn’t have heard it right then) but she “got” what I was feeling, showed me the upside through this fantastic family story.

You share much with the other people in your organization. And you can, by bringing your full self (i.e. your humanity) to your organization, find that point of connection and nourish it. It’s the best way to grow a tight relationship with the people whose help you need to move your organization’s mission forward.

Keep it real

2) Stay real to keep connecting. Fake is always discovered, erodes trust and makes people flee…for good.

Aunt Frances turned down the typical old-lady role of super sweet, which would have sent me right out the door. Instead, she stayed who she was, authentic.

That meant, for example, that we had a special deal that we could complain to each other about things we felt shy complaining about to others. And that when one of us shared a personal challenge, the other frequently had one to share as well, so we felt like equals. And felt great trust.

Organizations, like individuals, have good and bad moments. Sharing those tough moments is a point of connection. If you make a mistake or error, share it (or some of it) rather than trying to hide it. Transparency builds trust. On the other hand, hiding or faking it never works, and when the truth surfaces, your supporters’ trust will be much weakened. Stay real!

It’s better to give…

3) Giving, rather than taking, is what relationship building is all about. Make sure your people (supporters, colleagues, family and friends) feel like they’re the ones getting the most from your relationship.

When I spoke with Aunt Frances to wish her a happy 107th birthday, 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 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 people (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! I’ll never forget her.