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Ambassadors Can Help Us Do So Much

Grassroots Recruitment Will Be Tested With Pilot Program

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     Author and educator Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” If you aren’t familiar with her, I would encourage you to read her autobiography, The Story of My Life, or check out the movie, The Miracle Worker, where a young Patty Duke portrays Keller. Keller’s story is a remarkable journey from the isolation of being a blind and deaf child to becoming a prolific author and lecturer. The key to this transformation began with meeting her first teacher, Anne Sullivan, who through determination and persistence connected Keller to the world outside.
      For some, stamp collecting is viewed as an individual hobby where the collector is most often seen hunched over a table viewing stamps. In fact, one of the common lines I hear about stamp collectors is they prefer to be left alone with their collections. I believe anyone who is really familiar with stamp collectors knows that collectors cannot be so easily defined. As of this month, the American Philatelic Society officially turns 130 years old, and our membership remains strong, even if a bit smaller than it once was. At our present count, the membership of APS is at the same level as it was in 1972, 16 years away from reaching our peak membership of nearly 58,000 in 1988. During that period, leadership and members alike have pondered the cause and the solution to our membership changes. To some degree, it is a generational shift as the Baby Boom population ages, retires and gives way to the next generation, Generation X, roughly one-third the size. In another light, how some practice the hobby has changed, and we, like many hobby groups, struggle to keep up, particularly with technological change. While the APS represents organized philately, how we go about being organized could use some examination, and that represents the first significant change we will try to bring.
      From the beginning, the APS has been built on cooperation and community from local stamp clubs. Though some organizations have chapters as a means of locally organizing, the APS has a history of enjoying two separate, distinct entities that share a goal of promoting the hobby and serving its respective members. This model has served us well to this point and will for years to come.
      Today, there are 480 chapters around the world that have elected to join the APS. Through APS chapter membership, clubs are able to bring benefits such as library access, circuit sales, and The American Philatelist to all club members. In addition, the APS promotes chapter activities to its membership and provides some services to help clubs leverage the resources of the national organization. For a full description of club benefits or information on becoming an APS chapter, go to stamps.org/club-benefits.
      If at least one-third of a chapter’s membership is already a member of APS, that chapter enjoys a free, annual membership to the society. In 2015, 302 clubs qualified for free club memberships. That means 178 paid the full dues to belong to the APS — either because they did not meet the minimum membership requirements or simply failed to turn in the annual chapter report.
      Breaking the numbers down another way, roughly 16,600 members belong to a local stamp club. Of those individuals, 7,950 belong to APS. These numbers represent 8,650 collectors who already belong to an APS chapter but have not found a reason to join APS. Those collectors represent an immediate opportunity to market and recruit for membership.
      Today, each chapter has a liaison who receives information from the APS and represents the organization when questions come up about benefits, services, or happenings. Over time, the liaisons have been provided material, but we believe they should be better armed with information and connections to the home office in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to be the best possible recruiters available. In our Joint APS/APRL Strategic Plan, our leadership asked the Membership Committee and staff to develop an enhanced liaison program and strengthen the support we provide to local chapters.
      The Membership Committee has moved quickly to develop an Ambassadors program, allowing chapters better access to information and services from the society. At the annual StampShow in Portland, Oregon, Membership Committee Chairman Matt Liebson presented the Ambassador program to the APS Board of Directors and discussed the following with our membership:
      The ideal ambassadors are active APS members, who are willing to be and stay familiar with APS services and developments. They should be outgoing, enthusiastic, good listeners, and communicators. Most importantly, they are passionate about the society and the hobby.
      The ambassador’s mission is to bridge the gap between the chapter and the APS. Be visible and vocal about society services and benefits and represent the chapter at APS events. They will present regular society updates at each club meeting and be a messenger of good ideas and feedback to APS staff and leadership. They will facilitate the annual chapter reporting and help identify opportunities to grow the hobby and the society.
      The APS serves by designating a point of contact for questions and comments. We supply the Ambassadors with regular information, orientation and training, convening meetings online and holding an annual summit of the Ambassadors. We will also recognize the Ambassadors’ efforts at APS events with a ribbon or pin identifying them and their achievements.
      Start small and grow big. The initial round of ambassadors will begin as a pilot program of 25 from leadership, committee members, and other community leaders. We will be sending a letter to each chapter with a call to action and an invitation to participate in the start-up of this program. It is important to note each chapter chooses to participate and designates one of their best APS members for the job.
      Each chapter responds by identifying and appointing an ambassador for their club. They provide a place on the regular meeting agenda for an “APS Minute,” a chance to provide a brief update and a pitch for APS services or membership. Chapter leaders can help the ambassador provide and collect feedback from chapter members.

      Through the pilot, we will be able to identify strengths, weaknesses, and make the appropriate course corrections to make the program larger and more effective in the future. By year’s end, we will provide an update to the APS Board of Directors and the membership on progress and needs to improve the program. So, back to Helen Keller who achieved great things, but whose potential was unlocked by Anne Sullivan. The next APS member could very well be sitting next to you at your monthly stamp club meeting. The next time you go, ask if he or she belongs, and if not, find out what it would take to get them to join. Each member has an important contribution to make, not just to APS, but the hobby at large. If we want to make sure that the hobby can be sustained and serve the next generation as well as it has served you, we can only achieve it together. If you have thoughts you want to share, please feel free to contact me at scott@stamps.org.
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