Friday, July 16, 2010

Which Way for ABA?

From a state of contemplation, Kenn writes: The American Birding Association (ABA) has been an important part of my life ever since I joined, at the age of 16, back in the 1970s. The ABA was a brand-new organization then, and it served a unique role in connecting the active birders of the U.S. and Canada. Its little bimonthly magazine, Birding, was a treasure trove for me as a teenager, giving me tips on bird-finding and bird identification that I wouldn’t have known about in any other way. When I started traveling, as a hitch-hiking, teenaged birder, the ABA connected me with other enthusiasts and with prime birding hotspots, and helped to put me on a course as a professional naturalist.

In subsequent years I was involved with ABA in many ways. I taught bird I.D. workshops at many of their conventions, and later I began giving evening keynote talks at these events; for a while, I had spoken at more ABA conventions than anyone else. I wrote dozens of pieces for Birding magazine, and edited their Photo Quiz feature for ten years. I served on their checklist committee, and even served two terms on their board of directors, most recently in the mid-1990s.

But I hadn’t had any kind of leadership role at ABA for more than ten years now. So I was very surprised when Dick Ashford, current chair of the board, called me out of the blue to ask me to get involved. The ABA is looking to hire a new President, and Dick wanted me to serve (along with three current board members) on the search committee to find someone for that position.

Given my history with ABA, you might think that I would have accepted immediately. As it happened, ultimately I did agree to be on the search committee, but it was with some trepidation.

The fact is that the American Birding Association is facing a tough situation right now. Membership numbers have been declining for the last few years, there have been a number of bad management decisions, and the organization is in financial difficulties. Whoever comes in as the new president is going to have to overcome some major challenges.

Of course, a decline in numbers is something that has happened to many membership organizations and many print publications over the last decade or so. But ABA has taken a double hit from the effects of the internet and the proliferation of bird festivals. Back in the early 1990s, birders who wanted to be "in the loop" on a continentwide scale almost had to belong to ABA. The magazine and newsletter were prime sources of the latest information, and the biennial ABA convention was a really big deal, with hundreds of the most active birders in attendance. Today many birders get their information, and even their sense of community, most easily online: bits of news on listserves and social networking sites, detailed information on websites, opinion pieces and essays on blogs. And there are so many birding festivals all over the continent that it has become very hard for ABA conventions to compete. The publications-and-conventions model that worked so well in the early 1990s just doesn’t cut it in 2010.

So ABA has fallen farther and farther behind the curve during the last decade. It wasn’t inevitable -- it would have been possible for the organization to keep up, or stay ahead, with some innovative and forward-looking changes. But those changes weren’t made. I’m not going to point fingers or assign blame -- indeed, I don’t want to, as ABA’s leadership over the last decade has included various friends of mine. But no one took those bold steps that would have made ABA membership an obvious must-have for active birders. And the resulting slow decline has been accelerated by some very bad recent decisions that have put the organization in a precarious financial fix.

That being the case, why am I involved at all in trying to help out? After all, there’s nothing in it for me except risk -- I’m just one person on the search committee, so I can’t control the outcome, but I’ll get part of the blame if things go badly.

But I think it’s worth the risk because I see not just big problems, but big potential. ABA still has thousands of active members. It still has excellent programs in place -- its "Birders’ Exchange," for example, is doing wonderful things to promote research and conservation in Latin America. Its magazine, Birding, its technical journal, North American Birds, and its newsletter, Winging It, continue to be valuable. And beyond that, I can envision a future in which ABA could be a tremendously positive force. Currently there is no organization that serves effectively as an advocate for birders and birding in North America. Yes, there are bird conservation groups, and ornithological societies that promote scientific study of birds, but there is no group that really advocates for birders -- promoting birding for its own sake, providing a sense of community, working to give birders a unified voice. ABA could be that voice. But only if it survives. And that may come down to the next person hired as president of the beleagured organization.

So ... anyone interested? ABA is seeking a highly motivated person to serve as President (analogous to what would be called the Executive Director in many other nonprofits). This person should have a good knowledge of active field birding, and should have relevant experience in running a nonprofit, running a small business, or both. This person had better have a lot of energy, and had better be committed to the vision of helping the birding community at large. You can read the whole job description here.

For more independent background on ABA’s current situation and future prospects, written by the perceptive and articulate Nate over at "The Drinking Bird," click here.

50 comments:

  1. Thanks much for the link, Kenn.

    I'll be honest, I was feeling a little down about the ABA's prospects until I saw that you were a part of the search committee. As someone who wasn't a member until the mid-90s, I see your presence as not only a return to the ethos of the birding community earlier in the organization's life, but also as a strong bridge to the birding community of the future characterized by the blogosphere and the bird festival circuit. Your insight seems to me to be invaluable and I wish you all the luck in the world. I know there are passionate people involved in the organization and I hope this episode pulls their ideas to the forefront.

    I couldn't agree more that the ABA offers a unique opportunity to really speak for birders in a way they haven't appeared to in the past, especially with regard to land use issues. With the framework already in place, it would be a shame to have to start back at square one.

    Incidentally, I wrote about attending Camp Chiricahua in 1994 where I actually met you at Ramsey Canyon. I was just another slightly geeky quiet kid with binoculars so I don't expect you to remember a thing, but you signed a copy of Advanced Birding for me that I still have. Perhaps I'll see you around one of these days. Best.

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  2. Kenn and Nate--

    The silver (wing) lining I see in ABA's current troubles is that it's occasioned a lot of healthy conversations about what the organization should be doing and should be trying to do. Suddenly, with the chips really being a bit down, there's a level of engagement I haven't seen for quite a few years. A lot of us really, really want this organization to not only survive, but to reclaim its place as the leading forum for the North American birding community. I applaud both of you for your thoughtful, caring posts.

    Thanks.

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  3. Kenn, you have some very thoughtful comments, observations, and even recommendations. In particular, besides the appeal to have ABA catch up to where birding has ALREADY gone, there are areas of bird education and birder-based conservation (e.g., Birders' Exchange) that can be maximized for ABA. What especially resonates for me is your appeal that ABA actually speak FOR BIRDERS in the public sphere and even among ourselves on a national level... something that absolutely nobody else is doing.

    Still, you confuse "assigning blame" with "looking for responsibility." There's an important difference.

    Wisdom actually comes from making mistakes. And the recent ABA Board has made plenty of mistakes. A non-communicative and insular Board has ignored huge financial, human resource, and overall governance problems, allowing for the rest of the North American birding scene to bypass ABA and relegating ABA to near-irrelevance. Among other things, if a Board has not actually LEARNED from past mistakes it will continue to make them.... no matter WHO is the new CEO.

    No single White Knight will make the difference: not you on the Search Committee, not a new CEO...

    Waaaaay back, when you and I were on the ABA Board together - in the late 1980s, - the Board recognized grave problems and worked together under the inspiration and leadership of Larry Balch to re-build the organization. It was done practically dollar by dollar, member by member. (You will recall that we had gone down to about 4,000 dedicated souls).

    Responsibilities were assumed.

    Trust was built and re-built; staff was brought on; volunteers were recruited; creative projects were launched. And it was all based on teamwork.

    I think your ideas are all wonderful, but they can only work if the right team is running the show and can connect with the needs and interests of current (and future!) ABA membership.

    Alas, all indications so far is that this ABA Board is not acting like that sort of team. Not even close.

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  4. I nominate Nate for the position.

    I have no idea if he even quantifies for the job. He has passion for birding and is honest and knowledge about the ABA and its history, he knows the big cyberspace world of birders out there..and without them the ABA will not continue as before.

    I feel, in the very least he should have some input on who is put in this position.

    I am thrilled that you, Kenn, are involved in this process.

    Good luck to all in choosing the right person for the position.

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  5. From everything I know of the current state of ABA, the principal problem is a lack of fiduciary and management oversight by the board. Without major changes at the board level (people as well as the culture), the appointment of a new President/CEO, no matter how competent or accomplished, will be moot. Assuming, that is, that ABA has the finances to even hire a new executive. Of course, we members would be the last to know...

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  6. Thank you, all, for the thoughtful and worthwhile notes. I particularly want to respond to what you wrote, Paul Baicich, because your comments are harsh but not unreasonable; and given your long and highly successful history at ABA, everyone should be listening to your opinions on the subject.

    I'm not under the illusion that ABA's current problems can be solved by bringing in a "white knight" CEO, much less by simply adding one person to the search committee. I'm not fantasizing that I can somehow fix things single-handedly. But since I got involved with this (less than 2 weeks ago) I've talked to many current and past staff members and Board members, trying to get a handle on what has gone wrong. And I've learned a lot.

    It's clear that it would be irresponsible for me simply to take part in the CEO search and not suggest solutions to the larger problems. So I am going to have a series of recommendations to present to the ABA Board. Some of these suggestions originated with you, Paul, and some came from others who have been critical, but I assume it won't hurt if I repeat these good ideas. And it might help.

    No one can deny that the ABA Board has made some mistakes. But I continue to believe that the Board has a lot of collective competence and good intentions, and now that the situation has reached a crisis point, I'm hopeful that they will rise to the challenge.

    As Jeff says, one of the silver linings of the current situation is that it has energized a lot of discussion. It's obvious that a lot of us still care about what happens to the ABA. If, as you suggest, Paul, we can bring back teamwork, with members and staff and board all working together in a cordial way, I still think we could turn this around. If I were not optimistic about the chances, I would not be involved. But I think it would be good for all interested birders to communicate about their hopes for the future of ABA, not just those who are brave enough to consider applying for the President job.

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  7. As I said I my own blog, Dawn you are way too kind!

    I don't have nearly the experience to run a non-profit the size and scope of the ABA. At this point I'm more than content with being a member and doing whatever small part I can to that end. If what I wrote instigated good discussion and influenced those in the positions of authority to be transparent about the direction the organization is and will be going, then I feel like I will have succeeded. At the very least, it means they are somewhat responsive to the concerns of the membership in a way they haven't been lately.

