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Aunt Frances’ Recipe for 5-Star Fundraising

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Great Aunt Frances, who passed away last year at the age of 107. Until that day, she was as warm, loving and sharp as ever. She unknowingly taught me so much, including this recipe for fundraising success that I want to share with you today.

Nancy Schwartz Nancy Schwartz

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 that is 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, 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 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 out of the city, the friendship did not. Last year, 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 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.

Just last week, as I was fine-tuning a year-end 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!

The preceding is a guest post by Nancy Schwartz, Nonprofit Marketing Problem Solver & Coach. With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits like yours develop and implement strategies to build the strong relationships that inspire your key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights — and passion — through consulting, speaking and her popular blog and e-news at

Topics: Fundraising