November 23, 2016 Doug Shaw

How a change in scenery can offer fresh insights in life and fundraising.

If you travel as much as I do, you need to find simple ways to reset, reorient, and refresh.

Rarely do our passionate pursuits align with our professional ones. If you happened to have discovered this elusive secret, count yourself among the fortunate few. I know I do each and every time I step into the water with my waders on and feel the cold rush of a fishing stream. In many ways it conjures up words from Walden Pond and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost . . . “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled . . .” I can think of no better way to recharge the batteries.

As the CEO of a successful fundraising consultancy, I can honestly say that the one thing that gets me up each and every day is the opportunity to attract donors and raise funds for the important ministries God has blessed us to serve. Yet in this fast-paced world we live in, being innovative, profitable, and results-focused can create an enormous amount of pressure to produce results. It’s one of the reasons I like being a fundraising and direct marketing consultant . . . the results are immediate. You know if you are successful or a complete flop almost instantaneously.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 23 years I’ve led Douglas Shaw & Associates, it’s the importance of stepping back and recharging the batteries . . . even for a day. That’s why I like fly-fishing so much. It’s portable and I can even do it in the pond behind our building!

I usually try to get out two to three weeks a year for a secluded excursion. Whenever possible, I also try to squeeze in a weekend here and there. But like all good things in life, making time for these passionate pursuits can be a challenge. There are so many things we allow to dissuade us from pursuing our outside passions. I recommend you don’t. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t come back better for the experience and brimming with some new insights.


Fly-fishing is an art form . . . from the hand-tied flies and rod selections, down to laying down a perfect cast. But it’s also a science, like simulating the kinds of bugs and creatures skimming across the surface of the water. Fishing in the right temperature is everything. If the water is too cold or too hot, fish become less active. They don’t like to waste precious energy in trivial pursuits. This requires a little patience. Teasing the fish into striking the fly. Even throwing the fly seems like a quiet meditation. Feeling the rocks under my wading boots as I traverse the stream gives me a sense that I am somehow connected to the Creator of the universe. It’s a treasure that in many ways is indescribable.

Yet being out in the field has also given me plenty of insights into the wonderful world of direct marketing and fundraising. Here are just a few:

Fish where the fish are biting. If you find your efforts aren’t producing results, you may be throwing a line in the wrong place. In the world of direct response, having a clearly defined model and profile of best responders will help you in tracking migration patterns and behaviors and ensure you are in the best position to throw a line.

Take a temperature check. Timing is everything. The conditions have to be just right, whether you are trying to land a brown trout or produce bountiful results. Testing the level of engagement and plotting optimum giving cycles will ensure that your fundraising and direct marketing initiative reach the most active and engaged people, giving you better results in any acquisition or cultivation activity.

Develop a strong hook. In fundraising, it’s the only way to land big fish. A weak one will just break off and leave you talking about the one that got away. Start by incorporating the 5 Commandments of Offer Development. You also have to be willing to test a few flies to see what’s working today. From the offer, to the carrier, right down to the extensive testing we do to optimize our clients’ results, we have found that a little experimenting can go a long way in catching more than your limit . . . even though when I fish, I practice catch and release.

So wherever your daily pursuits may lead, I hope you learn one thing from this old fly-fishing fundraiser . . .  live a life in balance. You may find like me, it’s one sure way to accomplish great things in life and in ministry.

To learn more about the 5 Commandments of Offer Development, call our office at: 630.562.1321 or email your information to and request a FREE copy of my new book The Rules of Fundraising Volume II, available January 2017.

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