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  8. It's time to be aware of the missteps, skip the blame, and move forward. And I think there are many good paths that can lay in front of the ABA. As a member since the early 80's, and as an interested 'watcher' of the birding world and one who cares about it, some possibles keep swirling in my head:
    >(Agreeing with Paul here) A voice for birders - both Fun Voice and Serious Voice.
    >Coupling with existing festivals, rather than running competing events.
    >Developing a duck stamp like product, a Birder's Stamp if you will, that showcases birders as a group and their purchasing power.
    >Expanding the young birder/educational programs and the Latin American support programs.
    >Interfacing with global ABA-like organizations - ie. in Australia, England, etc - to offer reciprocating benefits for travel and exchange.
    >Sponsoring fun listing competitions, since I think a lot of us equate a prominent traditional ABA function as the List Maintainer.
    >Partnering with 'Friends of' groups nationwide.
    Just bits and spits of thought...

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  9. Thanks for the comments, Kenn, and the responses. All are interesting. But I would cut to the chase. The one common thread that ties all of these fiascoes together is the BOD. Who chose the staff leadership in the first place? The ABA is critically important at this moment, fulfilling its obligation to speak on behalf of our recreation at the national level. The BOD has abrogated that responsibility. The BOD should step down, and allow a new set of owners (members) to give it a shot. They could not do worse. If I have not been clear, let me restate my comment. The BOD should immediately resign.

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  10. Kenn, I'm so glad you're on the committee right now because you so thoroughly and deeply understand all the different ways that the ABA could be representing birders, in helping keep birding fun and reflecting the best in ornithology, in fostering responsible birding, and in advocating to ensure that birds are there for us to enjoy.

    I've seen too many instances of non-profits imploding when they become factionalized. ABA should be representing us--all birders. But it doesn't. Conservationists against listers. People who use playback against people who don't. People who all love birding suddenly are replaying the Tower of Babel, no one listening to opposing viewpoints. In fields like birding where there aren't many ways to get acclaim, some people fall into ridiculing people and institutions to build their own stature. This ends up fostering factions rather than keeping us all focused on the big picture, yet it's exactly how a lot of non-profits fall apart--they lose their sense of community. Without that, people lose interest, it's hard to interest fresh blood and the best people in serving on the Board of Directors, and oversight vanishes.

    I'm thrilled that Drew Wheelan is representing ABA in the Gulf. What an amazing job he's doing! I hope his example can inspire every ABA member, past and present, to come back together as a community again, to advocate for the value of birds and birding.

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  11. The few responses to this thread gives the impression that most do not care about the ABA or few read this blog. I greatly suspect it is a lack of caring. Members of the ABA have been ignored; the staff has been disassociated from decision making and has likely lost heart. Ultimately, the Board of Directors is responsible and should be held accountable.

    SCORE, http://www.scoreknox.org/library/serving.htm ,
    counselors to small businesses including non-profits, among other points has the following to say about the duties of a BOD of non-profits:

    “Thus, instead of doing the “managing” itself, the board is responsible for ensuring excellent, or at least adequate, management of the organization. Therefore, the most important decision a board makes is the selection of the organization’s top executive (might be called the Executive Director, President or Chairperson).” The ABA Board has repeatedly failed miserably when presented with this task.

    More importantly, SCORE advises:
    “In healthy organizations, major decisions are discussed, debated, and finally decided with the input and recommendations of the top executive, who has been hired to manage the nonprofit organization. Neither the top executive nor the staff (who often have the best and the most information) should be excluded from policy-making efforts. “
    Why should the actions of the ABA Board be allowed to be cloaked in secrecy? Members must speak up if they care about the future of this organization. They must demand reform. It will do no good if a new Executive Director is hired and has his/her hands tied by a dysfunctional Board.

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  12. Now that the ABA is again searching for a president, two things need to happen. We must decide whether the organization is worth saving. And if so, the ABA membership needs to be restored to a central position of authority and importance.

    In 2003, the organization's bylaws were radically altered to concentrate power in the hands of the board of directors and to silence the voice of the membership. The result has been a radical loss of members and a board that, with very few exceptions, feels no obligation to answer to the membership or to treat the professional staff with respect. I’ve listed some of those procedural changes at my blog.

    Restoring the ABA's focus on its members rather than on its board would go a long ways towards restoring the attractiveness of the organization to potential members. But then the ABA needs to answer an important question: Cui bono?

    The ABA has two considerable strengths. The organization's publications, under signally able leadership, have maintained their high standard, and their range guarantees that every member can find something to match her or his interest and sophistication. And Birders' Exchange, with its focus on education and conservation hand-delivered to the areas that need it most, is one of the best-conceived and most successful projects around.

    But nothing the ABA offers the birding community is "uniquely ABA." Whoever takes on the burden of leading through this next phase must identify something that the organization can offer its members that no other source can. At a minimum that will mean keeping the publications to their current high standard and devoting more resources, more conspicuously, to Birders' Exchange. But there must also be programming that sets the ABA apart. Just what those new programs and projects should be I can't say: but once the ABA has its structural house in order, the new president must be given the board's full support as she or he works to set the ABA on a new path.

    If the board cannot offer that support, or if the board cannot appoint a president with the necessary insight into the American birding community and its needs, then the ABA will be on an old path. And a very, very short one.

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  13. Kenn,

    Thanks for the post and the links. It is all quite informative. I wish I knew the easy answer to improving the situation but I'm afraid I don't. Good luck in the search and thanks again for your time and effort regarding this topic.

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  14. Wayne R. PetersenJuly 19, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    Kenn,

    Things at the American Birding Association (ABA) are not well these days. At the risk of being a member of the “soon to be irrelevant generation” of longtime birders, allow me to offer some historical insight.

    Like many birders of my generation, I joined ABA in the late 1970s. Although I found the early issues of Birding magazine appealing and relevant to my birding interests at the time, I was essentially an ABA bystander for 20 years. Things changed when I was elected to the ABA Board of Directors in the mid-1990s. When I joined the Board my colleagues included such birding luminaries as Ken Able, Frank Gill, Pete Dunne, Kenn Kaufman, Robert Pyle, Arnold Small, and Claudia Wilds among others.

    During my Board tenure my colleagues and I made a concerted effort to represent the organization, the staff, and the birding community in as many appropriate ways as possible. Not unlike Kenn’s activities at the time I annually taught Institute for Field Ornithology (IFO) workshops, served as a regional editor for North American Birds, regularly presented birding workshops at ABA conventions, wrote articles and reviews for Birding magazine, led donor trips for Century Club members, spoke at birding festivals, and served the ABA as vice-president from 1998-2001. I also felt it was incumbent upon me to be as available and approachable to ABA members and staff as possible.

    The ABA was healthy in those days. Board members supported staff, staff members freely exchanged ideas with Board members, membership reached its zenith, ABA events generally made money, ABA Sales offered a range of member services, the Century Club proliferated, donors were generous, quality publications containing useful information for birders were regularly produced, ABA enjoyed a conspicuous and unique presence within the conservation community, youth programs gained support, and North American Birds, the IFO program, and Birders’ Exchange (BEX) were all brought on board. These elements were parts of an organization that generally enjoyed the respect of the birding community in North America and beyond.

    Today the ABA is a different organization: The ABA Board is all but invisible, staff and Board hardly appear to communicate, personnel changes are reminiscent of a revolving door, the IFO program is gone, ABA Sales has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, convention attendance has languished, and other than BEX there are no coherent ABA programs which enable members to engage in bird conservation projects. I’ll not comment upon the litany of disappointments and financial fiascoes that seem to have plagued ABA in recent years.

    Why recount this story? The answer is that there are many birders out there who care about the future of an organization that has been important to them for many years. Regrettably, more and more I hear the question: Whither the American Birding Association?

    I make no pretense at having the answer. I am certain, however, that there are thousands of ABA members out there – some new, some not so new; some young, some not so young – who deserve more from the American Birding Association than they are currently receiving.

    How best to address the diverse needs, interests, ages, aptitudes, and challenges presented by the increasingly varied cohorts of people interested in birds today should be the number one task of whoever next takes the leadership reins at ABA, including both the Board of Directors and the President. This is a tall order, and accordingly I encourage Kenn and his search committee colleagues on the ABA Board to be ever-mindful of ABA’s past history and future potential as they seek to find what will hopefully not prove to be the last leader of the American Birding Association.

    I wish you nothing but success in your quest to find a new President.

    Wayne R. Petersen

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  15. Very interesting discussion and comments. I've been an ABA member for a long time, and have shelves groaning under the weight of ABA publications dating back nearly to the organization's inception. And I want to see ABA succeed.

    There is no question that very bad decisions involving recent ABA leaders have left the organization in a deep hole and with a tarnished reputation. Whoever takes the helm next has their work cut out, and the qualities required of such a person are INCREDIBLY rare amongst birders. Yet, I really believe that the next leader should have a solid understanding of birders, birding and ornithology, and also a passion for these things.

    To anyone seriously considering throwing their hat in the ring, I think it is important to think about a few things:

    Can the necessary recovery work be done with the existing board, and if not will it be possible to make changes involving the board?

    Ditto the staff.

    Does ABA currently run a deficit, and if so, how much?

    How much $$$ do they have in reserve and is it enough to see the organization through until a turnaround can be made?

    Any serious candidates that make it to the interview stage should ask for a full accounting of ABA finances. It'd be folly to jump into the leadership role without a thorough understanding of where the organization is financially and to determine if a turn-around is even possible.

    Even if ABA finances are as bad as some of the rumor mill claim - and I would take all of the gossip with a sizable grain of salt - it may be that ABA can continue in a pared down survival mode, with a longer term view towards reconstruction.

