I watched the fishermen casting for steelhead along the banks of the Sandy River.  The hooks on their rods featured a colorful array of eggs, lures and flies.

Some of the rods bobbed up and down on occasion. Others stayed quiet and unbending as the winter waters rushed by.

To me, the whole scene symbolized the essence of creating a successful nonprofit donor letter.

Simply put, it's all in the appeal.

When you think like your prospect, you hold the power to create the right attraction.

Back to the analogy here: why does a 27-pound steelhead salmon gravitate toward the gold flash of a lure versus the red and yellow tails of a fly?

This is something you or your writer needs to know before a Word doc ever gets opened to craft that fundraising letter.

Do research.  (And if you haven't done any recent focus groups with your donors, clients or partners, we can help with that.)

What matters to your existing donor base? Are there any specific examples? Inquire of your staff what they hear at your organization's events and gatherings.

Are there specific outcomes to talk about? Have you made significant social impact with data to back it up? Can you show your prospect what kind of return comes about from their giving?

To stay with this analogy, cast, cast and cast out again until something takes a good...strong...bite.

Undoubtedly, it's emotional, balanced with some logical.

That's what moves we humans to action.

As certain as the Sandy river flows day and night, every nonprofit has its own "unique" appeal.

When that appeal is found, it can be the Holy Grail for consistently funding your programs and services. When not, it can be as elusive as that 27-pounder that got away.