US Stamps

Contract renewal of APS executive director Scott English announced at Aug. 9 joint APS/APRL board meeting

Aug 18, 2023, 1 PM

By Charles Snee

On Aug. 9 in Cleveland, Ohio, the boards of the American Philatelic Society and American Philatelic Research Library met to hear updates from the leadership of both organizations.

Among the more important announcements made at the meeting was the renewal of APS executive director Scott English’s contract, which was set to expire Dec. 31. His new three-year contract goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024, and expires at the end of 2026.

The joint meeting came one day before the opening of Great American Stamp Show, the nation’s biggest annual philatelic extravaganza, held Aug. 10-13 at the Huntington Convention Center near the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland.

Following a welcome from APS president Cheryl Ganz to those attending in person and via the Zoom online platform, a roll call was taken.

The boards then proceeded to approve the minutes of previous meetings, with each board voting on its respective minutes. Both boards voted on the joint meeting held Nov. 3, 2022, during the Aerophilately exhibition at APS headquarters in Bellefonte, Pa. All minutes passed unanimously.

Leading off the various leadership reports was APS attorney Kathleen Yurchak, who emphasized the need to get back to reviewing and updating policies and performance metrics following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to look at what we do from a legal standpoint,” she said, noting that policies for staff retirement pensions had not been updated for decades.

Overall, things are stable in the legal arena, and there is no pending litigation, Yurchak said.

Kathy Johnson, treasurer for the APS and APRL, said that paying off the mortgage on the American Philatelic Center (home to the APS and APRL) has helped financially. But she pointed out that there are still some empty lease spaces in the building.

“We still have financial challenges,” Johnson said. She commended both organizations for good cash management and being financially prudent.

Next up to speak was Scott Tiffney, APRL librarian and director of information services for the APS.

He noted that the library’s closed stacks, which are at 75 percent capacity, were growing faster than expected due to the substantial 2021 donation of the massive research collection of philatelic historian Herbert A. Trenchard.

According to Tiffney, six of the 24 pallets of material from the Trenchard collection remain to be processed.

Thus far in 2023, the APRL has needed only 37 percent of the donations received, Tiffney reported.

Work continues on expanding the holdings in the Robert A. Mason Digital Library. Tiffany said that 39 of the 51 journals with use permissions have been digitized. Further permissions are needed for 21 journals, 13 books and 214 exhibits.

Approximately 1,000 access events are recorded each month for the Mason library, Tiffney said, with the number of unique users steadily growing.

Tiffney said that phase 2 plans for the Mason library include hiring a digital librarian, outsourcing scanning operations and improving the display and functionality of the library’s interface.

He highlighted the 13th biennial Postal History Symposium to be held Nov. 1-2, 2024, at the APRL. The gathering, with the theme “The Universal Postal Union: Connecting the World by Mail,” will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1874 Treaty of Bern that established the UPU.

Tiffney concluded his presentation with an update on an airmail exhibit scheduled to open at the American Philatelic Center in late December 2024. The interactive exhibit will feature the Hines airmail archive and Bellefonte’s role in the development of airmail, as well as stories about pilots, airplanes and airfields.

English said $5,000 has been raised for the exhibit, courtesy of the American Air Mail Society. “It should be a permanent exhibit,” English said.

English began his report by saying that “artful persuasion” from the APS board convinced him to accept a contract renewal through Dec. 31, 2026.

Since being hired in 2015, English has progressed through what he calls three phases. In phase 1, his primary task was fixing financial deficits and paying off debt. Phase 2 called for seeing the APS through the pandemic.

Now, in phase 3, English is spearheading efforts to reinvigorate the APS and make it relevant in a time when more and more collectors are interfacing with the hobby via the internet.

Membership recruitment through July 2023 stood at 919, English said, pointing out that annual dues have remained at $45 since 2008.

Overall, membership is down 1,030 from last year, and according to English, 1997 was the last year of positive membership gain.

To address this decline, English outlined several actions that are being taken, including prospecting from club memberships; the Gold Star recruiting plan in July and August, which has brought in almost double the number of new members compared to July 2022; an onboarding program for new members that launches Sept. 1; and a fall marketing campaign that is expected to meet or exceed membership totals for the second half of 2022.

English said a digital-only membership will be implemented with the 2024 dues season, which begins Nov. 1. He cited a recent poll where 24 percent of APS members and 65 percent of nonmembers would take this option.

In his review of the society’s finances, English hit on two significant contributors to expenses: postage and costs to produce the American Philatelist, the society’s monthly journal.

Display ad revenue for the journal is projected to be $410,000 for 2023. However, production and distribution costs are projected to hit almost $490,000, a noticeably higher figure because of membership decline and rising postal costs, English said.

English is particularly worried about circuit sales revenues, which are about $35,000 under budget through June of this year.