    As an added leadership quality related to the above, I think the new president will have to excel at fund-raising, and be able to implement the sort of visionary changes that will inspire giving. As things stand, it's pretty tough to squeeze much money out of people for an organization that has hemorhaged its reserve fund from perhaps a million down to perhaps nothing in a few short years, and may be struggling to meet basic expenses.

    Restoring the ABA to relevancy is a tall order, and I believe there are simply going to have to be some tough decisions required and acted on as soon as the new leader walks in the door.

    Jim McCormac

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  16. Kenn, I couldn't agree more with what you say and so many of the commenters echo. As someone who hasn't identified as a birder for as long as most of you, I've never seen the ABA as relevant to the general birding experience. We need a national organization to speak for the birding community. With hope, the ABA can become that organization. I would gladly nominate many of the individuals who have weighed in on the discussion here to lead the ABA's revival.

    Marci, your list of critical issues to address is admirably creative and thorough. The idea of a Birder's Stamp is one I return to again and again as a way to establish birders and other non-extractive wildlife watchers as essential agents in conservation. Plus, if we can get a stamp, maybe we can start to tally an accurate headcount of just how many birders are out there!

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  17. Many years ago, I served on the ABA Board of Directors along side Kenn, but am currently living outside of North America, so have only followed this discussion from afar.

    As I read through the comments, I'm struck by the nostalgia for the good old days of ABA. But the truth of those good old days was that ABA had persistent money trouble because it was founded on a failed financial model. It survived only because of regular and generous cash infusions from one or two people.

    Even though the money troubles were so regular that they almost defined ABA, any attempt to change the failed model was treated as blasphemy. So, in one respect, it seems that nothing has changed -- same old failed model, same old financial problems.

    And, in my view, finding a new Executive Director won't really solve the underlying problem. There must be a fundamental change in how the Directors think, work, and communicate. It is no longer good enough to approach a position on the Board as an excuse for a couple good birding weekends each year, with a chance to build the list. It must be viewed as what it really is -- BUSINESS. And that means creative thinking, hard number-crunching, good communication, and (sometimes painful) letting go of the past in order to embrace the future with appropriate adaptations.

    Kenn, I think you are brave to tackle this current task. I wish you extraordinary success, not only in finding a good ExecDir for ABA, but in helping to resolve the underlying problems that cause the same messes to occur over and over again. Good Luck to you and to ABA.

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  18. NOTE: The following is from Blake Maybank, a widely respected birder who has contributed much to ABA in the past.

    I've read Kenn's thoughtful blog, a recent letter from Jon Dunn detailing his concerns, Nathan Swick's blog, and caught a few rumours floating on the ether (though few stray north of the
    border). Accordingly I agree with the call for not just a new President for ABA (and please
    revert to calling this position the Executive Director - much less confusing and ennobling), but also for a completely new Board of
    Directors.

    The current board have been as mute as monks, as apologetic as Wall Street Bankers, and as astute in their planning as British
    Petroleum. Time for the Board of Directors to admit culpability, and resign. If there was
    ever a time for a clean slate. . . .

    Now for my comments. I'll endeavour to be brief.

    I joined the ABA in the early 1980s, and was, at first, enthralled. So much so that, when asked to
    serve on the Board of Directors I did so, for eight years (two as Secretary), ending in 1998. I also edited the Big Day report for 13 years, and the List Report for three. I wrote the current ABA Code of Birding Ethics. And I
    was honoured (and humbled) to share board duties with the likes of Kenn Kaufman, Jon Dunn, Paul
    Buckley, Jr., and many other notable birders. During my time on the board I made a point of getting to know the organisation's
    staff, and went to as many conferences and conventions as I could, in order to meet the members. I looked forward to "Birding", and later "Winging It", and was proud to call myself
    a member of the ABA, and tried to solicit other Canadian birders to join.

    It speaks volumes regarding the current state of the ABA that I recently gave up my membership in
    the organisation, and long ago ceased to speak favourably about the group.

    The ABA is a member-driven organisation, and as such must not only ask of its members that they
    participate in the organisation, but that it offer benefits to the members. Membership has its privileges. The ABA member benefits include, or have included: "Birding" magazine, "Winging It", Conferences and Conventions (reduced price for members), ABA Sales (member discounts, now gone, alas), Big Day & List Report (for those that wished it), "Bird's Eye View". That seems to sum up the list. No, wait. Membership should also be FUN, especially for activity-based groups, which was how the ABA started out.

    The ABA started as a recreation-based group, focussed on birding - bird ID, site guides, Big Days, Taxonomy, conventions, and it was, indeed, FUN. It then grew bigger (not necessarily a problem), but also grew more serious, adding
    conservation and education into the mix. Certain of the conservation activities, Birders' Exchange and "North American Birding" magazine, were completely compatible with the FUN-based
    activity-orientated ABA, but the ever-increasing amount of environmental advocacy (and the
    increasingly huge proportion of conservation pages in "Birding") made the ABA much less FUN. The conventions became staid and
    predictable - same locations, same speakers, same structure, indoor workshops during daylight hours. No FUN. ABA Sales disappeared, more or less. No FUN buying birding books. All in all,
    NO FUN. So I quit. And if I'd known of the chaos behind the scenes my departure might have been earlier. I confess I was on the Board of Directors when we
    chose the first in a long line of poor Executive Directors, ones who, not withstanding their moral
    short-comings (this description doesn't apply to them all), were chosen for their conservation
    backgrounds, not their birding savvy. I regret ever agreeing to hire Paul Green, for example. (Admission - he later tossed me aside as Big Day/List Editor without actually telling me).

    Respectfully,

    Blake Maybank
    Editor, "Nova Scotia Birds"

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  19. NOTE: The following is the second part of Blake Maybank's comments. Odd formatting here is Blogger's fault, not Blake's.

    How to salvage the ABA? Some preliminary thoughts.

    1) -- Back to Basics. Make it an activity-based organisation once again. Concentrate on birding, not environmentalism. There are lots groups intent on the latter focus (and most of us belong to some of them), but there was only one group championing the former. Let the United Kingdom be our guide. An incredible base of birders there, and many active groups, some activist, others with their eyes on the birds at all times. It shocks me that, with several times the population of the U.K. in the U.S. and Canada, that the ABA has so few members (I don't know how few, since they won't say). But the R.S.P.B. has more than1 million members, and there are birders underfoot everywhere you go. And hundreds of thousands of young birders.

    2) -- Become truly North American. Since it is hard to wield a country-wide member-based group, why not be bold, and become a North American Birding Association, from Panama to Greenland?

    3) -- Rethink Member Meetings. There is still great value in getting together, as long as the venue and the activities encourage an exchange of information (from experienced birders to neophytes), in a way that is FUN, and mildly profitable for the ABA. Don't worry about birding festivals, which are based on commerce, not membership.

    4) -- Keep conservation limited to Birders' Exchange and "North American Birds". Leave the shouting and oil-soaked beach media-moments to the professional advocacy groups.

    5) -- Keep education limited to getting people of all ages, all cultures, and all income brackets into the "field" to observe and learn about birds. Personal advocacy will follow in due course.

    6) -- Rethink publications. I'd be more than happy to belong to a member category that only receives an electronic version of the magazines. This would greatly reduce costs, and should also result in non-US based members not having to pay outrageous sums to be a member. Hey, our dollars are at par now, more or less. We shouldn't pay more. And, with respect to content, bring birding back into "Birding".

    7) -- Be relevant to non-US birders in North America. This was always a weakness of the organisation - its lack of relevance to birders outside the US, but in countries through which our continent's birds migrate.


    I do hope that the ABA can be salvaged, though I'd not be surprised if my hope was dashed. There may be too few people who care, and being in a time of recession does not help.

    Good luck on the search for a new President. I'd not put my name forward, even if I could - I'm not qualified, have no Green Card, and health benefits south of the border are very poor. But I'd consider rejoining the Board of Directors if asked - I'm an average birder, but have Board skills, and favour complete transparency. And I'd love the chance to help turn around the organisation.

    Respectfully,

    Blake Maybank
    Editor, "Nova Scotia Birds"

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  20. Hi Kenn,

    A couple of years ago I was involved in a big brainstorming session in Colorado Springs when the ABA was being led by Dick Payne. This session included a lot of birding talent all from the "business" of birding so optics people, tour people, magazine people, etc. All were long time birders and creative thinkers. We had this major facilitated session and came up with tons and tons of ideas and analysis. It all must be somewhere in the ABA offices I imagine. There was great excitement preceding this session and after the session, at least that was the rumor from staff. We actually never got to talk to staff curiously.
    I hope Dick meant well, and at least he seemed to be behind the process, but to me it seems to have fallen flat. Either he did not push hard enough, or everything we came up with was nixed by the board. Truth it it doesn't matter what the behind the scenes reality was in the end - it went nowhere. Overall my assessment, although I have not been keeping close score, was that absolutely nothing happened. Another golden opportunity was wasted. And it was a huge waste of plane tickets, hotel nights, people's time, paid facilitator, etc. I was so hopeful that this would go somewhere, or start something....nope.
    This is symptomatic and what is frustrating side liners like me. It is not that we do not care, lots of members just feel burned. Great ideas, great people, great programs have come and gone and nothing gets built on, it is torn down. Yet we still have some love for the ABA, but this is it, I think this is the last chance for the organization. It is now or never. It is like the tragic tale told in movies, books etc of the alcoholic trying to clean up his life but each time he lets his loved ones down. I feel like that loved one watching the organization kill itself in front of my eyes. This is one of those rock bottom moments, but will members and birders have enough energy to help the organization crawl out of the bottom? I don't know.
    Turning the bummer mood around from that, I do know that a basic fundamental agreement we came to on that day is exactly what Blake mentioned - FUN!. The organization has to be the party everyone wants to be invited to. The organization must ooze birding, the love of birds, the sharing of birding info, the joy of what makes us all do this. We came up with countless ideas on how to do that from the meetings/conventions, to the web presence, to magazines and so forth. All activities must be made to line up to this overall goal. Birding is fun, that is why we do it, and that is why we want to be members of the organization that promotes the enjoyment of birds.
    Also important is to give birders a voice. For example - who should be out there talking to managers of dumps, sewage lagoons, sod farms and the like to retain access and promote partnerships with these businesses that could be win-wins? ABA should be doing it. Who the heck else could do it, or care to do it? Only a birder knows that a great afternoon at a sewage plant can be AWESOME! That is but one example, but birders need a united voice. We are all so different, yet we are brought together by birds, and we want to be able to go and watch them. That privilege is sometimes something you have to work for, or it can be taken away. Hunters work hard for their privilege to hunt in private lands for example, we could be doing the same for our members.
    The focus also has to be on all birders, no matter how involved, how intense, or how novice. It cannot be a club where the doorman opens a little slit in the door and you need to know the password: "presuplemmental molt." The door should be wide open and no one guarding it, but lots of folks saying - come on in!
    Fun, community, shared interest, party, social club, welcoming and open - all of that and more. That is what we need. Not necessarily cutting edge, but cutting loose! How many of the current board are comfortable with that I would ask?
    Ok I should stop...but I could go on.... Alvaro.

