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Build Strong & Lasting Relationships -- A Case Study

Our daughter, Charlotte, is away at Camp Harlam for 3 1/2 long weeks this summer. It’s her second time, and our pleasure in relaxed evenings and quiet weekend mornings is punctuated by severe pangs of missing her.

Most evenings we can quiet our pangs by going to the private website where photos from the day are posted. Charlotte frequently shows up in a photo or two, and we can get a sense of what she’s up to and how much she’s enjoying it (or not). I can’t tell you the pleasure we got when we spotted the biggest smile ever after she had completed the ropes course last week. We’re really getting to feel like part of the Camp Harlam family.

Harlam does a great job of building our relationship in a natural way from the moment we shared our interest in registering Charlotte for the summer. I urge your organization to do the same, from the moment you first connect with folks who show interest as participants, supporters, clients, partners and/or volunteers and actively throughout the course of your relationship—BETWEEN your asks. Here’s how:

Nancy Schwartz Nancy Schwartz

1) Making Friends—Warm and interested welcome at the first expression of interest through taking action:When I first signed up for more information last year, I was immediately welcome by a warm and personal email series. Harlam jumped on my interest at the moment of and kept the conversation going. I quickly developed a sense of connection to and comfort in the camp’s personality and values.

2) Joining the Family—Joyous embrace once we took action: Registration triggered an even more enthusiastic and personal welcome, and a series of countdown-to-arrival emails building excitement and calming worries. Every possible question was answered and we were invited to contact camp staff at any time with additional questions or concerns. The door was kept wide open, a great strategy for developing confidence on the part of your people.

3) Family Reunion—From the moment of arrival at camp (second action): From the moment we joined the line of cars for drop off this year, we were loudly “welcomed home” by counselors who lined the driveway to herald our arrival. As a first-time camper last year, Charlotte was welcomed especially enthusiastically, which thrilled her. And this year’s welcome was super strong as well. Corny as this may sound, it was really meaningful.

Our lengthy wait to get in and then for the health check was mitigated by the visits of various staff members to our car. They were staffing the lines and using this opportunity to answer questions, meet families and campers and generally spread the love. It worked!

Ever since that moment, we’ve been active members of the Camp Harlam family via:

  • Daily photos—We get to share Charlotte’s experiences (don’t tell her, but I don’t check in every day!)
  • Facebook posts—Give us the bigger picture of activity in other units of camp, and what’s coming up next. I remember how Alumni Day was Facebooked on last year—we really got the feel of the day through photos and comments.
  • Videos with can’t-help-but-get-into it corny music and memorable stories—As a passionate alumna of overnight camp, these make me feel like I’m reliving my camp experience. Even my husband, who didn’t do overnight camp, loves these. And Charlotte watched last year’s videos again and again during the school year.
  • Blog posts—Dig into the meaning behind camp traditions such as alumni day (Harlam is a Jewish camp) and update families on camp news.

Thanks to the steady stream of Harlam love, we felt a part of it all very quickly, and just get more bonded over time.

4) Staying Close—Keeping in touch between actions (donations or summers): As I anticipated, Harlam kept in close touch with us throughout the school year. This is just the same kind of relationship building you want to keep going between your asks!

How do you strengthen ties throughout the course of your organization’s relationships with supporters, participants, partners and others? Please share your approach or your questions in the comments below!

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P.P.S. Harlam takes a cue itself, from the world of higher ed, in shaping campers as dedicated alumni before they are finished their camp experience. By placing the current camp experience in the context of the camp’s 55-year-old history (emphasized by bringing in the alumni during camp,) campers see that Harlam is an experience that remains important for years to come.

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 insight— and passion — through consulting, speaking and her popular blog and e-news at

Topics: Communications