Building a Strong Team

Posted on 12/01/2020

J. Charles Plumb was a jet fighter pilot in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. On his 76th combat mission, his plane was shot down. After ejecting from the plane and parachuting into enemy territory, he spent the next six years as a prisoner of war. Years later, after he had returned to the United States, he was with his wife at a restaurant when a stranger approached. To his surprise, the stranger recognized him as the former prisoner of war. When Plumb asked him how he knew who he was, the man replied, “I packed your parachute!”

After their conversation, Plumb spent a lot of time thinking about that man who had packed his parachute (and the parachutes of many others) from a wooden table at the bottom of an aircraft carrier. He thought about how he had probably seen his colleague many times but that he had just never noticed him. After all, Plumb was a pilot and the man was just a sailor. Little did he know that this man would save his life—simply by doing his job well.

The importance of teamwork can be easy to overlook. Whether you’re a pilot in the middle of a military crisis or an annual giving professional working on behalf of an educational institution, the fact is that everyone has an important role to play. Building a strong team has less to do with recruiting superstars and more to do with getting everyone to do their jobs well. This involves a commitment to your team members and to each member’s professional development.

As you think about developing yourself or your team, keep in mind that educational institutions come in many shapes and sizes—large, small, private, public, primary, secondary, centralized and decentralized. Each institution has its own unique needs and challenges when it comes to staff growth. For example, a small school with fewer employees might be able to offer staff the chance to learn and do many different tasks. However, it might also lack financial resources, and opportunities for career advancement may arise less frequently. In contrast, a larger organization may have more financial resources and be able to offer opportunities for career advancement more frequently. However, it might also be hamstrung by its size and complexity.

Regardless of the type of institution, many resources are available to help annual giving professionals with their professional development. Conferences, webinars, books, blogs or simply talking with colleagues can help you broaden your understanding of the field and learn new skills. One of the common challenges many annual giving professionals face, however, is in knowing what to focus on at various stages in their career. The skills required to be successful in your first few years in the field are vastly different from those required to lead a program. What’s more, determining how to best advance your own career is an important, but too often neglected, skill. Helping individuals to develop competencies and talents that are relevant to their roles and career stages is an essential part of building a strong team. And annual giving is a team sport, after all.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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