I’d like to add one more voice to the chorus of thoughts and observations offered recently in discussions about the ABA on the Web and through the BirdChat listserv.
I come to the discussion from a different perspective. My name is Jann Dorothy. I am a decades-long recreational birding enthusiast. Some of you may know me as BirdGalAlcatraz on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not a scholar, nor a scientist. I don’t have a lengthy life list. But I may well represent the vast majority of birding enthusiasts – a sizeable number – who do not have a history with the ABA. And I believe that these people hold the key to the ABA’s future. It’s pretty simple; one just needs to do the math.
Hundreds of heartfelt and well-reasoned observations have been made public over the last few weeks from both notable and not-so- well-known voices in the birding community. This is a summary of the recurrent themes:
• The ABA has had a long and distinguished history, but also has had its share of missteps. Some people fear for the future of the organization.
• There is a deep well of pride and nostalgia for the ABA. But there is concern that in today's fast-moving world, competition from Internet venues and other recreational pursuits for the same dollar presents challenges to the idea of “membership."
• There seems to be a lack of consensus of the ABA’s mission: recurring conservation vs. recreation discussions that are inherently circular. Mission creep often hampers organizations where such discussions can become dominant.
While many have expressed ideas about what the ABA should do in the future, few have felt qualified to offer thoughts on how it should do so. That’s why the ABA is seeking a new president. And, I believe Kenn Kaufman is to be commended for offering his service to the ABA’s Search Committee and for reaching out to the community for input and ideas.
From my perspective as one who’s had a long career in management and marketing, here are a few thoughts on how the ABA might get back on track.
• Re-engage and re-grow membership. First and foremost, steps need to be taken to stem the tide of membership loss and begin to build numbers again. This is the ABA’s principal source of revenue. It has to be secured or all other strategies are moot.
• Leverage core strengths in targeted ways that serve membership growth. These include Birding magazine and Birder’s Exchange, as well as recognizing the importance and contributions of the ABA's professional staff.
• Evaluate ways in which board service and member contributions can be broadened. Internal and external communications should be strengthened and roles re-examined.
• Redefine the ABA’s strategic plan and aggressively promote a comprehensive marketing agenda. This should incorporate a vibrant marketing communications plan that integrates membership, marketing and fundraising, and effectively employs both traditional and new media technologies.
Some would like the ABA to become more like the NRA or Ducks Unlimited, primarily a political advocacy model. I happen to agree that no organization can represent birding advocacy in the way the ABA can.
However, redirecting ABA’s mission is a long term aspiration. ABA’s shorter term focus must be upon driving member growth to stabilize itself or such larger goals are unattainable.
The road ahead is not an easy one, but I concur there’s a role for the ABA to play in today’s crowded marketplace. The organization occupies a niche that effective branding and positioning can successfully exploit, and I hope the board of the ABA chooses a leader who can make that happen.