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  21. NOTE: THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE FROM JON L. DUNN WAS SENT ON JULY 19TH, but glitches in Blogger kept it from appearing on the site. This is part one of two:

    Kenn,

    Many thanks for agreeing to serve on the Search Committee and for setting up this site for discussion. It is my hope that word of its existence spreads and many more, perhaps even hundreds, will contribute. It may be the best, and perhaps last way for us collectively to express our sentiments to the General Membership, to the Board, and to those on Staff that still exist.

    I wrote my own five page letter to the Board detailing the horrors of the last decade, most of which can be traced back to poor CEO’s and their respective poor Staff hires, and to the majority of the Board. There’s an old statement….”those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I thought it came from Churchill but it was uttered earlier by George Santayana, an American, and the actual thought dates back to the 18th century and Edmund Burke. And it is certainly an expression that the ABA Board would benefit by memorizing. The repeated “horrors” of the last decade replay like a bad redo of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” The same sad chapters replay again and again as funds, membership, Staff, and enthusiasm gradually dwindle away.

    Response to my letter was minimal. A few acknowledged receiving it, a few cautiously indicated that it was “interesting” and food for thought. One or two actually agreed with the main thrust. One Board member copied me by accident (I think) and called my missive “disgusting.” I would suggest that that individual look in the mirror, but….I digress.

    I’ve read the 20 or so posts so far on Kenn’s blog (please, more of you need to weigh in) and many of the suggestions are indeed worthy and worth implementing if the organization can be saved, but these things are down the road. ABA AS NOW CONSTITUTED IS A STRUCTURALLY CORRUPT ORGANIZATION and unless that changes the rest is just a waste of time. In my opinion two things need to immediately change for the organization to have any chance.

    1. The wall of separation between Board and Staff must be torn down. It may be an exaggeration to call the current state of affairs “Stalinist,” but not by much. There was a time when Board and Staff actually worked together on projects/issues, but no longer. The most recent Board meeting was held in Denver, not in Colorado Springs. Staff and Board are for the most part completely isolated, except for the CEO, now blissfully fired. Staff and Board relations are now at an all time low, or so I’m told. Worse, a Board member, one assigned the task of Board/Staff liaison talked to Staff a few weeks ago and during the course of the conversation completely lost it by screaming and threatening Staff. The overall affect was devastating to Staff. At a minimum a new individual should be assigned to that sensitive task, especially now. But, sadly the Staff is now so terrorized that no one would even contact Board to report truthfully what happened and Board has only heard the account from the Board member who was there, all spun to his/her advantage.

    (Post continued in part 2)

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  22. NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND PART OF A MESSAGE SENT TO THE BLOG BY JON L. DUNN ON JULY 19.

    2. Board must institute a system of “Upward Review” in which all Staff reviews their superiors, all the way up and especially up to the CEO. Over the last 10 years this has never happened, so the CEO spins events to their advantage to the Board and since the Board is so isolated from Staff, how are they to know otherwise? As a result a wide variety of abuses by the CEO and other superiors, including harassment, including sexual harassment, went unabated far longer than they should of. It would not be an underestimate to say that most Staff was totally intimidated. Such a review would go to an outside facilitator, or an outside firm that specializes in this, and if he/she, or a group saw a major problem, they would promptly alert the full Board, or a designated Committee. I have to believe that a self-confident CEO or other higher-up would welcome such a review. Only the insecure would fear it and those are not the people that should be ABA higher level employees. There simply HAS to be a system of checks and balances for all. One would have thought that such a steeply declining membership (nearly 50% in just 10 years and the curve of declining is getting steeper in recent months) and departing Staff (over 50) would have been enough for the Board to wake up and say that our system is NOT WORKING.

    And speaking of Checks and Balances, where are there any checks and balances for the Board? One would have thought that Board resignations would have followed, but to date the only resignation, Chris Wood, wasn’t even responsible for the latest fiasco. We, the Membership, haven’t even had the courtesy of an apology for one poor CEO hire after another. And the one most responsible for finding and hiring the last CEO, perhaps the worst yet, now heads up the Search Committee to find us a new one.

    The Board has always been big on not being able to discuss any of the fiascos with the Membership. We’re just supposed to trust them for the future. OK, maybe there are real legal issues in not discussing specific misdeeds of the past. But there is NO LEGIT REASON why they should not be forced to discuss the future, including the above points I have detailed above. Indeed we should demand it of our Board, or is the level of corruption and the veil of secrecy so thick that any crack of light will be quickly extinguished by those in power on the Board, and that most membership will just meekly accept it?

    This effort has to come from the grass roots. The Board has heard it all, especially from me, an ex Board member (after all it takes one to know them and sadly I knew too many of them!) and hearing more grousing from this corner is literally “water off a duck’s back.” They need to hear from main stream members, ones who don’t get involved but might peruse Kenn’s blog and have an educated opinion. If ever there was time to offer his or her’s two cents and get involved, now is that time. There are many of us that believe that this organization is on its last legs, especially if no serious structural changes are implemented. YOU can make a difference.

    -- Jon Dunn

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  23. Alvaro said:

    The focus also has to be on all birders, no matter how involved, how intense, or how novice. It cannot be a club where the doorman opens a little slit in the door and you need to know the password: "presuplemmental molt." The door should be wide open and no one guarding it, but lots of folks saying - come on in!

    Amen. As someone who considers herself to be a casual birder, I am in total agreement with this comment. When I first discovered birds, and subsequently the ABA 11 years ago, I felt that I had found a friendly, welcoming community, and I've particularly treasured my experiences at several ABA conventions, getting to meet fellow birders and seeing amazing birds.

    At the same time, I've been put off by the vibe that I get from the organization that I should know that secret password-that because my eyes glaze over discussions of prebasic/presupplemental molt, or because I truthfully can't ID a lot of birds completely on my own that somehow I'm not a "real" birder. I'd be very glad for the ABA to diasbuse me of this notion.

    Discovering the world of birds changed my life, and enriched it immeasurably. I might never be an expert, or able to discuss nuances of morphology, etc., but I find birds and birding to be so much fun.

    I modestly hope that the ABA can find its way to helping more people experience that fun, and joy.

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  24. I am thrilled to see so much thoughtful discussion of the issue from so many people -- from relatively new birders to some of the most experienced birders in the world. All of these viewpoints are incredibly valuable, and I hope the ABA leadership will read all of these comments and take them to heart as they go forward.

    I wanted to add my own viewpoint on one additional point. Some people have made the suggestion that the entire ABA board of directors should resign. While I respect everyone's opinion, and while I understand how anti-incumbent fever can grip a community, I think this suggestion is ill-advised, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is one of pure practicality. There are laws governing how this kind of nonprofit organization (a 501(c)3) can operate, and ABA probably can't legally do much of anything -- hire a president, publish a magazine, pay current staff -- without a board of directors. If they all resigned without first amending the bylaws to facilitate the selection of replacements, the organization probably would cease to exist.

    The second reason is more philosophical. When the current board asked me, as an outsider, to join the search committee, that was a considerable step outside their comfort zone. I had a long and candid conversation with board chair Dick Ashford before I agreed to be on the search committee, and I told him that I would have to operate independently and communicate widely with birders about the situation. Dick knew that I would be initiating discussions that would bring a lot of sharp criticism out into the open, but he didn't flinch in extending the invitation. To me, that willingness to "face the music" reflects a level of fortitude and integrity that I respect. I would hope that the critics would take that into account and give the current leadership some points, and some slack, while they work through the current challenge.

    Again, thank you all for the great comments, and please keep them coming.

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  25. I'm so excited that this topic has generated as much interest as it has. It's just a shame that it takes a catastrophe to wake people up. I wanted to offer my opinion on some matters, for whatever they're worth.

    First, and most importantly, I think the power-consolidation rules that the board adopted in the last decade are a large part of the reason ABA is in trouble. (Rick Wright outlined them in detail.) I think those rules should be thrown out immediately, and the power returned to the membership. Otherwise, it's not the American Birding Association, it's the Elite Board Members' Association. There HAS to be some sort of accountability for board members. I hate to be cynical, but if the board has no fear of being thrown out by the membership and chooses its own members, then what possible motivation could there be to do what is in the best interest of the members? Surely they'll only do what is in their best interest. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. As it stands, ABA is an oligarchy with no accountability and no fear of doing things that would upset its members. If the membership has no faith or control other the board, all is for naught.

    Secondly, we really need to be engaging those who aren't in ABA. Phonecalls, events, whatever. ABA needs to let people know it wants to be relevant and wants to know what people are looking for in a birding organization. It needs to be aggressive, going to birding festivals, working with state and local organizations, and cultivating a real web presence (with quality members only content). This last topic, I feel, has been masterfully utilized by the guys at eBird, who I suspect would be happy to offer ideas if we asked them. (Though I know Chris Wood just resigned from the ABA Board in disgust.)

