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ABA rising

September 17, 2010

There have been three American Birding Association related new items that have recently been making the rounds that I think are worth noting for those still interested, random subscribers of my blog, and the odd google searchbot surfer (welcome rhythmic tooting enthusiasts, this is not about the defunct basketball organization!).  First, in nuts and bolts, the by-law committee assembled in response to concern from some in the birding community, notably Rick Wright of Aimophila Adventures who was active on the ad hoc group, as to the restrictive nature of the current by-laws has put together a series of suggested reforms that look altogether very sensible and membership driven.  Rick’s run-down of the committee’s changes are here, and I’m particularly impressed by the emphasis on keeping the membership in the loop.   One hopes that the Board respects those suggestions and moves to approve them.  The goal then, with so much responsibility given to the membership, is to encourage that membership to be active.  That difficult job will fall primarily to the new President (or Executive Director if they change the name), which is the next item.

The ABA hiring committee, consisting of three current Board members and Kenn Kaufman, who needs no introduction among birders, has been meeting with the finalists in Philadelphia this week.  Kenn has been periodically updating from the crucible on his twitter feed (side note, you should follow Kenn Kaufman on twitter), indicative of the transparency that has gone into this process, which I have to say is a sign of respect for the greater membership and is definitely appreciated.  Kenn’s involvement in this process has been heartening, as I think I can speak for the vast majority in the birding community when I say that he’s earned his reputation as a trusted advocate for our interests.  I don’t know that there’s anyone who so adeptly straddles the divide in the different ways people enjoy birding, running the gamut from dead tree field guides and physical social organizations to blogs and bird-specific smartphone apps.  I’m not just blowing smoke either.  As a practical matter that insight is invaluable for choosing someone who needs to lead an organization that should take advantage of the diverse ways people communicate about birds.  And as for the candidates themselves, while I’m only aware of three of the four, those are all pretty great; real birders and active members of our community, some even names bird bloggers would readily recognize.  I certainly don’t envy the committee for the choice they have to make, but it appears that whichever direction they go the ABA will have a really strong leader at the helm that will be poised to do some great things with the organization.

The question of whether or not anything to really move the organization forward would be possible given the dire financial straits the organization was in following Robinson’s departure was the real question of the hour, however.   That immediate worry appears to be less concerning with the recent announcement that some anonymous do-gooder dropped 100 large (.pdf) on the ABA to get itself set up nice for the next President (or Executive Director).  This is a pretty incredible turn of events, and one that shows that someone in the ABA strongly believes in what this change in leadership represents by essentially allowing the incoming president to set his agenda free of the budgetary constraints the organization was forced to operate under.  It’s an exciting development, and no doubt a weight off the shoulders of the candidates themselves.

The question of how the ABA got to this position, and especially how to prevent it from happening again, is still open and will no doubt dominate the new president’s agenda for the immediate future. But at the risk of repeating myself, these new development portend some pretty exciting opportunities for the ABA going forward.  Something that all birders, regardless of whether they’re active members, can look forward to.

  1. September 17, 2010 1:59 pm

    I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. I’d like to see who gets appointed as president and what direction the ABA takes after the appointment. There are still a variety of possible outcomes from both the appointment and by-laws revision.

  2. Nate permalink*
    September 17, 2010 2:20 pm

    @John- I can see that, but I think a lot of what we’ve seen so far from the ABA has been very productive and I’m really encouraged by it. That said, there’s always the possibility we’re slapping a new coat of paint on the same broken down frame, especially when you’re dealing with egos and personal agendas, but I’m confident given the individuals involved that that sort of stuff will be kept to a minimum.

    It’s an uphill battle to be sure, but I’m pleased with what has gone on so far.

  3. September 17, 2010 4:28 pm

    Thanks for the update Nate. I’ve been contemplating writing a post about “Why I have yet to join a birding organization?” For one, I’m cheap and poor. Secondly, the online birding community fulfills most of my birding social needs. I do enjoy the ABA Peeps updates, their checklists, etc., so I suppose I am a bit of parasite on the ABA right now. I’ve never subscribed to their publications and perhaps those are of such a quality to make membership worth it. I hope for the best in the ABA’s rebirth and perhaps I’ll be inspired to join.

  4. September 17, 2010 10:00 pm

    These are definitely encouraging steps. I think the ABA still has a role to play and is worth saving.

    Robert, that’s funny, I’ve been thinking of writing a post called “Organizations you should join – American Birding Association”. No joke. Basically, I joined in order to get Birding and Winging It. I’m cheap, too, but honestly, it’s been worth it to me. I’m hoping they find a way to make membership more relevant to birders today, but if they do, it will just be a bonus to me.

  5. September 18, 2010 3:29 pm

    I’m cautiously optimistic about recent ABA news (post-Robinson, anyway), but as a former ABA member who let my membership lapse after a couple of editors were let go, I need to see if the organization is going to make the most of this moment of reassessment to truly turn itself around before I rejoin. It would also help if I had a bit more cash to support organizations than I currently do, but that’s not ABA’s problem.

  6. Nate permalink*
    September 22, 2010 3:38 pm

    @Robert- I don’t think any birder should feel as though they have to join the ABA by fiat. The organization should make an effort to reach out to birders to the extent that you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t join, especially since you’re definitely the kind of birder the ABA should be able to attract. I think this is job one for the new president and I hope he’s up for it.

    @Grant- Making membership relevant is something nearly every non-profit is dealing with right now. That’s not an excuse though. The ABA has a built in constituency that they absolutely should be able to naturally appeal to, and I hope getting its house in order makes that easier.

    @Jennifer – I think your approach is absolutely sensible. I’m optimistic that the ABA can and will turn itself around, I think each of the candidates has the ability to do that. Whether there is the organizational momentum to make it successful remains to be seen. The next six months will be really interesting.

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