Trout, like donors, spend their days filtering information.

Fish are always alert, looking above and below the surface, watching what passes by in the river. In fact, I imagine that a trout's thought process looks like this:

Not food... Not food... Not food... Hooray! That looks like food!

So, when an angler casts a line - and the trout thinks that might be food - the angler has successfully attracted the fish's attention.


Humans are exposed to thousands of messages each day. By a recent estimate, every adult receives enough content to fill 174 newspapers. Every single day.

Like a fish and their potential food sources, your donors are sorting through all kinds of messages. That includes your nonprofit's emails, appeals, newsletters, and annual reports.

Donors decide quickly what deserves their attention.


Consider what's in your own mailbox. Does your own mental mail sort look like this?

Not important... Not important... Not important... Ahhh, this might be interesting!

Tom Ahern often reminds fundraisers that our job is to get our donor communications into the "this might be interesting" stack.


The successful angler knows it's not enough just to cast something that simply looks like "any" food to a fish.

For instance, there are plenty of dry flies (artificial lures) that look real, like grasshoppers and salmon flies.

A novice angler might be tempted to use a salmon fly. It's big and easy to see on the river. And trout love them... when they hatch in the spring.

But, in Montana - in August - trout want 'hoppers.

Similarly, donors want what they want. And all too often, that's not what nonprofits give them.

Too many nonprofits share information that's important (and interesting) to the nonprofit - but it's neither important nor especially interesting to the donor.

There's a difference in what donors really want to hear and how most nonprofits talk to their donors.


In fishing and fundraising, what you like, personally, really doesn't matter. In both cases, you want to do what works - if you want to be successful.

That said, what works in fundraising communications is counterintuitive to most people. (And that's why lots of nonprofit folks don't like it... but donors LOVE it!)

Fly fishermen know that, to catch trout, you want to "match the hatch." That is, use flies and attractants that match whatever the fish are feeding on at that moment in time.

Fishing is easier when you have the right set-up, on the right river, at the right time of day. Do that, and you'll catch more fish.

Similarly, fundraising is easier when you get the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Do that, and you'll get more donors.


Remember, there are plenty of fish (and donors) in the proverbial sea.

You can catch - and keep - more of both when you follow the AIDA model. (attention - interest - desire - action)

Photo credit(s): Robert Rhodes

Need help writing donor communications that get attention? And get results? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

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