Dear Fundraiser: Who’s Packing Your Parachute?

I once heard the story of Charles Plumb, a U.S. Navy pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Vietnamese prison.  He survived the ordeal and eventually returned home to the U.S.

Years later as Charles Plumb and his wife dined in a restaurant, a man approached their table and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”

Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Today, Captain Plumb uses his wartime experience as a motivational speaker. He shares that throughout his ordeal in Vietnam, he needed many kinds of parachutes. The physical parachute allowed him to survive the ejection from his plane, but he also needed mental, spiritual, and emotional parachutes to survive his internment and to thrive after it.

This story comes to mind when I think about you, dear fundraising friends, and the current giving climate.

The downturn in giving seemed to stabilize by the end of 2019, but mid-level donors are still disappearing. The silver lining is that there were slight upticks in reactivating lapsed donors and donor retention levels didn’t change much in either direction.

That trend continued through December 31. Your own year-end results may have fallen short of previous years. You might be scratching your head trying to make sense of it all.

It’s clear we’re working in new territory, as donors recalibrate their giving in response to the political and economic environment. But trust me when I say the sky isn’t falling. How do I know?  Because I’ve fundraised through the October 1997 stock market mini-crash, a burst of the dot-com bubble, and the 2008 recession. I’ve been in your shoes.

What I’ve learned from fundraising in downturns is that we can’t keep doing things the way we always have. That no longer works. Shaking things up is a must.

So I ask you: “Who’s packing your parachute?”

I believe 2020 can be the year you Power Up Your Fundraising, meeting new realities head-on and emerging stronger than ever. And I’m here to help.

Each month this year, in a series of practical, action-oriented tips and resources you can put to work in your organization right now, I’ll invite you to challenge your assumptions and open your fundraising practice to new inspiration.

To kick off the New Year, let’s start at the very beginning. A goal without a plan is just a wish, after all. And whether you are just starting your fiscal year or are already well into your fundraising, now’s the moment to pause and map where you’re headed – and how to get there.

Here’s a collection of trusty tools to guide your planning: Development Plan E-Guide, Template, & Webinar Recording

Ready to Power Up Your Fundraising? I’m with you. And you’ve got this!

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