    And lastly, ABA needs to foster a sense of community. Free or nearly free events need to be offered around the country, not based on where the best listing opportunities are (Tucson, the Valley), but where people actually are. If we're to have any hope of pulling backyard birdwatchers into the fold, we must go to them.

    Thanks for all your work with this, Kenn. I wish you the best of luck, and if I can help in any way at all, please don't hesitate to let me know.

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  26. Hi Kenn. I came across your note on Birdchat, where I rarely go. I also looked at some of the other hissing and howling in the shrubbery out there. And they say Wrentit is our only babbler !

    I was an applicant for the director job at ABA some years ago. The hiring process was staffed by stunningly rude people -- it was like a student government gone bad -- so I have some sense of the animal. I also have not been an ABA member for several years, but have been considering rejoining, mainly because of Ted's work with Birding.

    I have thought of applying for the job again, in part because I am scheduled to retire at 55 from my state job in 2011 anyway and am looking for a new challenge. I was sent the blurb last week and I'll look at it again this week. I'll probably let the job pass unmolested, but I thought I'd offer a few thoughts about the beast that may be of interest to you.

    Stop thinking of ABA as an organization. Start thinking of it as a set of discrete functions that need to be performed. Cut out those that don't need to be performed, particularly if another organization is doing them. ABA is still breathing because of Birding magazine, but that can't last forever. The organization has to focus on things that other nature organizations DON'T DO. You have tried hiring "organization" managers. The results have been unattractive.

    It would be absolutely fatal for ABA to move in the direction of spending more time, money and staff on conservation-related activities. It would become just another sea lion mooing in the mist, and a rather small one. It will just keep sinking under that scenario, so if that is the direction, you might as well kill it and let Birding and NAB mate and survive as pure journals.

    Decentralize and refocus on serving the higher-end needs of local birders and bird clubs around the continent. You don't need an Executive Director squatting in an office surrounded by staff that alternates between plotting and toadying, you need a trail boss with a whip and an iPhone, plus a good webmaster (that's where the money should go) and somebody who can handle basic office routine and carry checks to the bank. And the three of them don't have to be in same state, let alone the same office.

    Ditch the rest of the central staffing and hire a few twenty-something (read: cheap) ex bio-bums who could be assigned regions of the U.S. and Canada as circuit-riders, arranging speakers, good-quality workshops, optics tryout events, identification seminars and so on while promoting ABA as they went. Send these people to every local birding event. Don't hire anybody over 35 for those jobs.

    The fact that ABA Sales has been farmed out is a good thing and makes the need for a central office rather limited. Likewise, ABA has no need to get involved in birding tours - that is one area that is LEAST in need of more providers.

    It is great to help with Optics Exchange and so on when time, money and energy permit, but we need to reconnect to the bird clubs and isolated birders that are the bulk of the birding community.

    Focus some energy on Canada, where ABA has always been poorly represented relative to the number of people interested in birds.

    And if we have to replace ABA with a better model, we have a Journal In Waiting: Continental Birdlife !

    Good luck in this process.

    Thus spake the Curmudgeon.

    --
    Alan Contreras
    EUGENE, OREGON
    acontrer@mindspring.com

    Contrerasbirds.blogspot.com

    Oregonreview.blogspot.com

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  27. First and foremost, the position of execute director requires someone with excellent management skills, a track record of leadership and good management ethics.

    Was the last search and vetting process critically examined to see how it could be improved? What will insure that an excellent result will be achieved this round?

    Are the right folks on the search committee? As a member, I don't know the experience of the current search committee participants vetting a candidate for executive director of a large non-profit. Any serious candidates should also be vetted by an experienced board member and/or manager from a comparable outside organization, such as ones in the CARE coalition, composed of environmental organizations with strong and effective management teams that can assess a candidate’s qualifications.

    It’s also time for the board to revisit board basics, insuring the board knows and exercises its fiduciary and management oversight.

    Knowledge of the birding community - and the hopes of ABA members for the ABA to be the force for change, advocacy and education and those things we want to the ABA to be - are important - but without a board that governs effectively and an executive director that manages effectively, none of these goals will be achieved.

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  28. I completely agree with Alan Contreras' thought here: "It would be absolutely fatal for ABA to move in the direction of spending more time, money and staff on conservation-related activities." I also think its area of interest should remain the USA and Canada; extending its reach is liable to dilute its effectiveness and its attraction to many people.

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  29. Kenn's blog is an excellent forum for comments/input about the situation ABA is in. Thank you for that Kenn, and, most especially, thank you for your continuing efforts to help ABA continue.

    Although I feel that most of the comments among the first 28 were informative and helpful, I truly wish that more ABA "grassroots members" would provide their input. One of the big problems is that ABA members have become almost estranged from "their" own organization. Hopefully, going forward the MEMBERS will be brought back under the ABA tent, and all will feel that they are being WELL SERVED by whatever activities ABA focuses on. Members need to feel a deep sense of ownership of, and oneness with ABA, and this can only happen if board and staff see this as being their top priority and work together to achieve it.

    I agree that being a member of ABA should include, as much as possible, having FUN. But let's not kid ourselves about the serious need for a vast majority of birders becoming serious bird conservationists!! (( Aren't there tens of thousands of us birders, and don't we outnumber waterfowl hunters something like 10 to 1?? Why shouldn't we birders achieve at least 20% as much conservation as the much smaller number of waterfowlers achieve?? ))

    Members of the broad recreational birding community should be visibly, forcefully and effectively involved with conserving habitats and the bird species that "we" profess to "love." ABA has never placed sufficient emphasis on conservation!!!! There is absolutely no reason why working singly or in broad partnerships to achieve what is in the long-term best interests of birds and other biodiversity shouldn't be FUN. All one has to do is look at how much enjoyment and satisfaction DU members get out of saving wetlands and associated uplands, AND sustaining strong populations of waterfowl. ABA members generally, and ABA specifically, MUST find ways to make bird conservation initiatives enjoyable, rewarding and most of all, effective....... otherwise, there is no hope for declining bird populations or for ABA.

    Thanks for reading this far.

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  30. As a former board member (1988-1998), I find the news coming out of ABA very disturbing. The board during my tenure worked diligently to save the organization from folding due to problems similar to the ones facing ABA today.

    Before hiring another Executive Director ( I find CEO or President ludicrous and pretentious for such a small organization and voted against the title change) I would suggest that the Board seek as wide an input as possible on the future of ABA. It should ask for responses to the questions below from its membership. It should convene a brain-storming group of former and current board members who have been associated with ABA for a long time plus some of the younger members who have been involved with ABA to discuss the future of ABA. These actions will help reconnect members to the organization from which many now feel alienated.

    If the Board is not inclined to seek such input, I would like to have the Board discuss the following issues before continuing down a path that has led to declining membership and funds, two extremely bad choices for Executive Director, and one choice that signaled an organization in trouble (hiring its Board chair because no qualified candidate applied).

    1. Assess whether in today's world of internet, Amazon, and social networking whether an organization such as ABA has a future. If so, should it return to its roots as an organization for traveling birders and listers. Perhaps one of the problems with recruiting members is the lack of understanding of what it means to be an ABA member.

    2. Assess whether ABA should return to its original organizational model of a volunteer-run NGO with the editors as paid staff reporting either to the Board Chair or Publications Chair plus Birders Exchange reporting to the Conservation Chair. Can ABA afford to spend a large percentage of its membership's dues for an Executive Director? Does a 12,000-member organization need, or can it afford, a highly paid Executive Director?

    Daphne Gemmill-Part I

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  31. 3. If the Board still thinks that an executive director and staff are necessary and affordable, then it should decide whether ABA should remain in Colorado Springs. ABA's location in Colorado Springs was never a board decision. It just happened due to historical circumstances, which is not a good reason for keeping the organization in that location. In fact, I have always said and still think that the Colorado Springs location holds the organization back for a variety of reasons. An example is the inability to attract a qualified Executive Director. If ABA were in a city such as Tuscon, I think the pool of qualified EOs at a lower salary would be much great. A birding location would allow members to stop and visit the offices, and at one time they could have shopped at ABA Sales. Fund raising is another example where isolation from funding sources is detrimental to fund raising efforts.

    In response to other blogs that say that ABA should drop conservation, I would disagree. An organization that represents people who derive their enjoyment from watching birds would be remiss not to acknowledge bird-related conservation issues and not to support bird-conservation measures. When ABA’s conservation policy was first adopted the concept was that conservation would be a secondary theme flowing throughout other activities. For example, an article on grassland birds would be incomplete if a discussion of habitat decline and measures to stem the decline or even increase habitat were not addressed. ABA would encourage its members to use their skills for breeding bird atlas work and other volunteer birding activities. For example, ABA would inform its members in a region of a need for volunteer bird observers during an oil spill response. The conservation committee that I chaired at that time would have thought it inappropriate for ABA to send staff to a region to coordinate on the ground response. Another reason for ABA to have a conservation presence is to appeal to a broader range of birders.

    I have shared these comments with the current Board of Directors and am posting them to contribute to a broader range of discussion on the futre of ABA.

    Daphne Gemmill Part II

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  32. We are very grateful for the comments that continue to come in from a broad cross-section of interested individuals, from some of the world's best-known bird experts to very thoughtful newcomers.

    As with many other blogs, the comments that appear here are moderated: that is, they don't post immediately, but are stored until the moderators (Kimberly and me, in this case) click "publish" or "reject." We do this only because we've received spam comments in the past, and our very strong preference is to publish everything, even if we don't agree with the opinions expressed. In this discussion of the ABA issue, many of the comments published here do NOT reflect our own views, but we hate the idea of censorship and we believe that all opinions deserve consideration.

