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Introducing the APS Strategic Plan

I have written about the strategic planning process that was undertaken by the APS Board of Directors and the APS senior staff in previous columns. I'm pleased to report that the Board approved our Strategic Plan at our meeting in Atlanta in February. In support of the plan, the Board also approved an impressive 55-page implementation plan created by the APS staff with Board input.

The 17-page Strategic Plan is available in its entirety on the APS website, but I thought I would synopsize the key points in this column.

The Vision

The American Philatelic Society encourages and promotes the philatelic arts as endeavors that are relaxing, mentally stimulating and historically and culturally important; and is the national center in serving and supporting members who engage in philatelic and related arts.

The APS Statement of Purpose is:
  • to promote stamp collecting for people of all ages
  • to offer services to its membership and to philately in general, including knowledge and education, which enhance the pleasure and friendliness of stamp collecting
  • to initiate and coordinate new programs for the benefit of stamp collecting and of all collectors
  • to represent the United States of America in the world body of philately
  • to assist its members in acquiring and disposing of philatelic materials

Management of the Society

The American Philatelic Society is committed to serving its membership through sound business practices, effective and responsible use of resources, innovative and dynamic leadership, and high performance and accountability.

The Strategic Planning Process

The American Philatelic Society completed the first stage of a strategic planning process in 2004. The Board of Directors, supported by the Society's Executive Director, identified core concepts and articulated a vision for the future consistent with these concepts. This vision is based upon an understanding of the issues facing the organization: a slowing in membership growth, aging membership, relocation to a new headquarters, changing collecting patterns, increasing reliance upon electronic resources with a corresponding decrease in the use of paper, and the increasing demands placed upon Society staff. This vision represents the results of serious discussions between board members with different perspectives and the review and consolidation of suggestion and comments they have received form from a broad cross-section of APS members.

Increasing Member Confidence

A close examination of the plan will demonstrate to members that the American Philatelic Society is dedicated to:
  • Accountability in management.
  • Integrity in decision-making.
  • The support of excellence.
  • Responsive leadership

Strategic Plan as Framework

The American Philatelic Society's Strategic Planning process was not limited to the development of this Plan. We developed a vision, reviewed the Mission, and worked toward a Strategic Plan to ensure that all future Society work is undertaken in a concerted, effective manner. This includes:
  • Budget development and the allocation of resources.
  • General management and business processes.
  • Data collection and information technology policy.
The following four objectives describe the key results upon which the society will be focused in the coming year[s]:
  • Provide useful and valuable services to members.
  • Increase membership in society
  • Develop the APC and make it the physical and virtual center for American philately
  • Ensure financial security
Identifying these key areas does not mean there are not other important areas that require and will receive attention.

To address these four areas, the Board has identified three key strategies to focus actions upon the objectives. These three strategies will be applied in all four objective areas. Each strategy does not work equally well for each objective; they represent the Board's approach to the strategic planning process. Each of these following strategies addresses the key element of our Statement of Purpose: to promote stamp collecting. Indeed, all activities of the APS serve to promote stamp collecting. This plan addresses a few - but not all - of the highly strategic areas to support this purpose:
  • Partnerships - an incentive exchange or other exchange of things of value so both sides benefit and achieve things they cannot do alone.
  • Electronic information including increased use of the Internet and other electronic forms of information transfer and information exchange. A major part of this addresses updating the APS web site to include more content.
  • Enhanced communication. Communications apply to
    • Within Board
    • Between the Board and the membership
    • With external groups

Increasing Services to Members

Current Focus

The completion and utilization of the American Philatelic Center figures prominently in the ability of the Society to provide enhanced member services. With the additional workspace we now have we are undertaking these new endeavors:
  • Seminar weekends, the first held in November 2004 and focusing on the philatelic marketplace.
  • Fee-based stamp identification service to help members correctly identify odd items in their collections.
  • Listing service in conjunction with the Internet-based StampStore for members to place items on eBay.
These activities are added to current membership services that include the monthly magazine American Philatelist, Sales Division, StampStore, Stamp Insurance, STAMPSHOW and Ameristamp Expo, Expertizing Services, Reference Collection, Estate Advisory Service, Summer Seminar, Stamp Campus, Stamp Saturday, All-Star Stamp Clubs, Code of Ethics, support of the American Philatelic Research Library, and the APS website.