Circuit sales underwrite the society’s nonprofit activities, but 53 percent of members have never used circuit sales, according to English.

“The quality of material in circuits is not what I would like it to be,” English stated.

To turn things around, English plans to shorten the cycle of a circuit book from 18 months to 12 months, raise the minimum net value of a circuit book from the current $30 (where it has been for 18 years), and implement an educational series on circuit sales and buying.

“We do not trumpet our services well,” English said. “We think more as operators rather than marketers.”

Through the end of June, internet sales are showing about $175,000 in revenue against expenses of almost $150,000. The main reason for this positive cash flow is reduced postage costs, English asserted.

Furthermore, the flat postage rate of $5 for an internet sale has been lowered to $2.95, which has resulted in increased orders, English said.

English discussed the progress made since the APS moved its Stamp Store interface to the HipStamp online commerce website in late December 2022.

Submissions are on par with 2022, and there have been a higher number of orders, he said.

In response to criticism about using HipStamp for internet sales, English cited stability issues with the old in-house system, which was down for a total of four weeks in 2022, and a prohibitive cost of $800,000 to replace it.

Some users have complained about the difficulty of locating items (postal history, in particular) on the APS Stamp Store since it moved to HipStamp. Rather than simply adding more keywords, which English called “an inelegant solution,” the goal should be to improve the seller’s description of an item.

According to English, methods to accomplish this include expanding searchability on HipStamp to include descriptions; changing data mapping to include country, year and other details (in consultation with sellers of postal history); and implementing keywords based on necessary phrases.

To increase internet sales, English recommends improving the submission form, raising the minimum value of a listing (currently $1) to bolster quality, changing the submission period by raising the fee (currently 25¢ for two years) and extending the listing period, raising the requirement for a certificate for an item from a value of $500 to $1,000, and developing members-only benefits and/or an APS membership option at checkout.

Regarding rental income at the American Philatelic Center, English said, “We are well below where we’ve been historically, but we have no mortgage and are debt free.”

He then outlined six core values to demonstrate the society’s shared commitment to the collecting community:

“Collecting Matters: We fight for our members to collect safely by demanding strong ethics.

“Every Stamp Should Have a Purpose: We work to ensure every philatelic item is used for its highest purpose in philately through collections, research, education, or combating fraud.

“Stronger Together: We open every door to collectors. Our common interest means nothing without community.

“Through All Things, Teach: We connect the generations of knowledge to the collectors of the future.

“No Boundaries: We leverage technology to increase access within our community.

“Remain Relevant: We rise to meet the changing needs of collectors and collecting.”

English provided an overview of a strategic and business plan being assembled in conjunction with the 2024 budget.

The plan includes a review of all society departments to ensure they align with member needs; addressing technology deficits to improve accessibility; an organizational review to meet objectives; a 12-month content plan to improve education, membership promotion and community engagement; and new revenue opportunities to maintain annual membership rates.

English concluded his presentation with an update on the philatelic estate of Alfred F. “Al” Kugel (1930-2022), which was donated to the APS.

Release of the material required an appraisal, which was completed Aug. 1. That appraisal valued Kugel’s philatelic material and literature at $1.8 million.

English said invitations to bid would be sent out after the Great American Stamp Show.

Probable bidders include (but are not limited to) Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions, Schuyler Rumsey Philatelic Auctions, the Global Philatelic Network and Cherrystone Philatelic Auctioneers, English said.

Final approval of a bidder by the APS board is scheduled for Oct. 19.

According to English, proceeds from the sale of the Kugel estate will support the APS Joint Capital Fund, maintenance of the American Philatelic Center and investment to close technology gaps.

Following English’s presentation, the APS and APRL boards addressed a number of proposals.

A significant proposal from the APRL board called for the establishment of a third contribution tier to the APRL Endowment Fund. That tier, at a donation level of $10,000, is named the “Dr. Kenneth B. Grant Circle of Friends.”

The Grant circle, which the APRL board approved unanimously, is named for the former APRL president who died March 31 at age 75.

The APS board approved the Arizona Federation of Stamp Club’s request to suspend its World Series of Philately status for the Aripex show.

A proposal from the APS board, which passed unanimously, establishes two donation tiers for the Tiffany Endowment Fund: the John K. Tiffany Donor ($1,000 to the Tiffany Fund) and the Janet R. Klug Fellowship ($5,000 over five years to the Tiffany Fund). Klug, the first woman to serve as APS president, died June 16 at age 72.

Finally, the APS board unanimously approved English’s proposal to establish the William L. “Bill” Welch Jr. Award to recognize “excellence in multipart contributions” to the American Philatelist spanning more than one year. The award is to be given once every three years.

The APS is the nation’s largest organization serving stamp collectors. Additional information and a membership application are available on the APS website.

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