How to Change the World, One Fun Weekend at a Time

This article was published as a feature in Parachutist Magazine, December 2011 issue. Skydiving changes our lives, and in turn we can use skydiving to change the world. As beginners, we look at the open airplane door and the blue sky outside, perhaps wondering for an instant why this seemed like a good idea. One or two exits later, some of us begin to fall in love with the relative wind, the feeling of being on the outside of a plane at altitude, the challenge, the community. For those who keep coming back, the time and financial investment to get licensed can seem selfish at first. But many of us are also inspired to share our risk-taking journeys in meaningful ways—we want to make a difference while doing what we love.

Planning a skydiving event to raise money and awareness for a good cause can be both manageable and rewarding. Events that include a world record or multiple specialty aircraft may require you to recruit a team with professional organizational experience (e.g., Jump for the Cause, which set multiple women’s world records and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for breast cancer research). However, smaller events often have the most local impact on both the public’s perception of our sport and a deserving project (e.g., community-based group Team Dirty Sanchez has given away hundreds and even thousands of dollars through grassroots fundraising).To help with your next charity shindig, here are some basic guidelines to create an epic weekend.

Preparation

Choose a beneficiary. The charity you donate to should be a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. This means that donations are tax-deductible, which is often an incentive for both individuals and businesses to be more generous. It also signifies that the organization complies with local and national regulations on spending your contribution. If possible, meet with a local representative of the organization and let him know of your plans. Consider the impact of a small donation. There are cases in which a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars could make a bigger difference to a smaller, local group than a large national or international one. Check your potential beneficiary’s financials and history with a website like Charity Navigator.

Plan ahead and set dates. Leave plenty of time to contact sponsors, advertise, print T-shirts and posters and attract any vendors you would like to invite. Be aware of and sensitive to other major skydiving events to avoid creating scheduling conflicts.

Shape your event. Choose a theme or a goal that will define the event. State records can be both fun and a draw for local media and jumpers. A themed boogie geared toward fun jumpers can involve costumes, games and contests. A friendly competition can also draw skydivers to participate. If you want to involve first-time jumpers, ask the drop zone to contribute a portion of the proceeds from every tandem skydive and tandem video to your chosen charity.

Advertise. Calendar listings in most publications are free, including Parachutist (a handy form can be found here), Blue Skies Magazine, dropzone.com and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Print publications usually need notification far in advance of the event (at least 45 days) to accommodate publication deadlines. Where appropriate, include a link with directions, costs, registration and other important information. Think ahead about frequently asked questions, and when appropriate, provide as much information as possible about local airports, hotels, car rental, shared rides from the airport, aircraft, load organizers, cost of attendance and schedule.

Recruit and communicate with your team. Skydivers are an amazing resource—you’ll find music makers, fire spinners, ice carvers, belly dancers, artists and designers, among many other talents. Ask for volunteers, and be ready to delegate responsibility and offer opportunities to participate. Secure skydiving organizers ahead of time to let them market your event at other drop zones they may visit and through social networks. Build trust with manifest ahead of time, and make sure to keep drop zone staff and all relevant people informed of and involved in scheduling and plans. If you need to gather information such as how many people will attend, consider an online registration form.

Execution

Parking and signage. Create space for anticipated parking needs, and make signs and graphics directing new jumpers and visitors to important landmarks on the drop zone: registration, restrooms, etc.

Handouts are useful to disseminate DZ rules, landing area maps and a schedule of events. Do you have a separate event waiver? A media release? Make enough copies for the weekend.

Goodie bags are a nice way to give out T-shirts, free vendor goodies and safety and convenience items such as rubber bands, closing loops and the above-mentioned handouts.

photo

Communication may require speakers, a megaphone or a sound system. These should be installed before the event if possible.

Media. If you have invited media to attend the event, give them a place to plug in and work, file stories and conduct interviews. A team room or even a tent with electrical outlets available will do. When handling media, create talking points, offer press releases and cover the basics: who, what, where, when and why. If there is an incident, do not speculate about it, and keep on point. Overall, remember that nothing is off the record. On the ground. Appoint ground managers in shifts to handle miscellaneous issues such as coordinating volunteers, dealing with media and directing the flow of people and traffic. This person can also be a liaison to get feedback throughout the event. Don’t just wait until the end; try to make adjustments in real time.

Safety. The bigger and more hectic

the event, the greater the need for a system for tracking jumpers that may have landed off; the greater the need for wristbands to keep track of registered jumpers and to ensure that party-goers are of drinking age; and the greater the need for a rig checking and tagging system at registration.

Educate jumpers about landing patterns, especially if you have more or bigger aircraft than on a usual weekend. You may want to have printed signs on view in the hangar or boarding area and handouts to give people as they register and appoint someone to watch the landing area to deal with problems as they arise.

It’s the little things. Make sure portable toilets are clean; offer hand sanitizer; sweep the outdoor packing mat; have snacks available for staff and organizers. On a hot day, free water can prevent dehydration. For early-morning calls, coffee will help fill loads.

Follow-Up

Clean up. Simple: Leave everything in better condition than you found it. Make sure you have a crew of volunteers willing to help even after the fun is over. The importance of clean up cannot be overstated; it makes a huge difference to how the event is perceived after the fact. If the drop zone is trashed, there won’t be a lot of enthusiasm the next time you want to plan an event.

Post-event media. Spend the same amount of time writing a few articles or blog entries as you did advertising.

Kick Back, Do Good, Enjoy! There really is something about this sport. We forge bonds across social and economic lines. We risk our lives for the view from altitude, for the way we feel when we walk back into work on Monday morning after grinning at our friends in mid-air as the weekend sun goes down.

So give a little slice of your adrenaline-fueled joy to change someone’s life. Educate a child. Build a school. Cure cancer. Make your next event a fundraiser for a worthy cause. Spend a day volunteering with jump buddies near your drop zone. Organize a tandem jump for someone who dreams of flying but could never afford it otherwise. Then, kick back and discover that all those good things you just did also contribute to positive media coverage and the growth of skydiving, which means more friends, more play time and more open sky to explore.

About the Authors Taya Weiss, D-27874, and Eli Bolotin, D-27345, are co-founders of skydiving non-profit Raise the Sky. With their team, they have planned and organized charity fundraising events including the U.S. Record for Largest Wingsuit Formation, Project XRW and the tonto Boogie.