    In the last couple of days there were two comments which, after lengthy discussion, I decided not to publish:
    1. A concerned ABA member sent a list of the personal email addresses of all the current members of the ABA board of directors. This same list was already published among the comments on Rick Wright's blog, for those who really want it. I just don't know whether the list was accurate, so I prefer not to publish it. My original blog post included a link to the ABA job description, which includes the email addresses for Erika Wilson, Chuck Bell, and Lou Morrell, the three board members who are on the search committee, but I can assure you that they are already reading the discussions on blogs and listserves.

    2. We received a very articulate and thoughtful comment from a former ABA member. The gist of her comment was that there are some very damaging rumors circulating now, and that the board needs to do something to address those. She stated that the current stonewalling by the board was unacceptable, and that they needed to assure the members that all possible steps were being taken to correct recent problems. Unfortunately, the comment also included allegations of illegal actions by specific individuals. I honestly don't know if the allegations were accurate or not, but regardless, Kim and I would be opening ourselves up to potential legal action if we published these comments. Kim and I put most of our time into nonprofit good causes, I'm currently using up an awful lot of time volunteering to try to help the ABA, and we simply can't afford to be sued for slander or libel.

    To reiterate a point from my original post, I am not on the board of the American Birding Association, and have not been for many years. I do not know any details about why ABA's most recent president is no longer with the organization. My focus is solely as a volunteer on the search committee to find the new president. I'm interested in all comments, so please keep them coming, but please don't include the kind of statements that could make us, or you, targets for lawsuits.

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  33. Great article & discussion. You seem to have even inspired Birdchick to blog about this very same issue. Too bad she didn't give you any credit!

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  34. Thanks, Joe. To be fair, Birdchick (Sharon Stiteler) did link to our blog from her main post about the ABA. I don't necessarily agree with all of Sharon's points, but she represents an important voice in the community -- she's very good at reaching out to the general public and bringing new people into birding -- and her ideas deserve serious consideration.

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  35. I worked with Jim Lane for many years and we often talked of the ABA and Jim Turner and what the organization was trying to do and what it ought to be trying to do. It was always a discussion where playing devil's advocate was almost as solid as arguing for the ABA mission statement. Birding is made up of bread crumb throwers and world travelers. An organization has to be very dilute if it tries to entertain and educate the whole spectrum. Over the past decades ABA has had editorial leadership which for most members represents what the organization is. The organization however has never had the strong direction within the corporate office - or so it seems. A board of directors is the entity from which policy and mission within an organization are derived and the administrator has to work with staff to fulfill the mission. I have always wondered what ABA should be doing, which cluster of avian aficionados it ought to mainstream and then whether it should try to provide something (or nothing) for the remaining people. The balance is very hard to determine and then it is even harder to stay on track. The job of a board is to provide mission direction and garner financial support to insure that the energy is well focused by having an excellent staff in in place. it seems that has not been done adequately. It seems that the Jim Lane conversations could be rerun today; and that is not a good thing.

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  36. I have been an ABA member for several decades, and am the founder of the Institute for Field Ornithology (IFO). In the late 1990s as I left academic life, I arranged for the IFO’s transfer to ABA. Over the past ten years, though, the organization and the magazine have had ever less relation to my interests, for many of the reasons that others have articulated here. Nonetheless, I am saddened by ABA’s implosion at the hands of an irresponsible—or worse—board of directors, and a string of tragically unsuitable chief executives. That said, I continue to be a huge fan (and proud financial supporter) of Birders’ Exchange, one of the highest leverage ways to do conservation work I have ever seen. (Commercial break: stop reading my post right now and go to https://www.aba.org/donate/bex.php. Make a contribution. It’ll have more impact than anything else you’ll do today).

    When a friend asked me to comment in this space about ABA’s problems, I reviewed the many thoughtful posts and felt I had little to add. Then I came on Blake Maybank’s post suggesting: “Keep conservation limited to Birders' Exchange and ‘North American Birds’. Leave the shouting and oil-soaked beach media-moments to the professional advocacy groups.” I am stunned!

    I feel the need right off to make clear that there is a huge difference between “effective conservation” and “grandstanding.” Perhaps Mr. Maybank is conflating the two.

    But more importantly, I urge ABA to do more, not less, conservation. ABA members have the right stuff: field skills, intimate knowledge of sites and habitats, the energy to make a difference, and above all, better reason than anyone to ensure that our future is filled with bird song, healthy wetlands, and a thriving system of protected areas like parks and refuges.

    When we started the IFO in 1984, it was with the goal of offering birders the skills and knowledge to contribute to ornithology and conservation. For 25 years, before ABA pulled the plug, it did just that. And we had fun doing it, organizers, instructors and students alike.

    Critical census programs like the Breeding Bird Census and the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) need volunteers with skills that many ABA’ers have. And these programs do have an impact: To name one example among many, the National Resource Damage Assessment that will determine the true effects –and the magnitude of the fines--of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is using ISS data for the Gulf states. New volunteers and ISS sites are needed to assess recovery from the disaster, both around the Gulf and elsewhere.

    It’s no secret that bird populations in the Americas are suffering considerable losses. For ABA and its membership to ignore these issues is a recipe for irrelevancy and for continuing declines in membership. Count me out.

    As far as the structural issues within ABA, they’re nothing new to small non-profits, and in fact, well-tested solutions abound and are taught in virtually every MBA program in the US and Canada. I’d even bet that some of the folks who teach courses in Managing Non-Profits are themselves birders. Let’s recruit a few for the ABA board rather than reinventing the wheel.

    As a starting place, though, for thinking about the responsibilities of the Board and the executive director, I highly recommend Dayton, K. 2001. Governance is Governance. Independent Sector, available for download at http://www.independentsector.org/uploads/Accountability_Documents/governance_is_governance.pdf. It starts out “There are more than 1 million nonprofit institutions in this country. It has long been my conviction that too many of those institutions have underemphasized the importance of good management and good governance.” Sound familiar?

    In closing, my thanks to all who have posted thoughtfully and respectfully here and, especially, to Kenn for providing this space for conversation. While we’ve only met once or twice over the years, I have admired that you seem always to be asking exactly the right questions.

    --Charles D. Duncan

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  37. NOTE: THE FOLLOWING COMMENT IS FROM KATHLEEN S. ANDERSON:

    I served on ABA’s board for a short time (2001-2003) before resigning as I became increasingly disturbed by the (to me) incomprehensible irresponsibility and lack of curiosity of the Board about what was really going on within the organization. It is my belief and understanding that ultimately the Board is responsible for an organization that is failing, financially and organizationally, and I did not have the financial resources to assist in meeting the financial debts if ABA dissolved.

    Among the many policies that I objected to was the directive that staff should not talk to board members. In a healthy organization both are part of a team and, if there is no communication there is no way for Board members to have any insight into developing problems of morale or finances. As Rick has so well expressed it, I believe there is a role for ABA, but to survive will require a profound shakeup of the current board and some candid discussions between Board and staff about how to reorganize the mission, the policies, and the best way out of this internal mess.

    Until the Board understands the frustrations of the loyal and talented staff, they will continue to blindly preside over a collapsing organization. As a start, I would suggest that each Board member request a complete financial statement and study it carefully, bearing in mind their individual responsibilities for the situation ABA finds itself in. The suggested resignation of all Board members might, in some ways, be a good thing, but I am not familiar enough with Roberts Rules of Order, or any other guide, that would provide a legal way for the membership to acquire new directors should the ABA find itself without a Board.

    As David Larson said, American Birds and Birders Exchange are great services and neither should be abandoned for they have important roles to play in archiving evolving and changing bird populations and in providing Latin American conservationists and students with the equipment they need to study and preserve their avifauna. They must continue whatever happens to ABA.

    - Kathleen S. Anderson

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  38. I was going to pass on this topic until I saw Alan Contreras' contribution. Maybe it's a West Coast thing, but I think he's right on. Although I consider myself a fully retired birder, perhaps I'd still qualify under the very broad definition of the word, silly as I think that definition is.

    I was a 1969 charter member of ABA, perhaps one of a fairly small number still living. I also dropped my membership in ABA more than 15 years ago. I was probably among the first of many to do so from disappointment (disgust?) with the organization's direction and politics.

    Many of the people who have commented, at least on Birdchat, may not even be aware of ABA's raison-d'etre. Claudia Wilds wrote a nice essay about ABA's formation and early history, published in Birding in 1994. It is still on ABA's website:

    http://www.aba.org/about/history_wilds.html

    Arguably, progress outpaced ABA's ability to adapt to a brave new world. A series of field guides, family monographs, bird-finding, and other literature has pretty-well filled one hole in the resources available to keen birders in 1968-9. The internet now serves both to disseminate birding information quickly and to bring birders together.

    Encourage people to take up birding? Local nature centers, bird clubs, Audubon groups, and many others were doing that long before ABA existed, and still do. To hijack an old saying, "All birding is local." Conservation? I can think of many organizations that are more effective than ABA ever was, or could be. In some respects, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO) has done a more effective job in recent years than ABA in reaching out to birders of all stripes.

    ABA's strength has always been its publications, although those have had their ups and downs. But, if the more advanced articles were moved to North American Birds, wouldn't the independent Birder's World serve less-advanced birders at least as well as Birding does? Birders Exchange is a good idea, but it existed before ABA, and before that, many of us were helping budding birders in less-developed countries obtain unavailable or unaffordable resources. I daresay that will survive.

    Despite the rhetoric, I'm not convinced that ABA in its present form is worth saving, although that's not my call to make. I do see a genuine gap in the world of birds in the Americas -- coordinating the many provincial, state and local birding organizations, ornithological societies, and related groups that do support birders' interests. Such a group might not have individual members, but it could be an excellent vehicle to publish a subscription journal which incorporates the best of North American Birds, Birding, and any other national or continental magazine that serves keen birders. ABA's original audience was clear and narrow, and the result was instant success. Then the tent grew ever larger and less focused, and eventually the main support collapsed. A cacophony of sealions mooing in different directions won't raise the mist any better than one (nor catch any dinner). BTW, that was a great metaphor, Alan.

