US Stamps

By Charles Snee

Will a new executive director reverse APS membership decline?

January 31, 2014 08:18 AM

Last week we reported that the American Philatelic Society is seeking a new executive director.

Ken Martin, the current director, was offered and has accepted — contingent on the hiring of his replacement — the position of APS chief operating officer.

In an open letter to the membership that was published Jan. 21 on the society’s website, stamps.org, APS president Stephen Reinhard laid out the case for bringing in new leadership.

Reinhard wrote that since 2009: “There has been a continued annual net loss of around 1,000 members. During this time, the Society moved too slowly in developing membership services innovations and in responses to numerous other challenges that it has faced. Clearly, continuing down this path is unsustainable and inaction would be irresponsible for an elected Board charged with guiding the organization into the future.”

An analysis of APS membership numbers, which can be tracked via the updates published in American Philatelist, clearly shows that membership decline has been steeper than Reinhard indicates.

The net loss of approximately 1,000 APS members holds for the months of July 2013 through November 2013, compared to the same months in 2012, as reported in the American Philatelist. Keep in mind that the membership updates are two months behind the cover date of the magazine.

During the past five years or so, the drop in APS membership has been closer to 7,400, not 5,000.

In the November 2008 report, membership was 40,012. The November 2013 report showed membership at 32,586, for a five-year loss of 7,426.

In January 1990, membership in the American Philatelic Society stood just north of 57,700.

As of November 2013, the latest date for which figures were available as of press time, the APS roster showed almost 32,600 members.

This represents a drop of 56 percent during the past 23 years.

There is one bright spot, but it comes with a caveat.

Since 1996, life membership in the APS has grown from almost 3,900, to about 5,500. This is great, but the downside is that these life members no longer pay the annual dues of $45.

If these trends continue, the APS could lose almost 15,000 more members during the next decade.

One thing is clear: a future APS comprising 17,600 members will not be able to offer the breadth of programs and services without a substantial boost in financial support.

Even former president Wade Saadi recently acknowledged the unfavorable direction. In his president’s column in the March 2013 American Philatelist, he wrote: “At our current rate of decline, we will be down to 13,250 members in the year 2030, if nothing changes and the membership decline continues.”

Whomever the APS hires to augment Ken Martin will have a monumental task to accomplish: reverse a decline in membership that has proceeded apace for more than two decades, despite the best efforts of the society’s staff and many of its members.

Doing so will mean working against stiff headwinds in the form of negative demographic trends: longtime collectors are dying faster than they are being replaced by new ones.

Some will counter that stamp collectors have always been older, on average. True enough, but never before have there been so many other pursuits that vie for our time and attention, regardless of age.

And let’s not forget the precipitous worldwide decline in the use of stamps in the mail, once the cheapest way to acquire stamps and start a collection. It’s hard to collect something that once was ubiquitous but now is almost hidden from view.

How might a new executive director turn around the membership slide?

Although Reinhard and other APS board members have not explicitly said so thus far, there is no doubt that the new executive director almost certainly will be tasked with raising substantial amounts of money for the society via donations and other means.

Interestingly, the report of the November 2013 APS Leadership Retreat (available online at http://stamps.org/userfiles/file/reports/APS_Retreat_Nov9.pdf) states that “there should be a professional fundraising department with sufficient resources and a plan to raise funds to support the annual and special needs of the APS.”

The report also says that “there is no fundraising function at the staff level and the board has not been supported in their volunteer fundraising efforts.”

For some odd reason, the report plays down familiarity with the hobby as a key component for a potential fundraiser: “It is not necessary to find a candidate for the fundraising position from within the stamp collecting world or with prior knowledge of stamp collecting. It is most critical to find a candidate with the skills and personality to be successful and who is willing and curious to learn about stamp collecting.”

We disagree.

The APS already went down that path with former executive director Peter Mastrangelo, who had substantial fundraising experience with United Way but was not a stamp collector.

The challenges ahead for the APS are acute. Let’s hope the new executive director will come to the table with the skills in hand to meet them head on.