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What you can do for the ABA

October 8, 2010
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Earlier this week the American Birding Association announced the news that many in the birding community have been eagerly awaiting.  The new President of the beleaguered organization, the new captain of the listing ship, is Jeff Gordon, ace birder, writer, photog, blogger (!), and all-around great guy.  If the near instantaneous outpouring of support on myriad social networks and blogs in the wake of the announcement is any indication of the kind of passion and excitement people are feeling about the ABA these days, then the organization is in very good hands indeed.

It barely needs to be said that any elation in Jeff’s hiring shouldn’t be taken as a slight to the other three final candidates who are, to an individual, super birders, educators and spokespeople for our avocation, but I believe that Jeff has several traits that make him uniquely suited to this particular position and a vision to make the ABA the organization that we all want to see.  I’ve never met Jeff personally, but in response to some of the things I’d written about the ABA and its problems over the last few months he contacted me and we had a couple of nice conversations.  I think the fact that he was so eager to engage with anyone with a unique take on the organization’s future, no matter where they might have come from, was impressive and I appreciate the time he took to chat.

All said, Jeff, no doubt, still has a difficult job ahead of him.  The ABA has suffered from a general organizational ennui over the last decade or so, losing the support of many avid birders once within its ranks and not doing much to encourage the membership of birders new to the scene.  As such, membership in what is generally considered to be the premier organization of field birders in the continent, if not the world, has undergone a slow decline over the years.  Overcoming that downward slide is no easy task but I think it is clear, or will become clear in short order now, that the organization has a leader who, along with a dedicated, passionate, and able staff, is very much up to the task.

The focus should now turn to the organization as a whole.  The new president is a hugely positive move, but any organization is only as good as its membership and this one is not out of the woods just yet.  In order for the ABA to become the organization we all want it to be and know it can become it needs our help.  Fortunately, that path is not a difficult one to travel and I’d echo Rob Fergus and encourage any of my readers to please consider the following:

1) Join the ABA: There’s no time like the present!  Birders have long needed a single voice in the way that so many other environmental and social organizations have used to advance their policy interests and the ABA offers a ready-made infrastructure for just that.  Not to mention the great opportunity to be part of a community of people who enjoy birding as much as you do, which is no small thing.  If you’ve been considering joining the organization but have been waiting to see how this presidency thing plays out, take it from me, this is an important time for the ABA and there’s no excuse not to jump in at this point.  So get to it!

2) Give a gift membership: The whole point of the ABA is to bring birders together.  So if there’s someone out there who you think may benefit from a membership, a young birder who might devour Birding and Winging It or a family member who wouldn’t join otherwise, go ahead and do it for them.  I have a standing Father’s Day gift of an ABA membership to my dad every year.  End of the year holidays are coming up and it’s a gift that gives all year round.

3) Donate a little extra: The ABA’s financial issues are significant, and even though an anonymous donor ponied up $100,000 to help, Jeff’s agenda may be limited by the financial crater left by his predecessor.  I don’t want to see this happen and you shouldn’t either.  That’s why when I heard that Jeff had been tapped to lead I went to the website and donated $25.  The ABA does a lot of wonderful things; their youth initiatives are fantastic, Birder’s Exchange might be the best thing the ABA has ever done. You can donate specifically to these programs or make a general donation, but the bottom line is that if you are a current member and you feel good about this decision and what it means for the direction of the organization, back it up with a little something extra.  It doesn’t have to be much, heck, I don’t have much, but I believe in the ABA’s mission and Jeff’s ability to accomplish it.  Tthe ABA should know that there are birders out there that feel the same way, despite all its problems, and that we want Jeff to be able to do the things we know he’s capable of.

4) Follow and participate in the ABA blog: This one goes out to my bird blogger colleagues.  It’s no secret that the ABA hasn’t always been the best with member outreach and has been somewhat slow to take advantage of the social media revolution.  No more.  Not only is the new president a legit bird blogger, tweeter, and facebooker, but some members of the ABA staff, as well as some impressive volunteers, have thrown themselves at the mercy of the intertubes where they hope to reach out to and regularly communicate with the membership.  I heartily endorse this move and look forward to seeing where it goes; I may even get to write a bit on it in some capacity.  So bloggers, do what you do.  Link, comment, digg, tweet, all that jazz.  If what is on there now is any indication, this will be a really great addition to the nature blogosphere.

In short, while all of the excitement about where the ABA is heading and what will come out of this period of reflection is entirely justified, we’re not through yet.  But what has been clear in these many months is that there are birders out there who want the ABA to succeed and that the Board and Staff have been willing to listen to them.  There’s life returning, and despite the remaining uncertainty I honestly can’t think of a more positive outcome than that.

One thing is very clear however, as birders, longtime ABA members, newbies, or active followers in this saga, Jeff Gordon deserves our enthusiastic support.  And it’s a very nice thing that it doesn’t feel like you have to strain to give it either.

So good luck, Jeff.  I’m definitely pulling for you.