    Bill (P William) Smith
    Vancouver (the original one)

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  39. All, Kenn especially. I hope you guys succeed in all your efforts. First let me just allow why I no longer am with Birding. Frankly, in my case, I just "matured" beyond the whole list,listing and chase thing list thing which is what Birding more and more and more about..I don't condemn that, it just bores me to tears now, even though I was a sucker for all of that stuff once......Nor was I interested in articles about non-North American birding and birding trips. I just found there to be less and less of value. I recently gave up my 30+ year collection of Birding Magazine going back to 1974, more because I wanted space than anything, and I just found went back to them less and less. I often wondered if the editors just ran out of interesting things to publish..I was never interested at all in Winging It and those just went to the recycle bin so ABA could save some bucks there and all the other publications they sent out. As has been said there is an unlimited resources of info online and quicker paths to to much of the same that Birding publishes

    All of this said I would be devastated if NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS,got the axe. It is in fact the only ornithological journal I still subscribe to.

    I will likely never return to ABA unless the whole "sport" side of it vanishes, or is at least toned down significantly..I will however support NAB for as long as it grows and continues to be published. I treasure my collection of it in its various forms going back to the early 50's.

    Good luck, I do not envy anyone on the current or future BODs

    Brush

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  40. A number of comments have referred to the ABA board, to the bylaws, and to the financial records of the organization. Oddly, though, only the names of the board members are available on the ABA Web site. Contrast this with the Web site for, say, Audubon (www.audubon.org), where we find names and bios of board members, a schedule of board meetings (all of which are open to the public), a board contact email address, the most recent 990 (IRS) filing, the current annual report, and a downloadable strategic plan. With a bit of looking around, we can find information about nomination and election of regional board members (elected by vote of local chapters).

    By the way, Audubon's site is by no means unique; I chose it simply as an example with which many ABA members might be familiar. And I don't mean to imply that Audubon is perfect: it has had its own share of controversy, concern, and less-than-optimal decisions in the past; all organizations are subject to missteps. Still, there seems to be quite a contrast in the level of openness, at least as reflected by the content of the Web sites.

    Is there some deep meaning here? Does the lack of information about the organizational internals of the ABA indicate reluctance to share such information? I hesitate to read too much into what may be simple oversight, but perhaps the contrast illustrates the concerns that many have raised. Just how are board members of the ABA selected, and what is the membership input in this process? Is there an annual report and, if so, where is it? Where is financial information? (It may be possible to dig up the IRS 990 on the Web somewhere, but it sure would be easier to find if it were on the ABA Web site.) How does one contact staff or board? Is there a strategic plan and, if so, how does one find it?

    Simply sharing basic information might go some way toward developing more trust.

    Like others, I am concerned about the history of board and organizational decisions. I also realize that being a board member for a nonprofit organization is a difficult and often thankless job. In any case, greater transparency and more efforts at involving the membership might be a good start toward moving forward again.

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  41. Kenn, thanks for your thoughtful comments to kick off this discussion, and the venue for everyone else to chime in with their interesting comments.

    Many have expressed disappointment or outright criticism of the board of directors, and of course the present discussion has been precipitated by the search for a new president. Not to negate these issues, but I think much of the membership has to a large extent been blissfully ignorant of these matters until now. Naturally a time like this is a good opportunity to evaluate all aspects of an organization, but while some long-time members have lamented changes in the focus of the ABA over time, I’m sure there are also many happy with the current state of affairs, and so I don’t know whether a drastic change of mission is necessarily warranted.

    From what has been written both here and elsewhere, it’s evident that there are substantially divergent visions of what the ABA should be. No organization can be all things to all people, nor can its focus be too narrow if it hopes to survive. My impression is that the one issue that is splitting ranks the most is conservation, with some believing it has no place in the ABA and is already emphasized too much, and others convinced it needs to take a more prominent role. Yes, there are other organizations that target conservation (some of them primarily focused on birds), but likewise it can be argued that local groups cover off many of the more “pure” birding aspects ... and indeed some have questioned whether in fact the ABA’s survival is viable if it has no unique role. But that’s a big “if”, and while opinions differ over what aspects of the ABA stand out, for me the strength is the publications, which are beyond the scope of what any local group could put out, and despite concerns of editorial drift expressed by some, much more focused on birding than any truly conservation-based group would offer. Were the ABA to cease existing, I think a considerable void would have to be filled. That to me suggests there is a marketable core around which to build.

    As others have noted, the ABA is far from alone in facing challenges. From local birding clubs to international ornithological societies, membership decline is a common problem. I believe various factors are involved, with the ever-increasing availability of (largely free) information on the internet not to be underestimated. Ultimately though, people question whether a particular membership is worthwhile ... I’m a member of various organizations across the spectrum from local to international, and with many of them I weigh the costs and benefits annually. Loyalty and history carry a certain influence, but only for so long; in the end, an organization has to provide its members with strong reasons to remain, whether through tangible benefits (i.e. products) and/or a broader mission that can be embraced.

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  42. (part 2):

    So, while I appreciate that some would rather see the ABA leave conservation issues to others, I think doing so would overly narrow its appeal. The ABA could perhaps pull back and concentrate purely on its publications, while also focusing them more on core issues. However, I don’t see much potential for growth there – and whether we like it or not, the ugly reality exists that the organization has to be financially viable, and that favours presenting a broader appeal instead. Presenting it that way almost makes it look like including some degree of focus on conservation is a necessary evil, but I think that does it a disservice. Most of the birders I know see the two as inseparable, and I think to try to enforce a distinction is unrealistic. But clearly there are strong opinions on both sides, and whether the ABA embraces or rejects inclusion of conservation issues in its mandate, there will be some people who decide to be (and not to be) members as a consequence. Where the balance lies I don’t know, and perhaps it’s an issue the board of directors needs to review in some detail. But rather than seeing it is a battle between two extremes, I’d like to hope there’s a middle ground that a broader constituency can embrace ... not every member may read (or enjoy) every article in Birding (which is probably true for most magazines), nor will every member take advantage of all potential benefits, or agree with all policies and programs. There’s no way to satisfy people at opposing extremes, but I would hope that a majority of members (and potential members) would recognize the benefits of the ABA being more inclusive rather than exclusive.

    Above all though, it seems to me that the fundamental issue is that there are far more birders in North America than members of the ABA. No doubt there are many non-members who would benefit tangibly (i.e. skills) or intangibly (interest/enjoyment) from membership ... so why haven’t they joined (or why have they left)? Perhaps for a few it’s concern over management of the ABA, but I would imagine more banal reasons dominate – e.g. belief that cost of membership isn’t worthwhile, unawareness of ABA and what it entails. The challenge for the new President, and for the board in general, will be to understand these reasons better and determine whether they can be addressed.

    Best of luck to all those involved,

    Marcel Gahbauer
    Calgary, Alberta

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  43. I am a long time member of the ABA. I joined primarily to get Birding magazine and that continues to be the primary benefit I derive from my membership and the main reason I am still a member (despite what is beginning to seem like essentially a rather expensive subscription fee!). I also subscribe to North American Birds. I'm a lister but not serious enough to have ever submitted list totals. I've never been to an ABA event and have only used the book store a few times in the past (before it was out sourced). I may be a more typical ABA member than many of the commentators in this discussion and I suspect it's folks like me the ABA needs to recruit and retain to continue and be successful. Serious birders that benefit from the publications but could take or leave the rest. On the other hand I do think the ABA should be involved in conservation advocacy where it makes sense and am happy to support that through my membership. Birder's Exchange seems like a successful and effective program. Partnering w/ other groups also seems a good way to go. I don't understand the dogmatic opposition of some to the ABA being involved in conversation activities (and it's not really clear to me what this means in practical terms). I have to say I largely agree with Marcel Gahbauer (a previous commentator) on his points about the ABA's mission with regard to conservation. Withdrawing from conservation activities would narrow the ABA's appeal and further erode membership (and the few past members who may be rejoin would not make up the difference). Also as has been mentioned numerous times birding has changed and the ABA has not kept up. Nevertheless I think the ABA can adjust to the these changes and continue to cater to the "serious" birder while also broadening it's appeal. Thanks Ken for taking on this challenge.

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  44. As some have suggested, I am actually in favor of more conservation promoted via ABA. Instead of publishing "newspapers" which everyone knows are plummeting in sales, invest that money into habitat and write newsletters about it...We can eventually find all the "bird" info we need elsewhere and ABA likely far more support.
    I dropped ABA in part because it became more and more a less GREEN org., touting the 'who gives a flip" accomplishments of individuals that burn barrels of oil chasing a single species for some sort of stupid list. Frankly no one cares about my list or yours, so why does ABA even bother with this garbage anymore..?. Let ABA buy a few preserves, some habitat in critical areas, and really make a difference. Dump the sports end of the dollar-sucking publications and do something useful for future generations..That will gain far more long esteem IMHO than a stack of browning news print in a closet..As a Chair of a once promising Bird publication I saw how it rose and why it failed, though a much at smaller venue than ABA. I was however very proud to be on the Texas Ornithological Society Board of Directors at the time that TOS brought (with sweat and tears) Texans and the world famous Sabine's Woods followed Crawford Woods then followed by the now nearly 300 acre Magic Ridge in Texas. After my tenure came Hook's Woods and other preserve until recently, when TOS has seemed to go dead, or damn near dormant, again as well...Just think if we had poured all that money into print.....None of the preserves would be here for birders across the world and country to enjoy and learn from.!
    ABA can recover by making a difference instead of just publishing for the sake of it, if it thinks it is strapped for cash and membership.


