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Melding Technology and the Hobby

Modern Stamp Glossary: Platform, Video, Website,
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     O ur 32nd president and fellow stamp collector, Franklin D. Roosevelt, once said, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” In his time in the White House, he faced not only The Great Depression, but the Axis powers in World War II. Although not every step was the best one, the result of both efforts proved successful.

     Our peak year of membership was 1988, when the American Philatelic Society had more than 56,000 members. Since then, our membership has declined on average of roughly 1,000 a year. Yes, there were years where we gained members and others where the decline was much steeper, but the trend is the same. Our retention rate has stayed consistently high given the decline. Unfortunately, the chief cause of membership loss is death.

     This point was driven home for us in February of this year. Although we closed 2016 with the smallest membership loss since 1997, we had another historic month in February. This time, we dropped 120 members because they had passed away — the highest single month on record since December 1995. One of the unfortunate by-products of organized philately is it has become far too familiar for us to say farewell.

     We looked at the recruitment over the years and a trend emerged that adds some immediacy to this concern. Breaking down new member applications by age group shows shifting demographics. In 2000, our single largest age group for recruitment was 50-to-59, roughly one-third of all new members. Younger-than-50 recruitment represented 37.5 percent of all new applicants. In 2016, our largest single age group for recruitment was 60-to-69 years, about 31 percent of new applicants. The second largest, by a small margin, 70-to-79 years at 28 percent. Younger-than-50 recruitment was only 12.5 percent of all new applicants. It seems we are very effective at recruiting from the same group — they are just 16 years older now.

     We want to recruit members from all corners of the hobby and we’re thankful for each new member we gain. The decline in successfully recruiting younger members is an indication we should change our tactics at outreach. In 2016, the APS Board of Directors took positive steps to diversify our recruiting efforts in the Strategic Plan and the budget. We are starting to implement those changes and we’ve been receiving support from partners throughout the hobby. This will be the most significant modernization effort by the APS in some time.

Improving Our Tools to Manage Member Relations
     Since the late 1990s, the APS has used a tool known as iMIS to maintain our membership records and manage relations with our members. It also allows us to produce reports to see trends and identify opportunities. The version we use was purchased and installed in 2007 and is locally based at the headquarters. As you can imagine, technology has changed significantly since then. In the 2017 budget we proposed upgrading the system to the newest version, which includes a web-based platform. The new version will give the APS staff better tools to serve our membership in Bellefonte and elsewhere and provide better reporting on membership trends. The installation is under way and will serve as the hub of the changes that follow.

A New Face for the APS
     In 2011, the APS unveiled its new website, which provides content for non-members, has a members-only site for member services, and StampStore to buy and sell stamps. Web experts refer to our website as “robust,” which is a nice way of saying our website has a lot of stuff. It’s the by-product of providing as much information as possible to promote the hobby.

     The 2016 Strategic Plan called for a new website to increase accessibility to the APS by December 2017. One way to increase accessibility is to shift the web to be mobile responsive so users can easily access the website through tablets or smartphones. We also want to make the site able to host the APS blog site, easier to embed videos on the site, and share on social media so that you can help us be recruiters. We will be working with different committees to review the site and improve and update the content of the site. The Strategic Initiatives and Technology Committee will be working with us to bring in experts to design the new website.

A New Outreach to Collectors
     Our two most common efforts to recruit have been stamp shows and mail solicitations. While those still produce new members for the APS, they are not as successful as years gone by. Today, a common tool to education and recruitment is providing information through e-mails. This allows the APS to reach out to people who are actively collecting stamps online, but are not yet members.

     Since October 2016, the APS has been providing regular updates through a blog site, http://blog.stamps.org to share news on the hobby, stamp shows around the country, and new stamp issues. Members and non-members alike have signed up to get updates from the site and we continue to build an audience. The Strategic Plan called for us to develop a non-member outreach by December 2016 and while we are doing that, we can reach a larger audience. Through the Council on Postal Collectors, we will work with the National Postal Museum to find new collectors through the visitors that come through the museum by sharing more information.

A New Education Platform for Members
     In our recently completed member survey, members across the board supported creating online, on-demand educational videos. While we will continue to offer in-person courses through “On the Road” and Summer Seminar, on-demand courses allow members to gain knowledge from their home on their time.

     The Education Department demonstrated our first course, a 10-segment course on Introduction to Stamp Collecting, for the APS board in March during AmeriStamp Expo in Reno, Nevada. With support from the Education Committee, we will have this course ready to preview in time for StampShow in Richmond. Non-members will be able to access one segment of the course, but the whole course will be available to members on the website. Following that, the Education Committee will begin developing additional courses for more advanced collectors.

Our Campaign for Philately
     To support these initiatives, we have been raising money for a technology modernization campaign. The campaign started with a $25,000 matching offer from the organizers of World Stamp Show-NY 2016. When we successfully raised the match, we received another $25,000 challenge and members have been responding. The Campaign for Philately has made this a priority fundraising campaign and all the proceeds for our fundraising dinner in Richmond will go to support the goal. We would like to have your support and you can donate online at stamps.org/ShoppingCartDonation.aspx and select “NY2016 Matching - Technology” or send a check to 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823.

     We are thankful to all the members who have supported the effort so far and thankful to all our members for making it possible to support this great hobby. We believe these steps will allow us to more effectively meet stamp collectors and give them a reason to join the APS. As always, I invite your comments and questions at scott@stamps.org.

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