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12 Comments
  1. Ted Floyd permalink
    October 8, 2010 11:09 am

    “Captain of the listing ship”–Love it! Nate, was that intentional? If so, brilliant. In any event, yes, that’s something the ABA absolutely has to address. We’re workin’ on it…

  2. October 8, 2010 12:23 pm

    Thanks Nate. And for the record, I would have hired you as an ABA bird blogger given the chance 🙂

  3. Nate permalink*
    October 8, 2010 12:33 pm

    @Ted- Totally inadvertent, though I wish I could take credit! Something about the ABA just screams listing I guess.

    @Rob- Ah man, you’re killing me over here. 😉

  4. October 9, 2010 4:09 am

    Nate—

    I can’t thank you enough for your words of support (and your donation to ABA, but I’ll get to that in second). Of me becoming ABA president, of course, but even more of ABA itself. As you note, and as I said in my remarks to the participants in ABA’s Go Bird! Providence event the night before last, any of the four finalists (and 2 of the 3 others have already commented above!) in the president search would have been greeted with a similar outpouring of well wishes.

    I think people want me to succeed, of course, and hearing from so many has been absolutely thrilling. But what I think people really want is for ABA to not only succeed, but to flourish because they see the organization as the best hope for the North American birding community to become bigger, more diverse, more connected, more vital, more fun, better educated, more effective, and better represented in the media and with various policy and decision making groups and bodies.

    As I’ve said to you before, Nate, in our conversations on and offline, you are owed a huge, huge debt of gratitude by the ABA for your work in opening and advancing the conversation about our future in the past several months. I love the fact that you may be doing some writing for the just-launched ABA blog. I also will be in touch soon to get your input about ABA’s overall social media strategy.

    You’ve quite publicly indicated an interest in working with us and I want to explore that. No promises, of course—I’m not even officially in the job yet and won’t be until November 1. But rest assured that your efforts are greatly appreciated. I want to make certain that we have the benefit of your talents going forward and that you continue to feel that your voice is being heard and your support and input noted and valued by the organization.

    Speaking of that support, your financial contribution, and even more key, your willingness to talk about the fact that you’ve made it, are just wonderful. Precisely what ABA needs right now. Thank you so, so much.

    I look forward to talking more soon. Keep in touch.

    Good birding,

    Jeff

  5. October 9, 2010 2:24 pm

    Have never wanted to join before. Perhaps I will now. Good post.

    • October 9, 2010 11:07 pm

      I’ve never cared to join, either, until now. Thanks for a wonderful post, Nate. Jeff is a gem.

  6. Nate permalink*
    October 10, 2010 1:19 pm

    @Jeff – I couldn’t agree more with your first two paragraphs and I think you’ve gotten to the heart of it. People want the ABA to succeed because if it had failed it will have been an enormous missed opportunity to really make a positive impact for birders and birds. For that reason alone, this enthusiasm has been amazing and I hope you’re able to sustain it to build a better ABA.

    As for my personal future with the ABA, if the possibility of working with you can be arranged, that would be very exciting and something I would very seriously consider. That said, please don’t think I expect anything to that end, I worried a bit that the “ABA, hire me” post would be taken as self-aggrandizing and that’s not my nature or how I wanted it to be perceived even if the sentiment was genuine. Regardless of what happens, I continue to be a supporter of the organization and its staff and will do whatever I can in whatever capacity I’m in. That much is certain.

    @Kathie & Mary- Thanks! I do hope you join, I think we have a great opportunity here and I’m looking forward to seeing where Jeff and the rest of the staff takes it.

  7. October 10, 2010 2:00 pm

    Thanks Nate. Those of us on the board of the ABA greatly appreciate your comments. We are lucky to have Jeff Gordon leading us now but he needs all members of ABA to help in the coming year. There is so much to do and the load will be a lot lighter if we do it together; the first thing is to join or re-join ABA. As a group we can be a voice for birds, birders,(old and young), conservation and education. There is nothing like ABA in the world today. Let’s make the most of it.

  8. Nate permalink*
    October 10, 2010 2:10 pm

    @Jane- Couldn’t agree more! The Board has taken a bit of a pounding of late, but they definitely deserve credit for addressing their own weaknesses in the wake of a difficult time and making a move that hopefully will set the organization on a sustainable path to the benefit of all the continent’s birders.

  9. October 11, 2010 6:02 am

    “Listing ship” almost had me spill my coffee over my desk – absolutely brilliant, inadvertend or not – best line I’ve read in a long, long time.

    I can’t be the only one who was constantly asking himself not what the ABA can do for me but what I can do for the ABA while reading the article?
    😉

  10. October 12, 2010 3:26 pm

    Nate, thanks for the great post. Introduced recently to birding (3-4 years ago) I have to admit I never felt the need to join the ABA. After all, the local Audubon Society (and email list) provided me with all the social networking and field trips I was craving.

    Furthermore, Ebird allowed me to contribute, in my own and very modest way, to the scientific knowledge of birds, and, let’s be honest about it, gave me a way to measure, compare, and post the results of the competitive birder I am (and I don’t have to wait the ABA annual report to look for results).

    So, really, I don’t NEED to be a member to the ABA. But the quality of its publications (should they really be 100% available online for free? what’s about only partially?), and your enthousiasm (as well as Kenn Kaufman’s) for the ABA will definitly give me some second thoughts about it.

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