    Brush Freeman

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  45. Kenn – Thanks for the thread. It is refreshing to see an honest and open discussion about ABA and its future. As life members and former employees of ABA, we have tried, as best we could, to keep up with events at the organization. As noted, verifiable information has been a little hard to come by. We have copies of recent audited/reviewed financial information. Our review shows that the organization is on a downward spiral and unless serious changes are made, can continue to operate for only a few years at best before becoming insolvent. We would be glad to send PDF copies of the financial statements for the years 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 and/or IRS Form 990s for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 to anyone who is interested in seeing them. We can be contacted at CindyAndBob@earthlink.net. Thanks again and I hope the current board members are listening. Cindy Lippincott and Bob Berman.

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  46. This is Paul Baicich again. Excuse me, but the post by Cindy Lippincott and Bob Berman encouraged me to add a few more comments.

    This is long enough that it will probably appear in two sections...

    The offer by Cindy Lippincott and Bob Berman to make hard-to-find (yet public) ABA financial reports available to anyone who asks indicates two important things: first, how gracious and thoughtful Cindy and Bob happen to be, always open to help (no wonder they received the Claudia Wilds Award for service to the ABA in 2001), and second, how imperiled the organization is. Their review reveals an organization “on a downward spiral” and, absent serious changes, “can continue to operate for only a few years at best before becoming insolvent.”

    If “imperiled” is an adjective that does not sum up the scene, let me suggest five additional adjectives in light of the ABA mess this week:

    Non-responsive – If anything, the ABA Board is at least consistent. As a group it has nothing to say about anything. That, of course, is with the single exception of the Rob Robinson fiasco. Then, the Board, emphatically and with unity, says that it cannot respond to the termination of the President due to related issue of “confidentiality.” As a group they still have nothing to say about rapidly diminishing finances (instead made available independently by Lippincott and Berman), a seriously declining membership, and how remaining activities might fulfill the organization’s stated mission. A few individual Board Members have said some good things about what a new CEO ideally might look like, aspects of social networking, and concern that a broad community of birders needs to be reached by ABA, but nothing official is forthcoming of any real substance from the Board (e.g., its Executive Committee) as a whole. Basically, everything is covered under “confidentiality.”

    Directionless – That’s the ABA staff. Without a Board willing to give leadership, the crew carries on without a wheel-house, map, compass, sextant, or the latitude and longitude of a safe port. One Board member assigned the task of liaison with the staff even used the opportunity to make them feel disrespected, their work little valued by the Board. The logical outcome? Fear, if not simply confusion, at the helm in Colorado Springs. (And the conditions in Colorado Springs will continue even after a new President/Exec-Director is found, unless and until a system of “Upward Review” – such as that outlined by Jon Dunn – is instituted.)

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  47. NOTE -- THE FOLLOWING IS THE SECOND HALF of the comment from Paul J. Baicich, which was cut off by the odd workings of Blogger's comment window.

    . . . .
    Adrift – That’s the ABA members, measured in small number (fewer than 10,000 issues of Birding in bimonthly circulation). Nobody knows what to expect. (This goes far beyond the now-old Rob Robinson issue.) What should membership feel is the purpose for ABA? Such concerns cover the building of a willingness to identify with ABA, the fate of gatherings (previously conferences and conventions), the function of modern and effective publications (from the magazine, the newsletter, and NAB, to the birdfinding guides), adjusting to modern communications (and appropriate sales), the role of bird education, balanced and effective conservation and birder public policy, working relations with partners (commercial, NGOs, and government entities), and building a dependable financial stream to make it all work. And, when it comes down to the members’ core need, it covers essential trust.

    Gullible – Even if a great President/Exec-Director is found for the ABA, someone brave enough - or foolish enough - to take on the internal mess and a dysfunctional Board, the Board will claim that all is well, things are really on the mend, that the Search Committee (including a Kenn Kaufman who stuck his neck out for ABA once again) did a fabulous job. We will be gullible if we believe all that. (Yes, the Kaufman part will be true, regardless.) No new CEO will be able to make things right as long as this irresponsible board continues as is. Heads must roll. Some members of the Executive Committee and the Finance Committee simply have to go. Their unwillingness to face the facts – and face the membership – should be reason enough.

    Voiceless – In the meantime, there is no voice for birders. (Nor do we birders have respect.) As Ted Eubanks noted in a recent blog post of his ( http://www.birdspert.org/?p=736): hunters have a voice (indeed they have multiple voices); anglers have a voice; kayakers and canoers have a voice; hikers and campers have a voice; even ATV-users have a voice. Not so for millions of birders. No, the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon don’t do that job. After all, it really isn’t their function. And ABA certainly doesn’t do the job. Ultimately, ABA will continue to fail in this regard - and birders and birds will be ill-served - as long as some leading members of this non-responsive Board remain.

    Birding in the 21st century deserves better.

    -- Paul J. Baicich

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  48. Paul Baicich's ’s comments are absolutely correct, and it would benefit ABA board members to listen.

    I believe if ABA were to do the following immediately the organization might be able to be saved:

    Recall the board, except one (Texas recall law). Have that one nominate the number needed to adopt new policy (these board members would be in-term until board elections are held).

    Appoint or hire the following:
    A recognized, respected birder to head ABA.

    A skilled operations officer, a person who knows about nonprofits.

    A financial person who knows nonprofit law in regard to finance and who is financially savvy.
    These three people can turn ABA around. The PR person to draw in the members and donors, the operations person to set things straight, and the finance person to get the financials in order. ABA could not pay what is needed, but could base salary on performance –if the job gets done, then money would be available for appropriate salary.

    Paul is right ABA should focus it’s attention and goals around the “birder” and at all levels of birding from the young to the old, with no experience to having experience. There is so much you can do if ABA stays focused around the “birder” in education, publications, policy, etc.

    Put a website design in place that is inexpensive and interactive (so each function of ABA has control of their own page i.e. BEX, Education, Membership, etc.) That keeps a website interesting and up to date, and there are programs out there that are cheap and easy to use.

    Decide which publication is the most important for print and in attracting membership ( I would say that is Birding), drop the rest and move to the web for everyone to read.

    Then go public with the changes and the new ABA. Ask for membership/public help to get ABA back on track –the birders organization. That is the niche, flourish in it, ABA would have no competition.

    This should get the organization moving in the right direction. This is my two cents worth. I believe it needs to happen now, fast and clean. The time for talk is over, action is called for. I am not much of a birder, but often those on the outside can see clearer.

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  49. While reading the comments on Kenn's blog a day or two ago, I was also listening to the news which covered the release of Apple's newest iPhone here the country where I will be living for the next few years. The iPhone story was with the usual attendant sleep-overs on the street in front of the store in order to be near the front of the line to get the phone (a sad life, if you ask me), and so the two events came together in my brain ... what if Apple had taken the road that ABA has taken? They would be a company that was still trying to convince people that the "Apple IIe Card," introduced in 1990, was still up-to-date and good enough ... Can you picture Steve Jobs standing on the stage saying, "We have a tight little group, and everybody's happy". The ABA approach has been that they don't want to change anything, no matter how much membership/financial trouble they are in. But Apple has the completely opposite approach -- they are constantly searching for the new thing, the best innovation, the most useful gadget. And they are thriving -- people wait with breathless anticipation to get their newest innovation. When was the last time anybody waited breathlessly for anything from ABA? Probably about 1990!

    - Maxthe9

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  50. I’d like to add one more voice to the chorus of thoughts and observations offered recently in discussions about the ABA on the Web and through the BirdChat listserv.

    I come to the discussion from a different perspective. My name is Jann Dorothy. I am a decades-long recreational birding enthusiast. Some of you may know me as BirdGalAlcatraz on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not a scholar, nor a scientist. I don’t have a lengthy life list. But I may well represent the vast majority of birding enthusiasts – a sizeable number – who do not have a history with the ABA. And I believe that these people hold the key to the ABA’s future. It’s pretty simple; one just needs to do the math.

    Hundreds of heartfelt and well-reasoned observations have been made public over the last few weeks from both notable and not-so- well-known voices in the birding community. This is a summary of the recurrent themes:

    • The ABA has had a long and distinguished history, but also has had its share of missteps. Some people fear for the future of the organization.

    • There is a deep well of pride and nostalgia for the ABA. But there is concern that in today's fast-moving world, competition from internet venues and other recreational pursuits for the same dollar presents challenges to the idea of “membership."

    • There seems to be a lack of consensus of the ABA’s mission: recurring conservation vs. recreation discussions that are inherently circular. Mission creep often hampers organizations where such discussions can become dominant.

    While many have expressed ideas about what the ABA should do in the future, few have felt qualified to offer thoughts on how it should do so. That’s why the ABA is seeking a new president. And, I believe Kenn Kaufman is to be commended for offering his service to the ABA’s Search Committee and for reaching out to the community for input and ideas.

    From my perspective as one who’s had a long career in management and marketing, here are a few thoughts on how the ABA might get back on track.

    • Re-engage and re-grow membership. First and foremost, steps need to be taken to stem the tide of membership loss and begin to build numbers again. This is the ABA’s principal source of revenue. It has to be secured or all other strategies are moot.

    • Leverage core strengths in targeted ways that serve membership growth. These include Birding magazine and Birder’s Exchange, as well as recognizing the importance and contributions of the ABA's professional staff.

    • Evaluate ways in which board service and member contributions can be broadened. Internal and external communications should be strengthened and roles re-examined.

    • Redefine the ABA’s strategic plan and aggressively promote a comprehensive marketing agenda. This should incorporate a vibrant marketing communications plan that integrates membership, marketing and fundraising, and effectively employs both traditional and new media technologies.

    Some would like the ABA to become more like the NRA or Ducks Unlimited, primarily a political advocacy model. I happen to agree that no organization can represent birding advocacy in the way the ABA can.

    However, redirecting ABA’s mission is a long term aspiration. ABA’s shorter term focus must be upon driving member growth to stabilize itself or such larger goals are unattainable.

    The road ahead is not an easy one, but I concur there’s a role for the ABA to play in today’s crowded marketplace. The organization occupies a niche that effective branding and positioning can successfully exploit, and I hope the board of the ABA chooses a leader who can make that happen.

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