Intended Outcomes

The Board identified three outcomes it intends to achieve to strengthen member services. They are:
  • Strengthening the library.
  • Expanding the reference collection and improving accessibility to it.
  • Developing electronic information architecture in support of the hobby.
The other strategic areas, recruiting members, developing the APC, and ensuring financial security, are all means to an end of providing services to the membership. This area is the one that determines if members are satisfied. Without the other three strategic areas we cannot do this. If we cannot do this, the rest don't matter.

Increase APS Membership

Current Focus

The American Philatelic Society needs about 3,500 new members a year just to maintain our current membership levels. In 2003 we recruited 2,300. If we are to stabilize the membership, we need 1,200 additional new members each year, or roughly 25 more members each week in addition to those we are currently recruiting. That doesn't seem onerous, but we are not doing it.

Current recruiting efforts include offering a $5 "bounty" for each new member recruited by a current member, affiliate, or chapter. Members who achieve their 25th anniversary as a member of the Society receive a free membership to give to a collector of their choice. This has recently been extended to members on their 5th anniversary of membership.

"Backer boards" have been provided to the USPS to use in packing philatelic items sold through the Philatelic Fulfillment Center in Kansas. This has not been as successful as hoped.

Membership lists from APS Chapters are routinely cultivated for new members. Recruiting is an ongoing effort at all of the World Series of Philately Shows.

Business Reply Cards that members and dealers can include in all their philatelic correspondence work well in generating new members and are available for free from the Central Office.

Banner ads appear occasionally on eBay when individuals do stamp searches. There is a link to the APS website on the eBay Stamps homepage.

Intended Outcomes

The Board identified three outcomes it intends to achieve to improve the Society's outreach and partnership efforts. They are:
  • Developing a compelling message to arouse the curiosity of non-members to join APS.
  • Improving the self-image of stamp collectors.
  • Creating an effective membership promotion program that will eliminate declining membership and begin a period of growth, with a goal of 50,000 members (a 9% growth) within five years of implementation.
The future of the Society, as we want it to be, depends upon recruiting and retaining new members. Efforts will have to be directed to younger collectors, topical collectors (perhaps in cooperation with the American Topical Association) and making the Society more visible and useful.

Develop the American Philatelic Center

Current Focus

The American Philatelic Center (APC) had its grand opening in June 2004. A successful Fundraising Dinner was held in conjunction with the grand opening, and a number of related events brought many visitors to the APC. Members and other visitors are encouraged to come and tour the Center. Daily tours are given at set times, and a self-guided tour brochure is available at the reception desk.

The first weekend seminar is scheduled for November on the subject of the philatelic marketplace.

Future renovations are planned pending sufficient funding.

Intended Outcome

Completion of the APC and the entire historic Match Factory complex and utilization of the expanded facility for APS seminars, educational opportunities, and exhibitions.

The goal of developing the APC reflects both the physical APC and the virtual APC. Both are vital elements for a dynamic society.

Ensure financial security

Current Focus

In 2003, the American Philatelic Society Board adopted a ten-year plan to raise $10 million. This ongoing capital campaign earmarks 60% of the funds to the development of the American Philatelic Center, and 40% for APS initiatives. It is imperative that the APS continues this commitment and sees this campaign through to its goal. The first year of the campaign (2004) will reach its target.

The APS Board, Finance Committee, and Staff have cut costs to the extent possible without cutting member services, but we have not yet been able to permanently balance the operating budget. We have openly reported the financial challenge that the APS is facing. In 2004 the Board of Directors eliminated the discount for early payment of dues. The dues remain at the same level; the early payment discount is no longer granted.

The Society has a structural deficit - that is, the income from dues does not cover the member benefits that the Society provides. There were three options available to the APS - reduce services which is undesirable and antithetical to the goal of increasing services; create additional sources of revenue (many of our activities do not generate a positive cash flow); or continue to use bequests and investments to pay for annual operating costs. Through 2003 [?] we have been using our investments to pay for annual operating expenses.

Intended Outcomes

The Board identified four intended outcomes it intends to achieve to improve the Society's financial security and fundraising efforts. They are:
  • Maintaining a well-organized fundraising campaign and long-term commitment to its success.
  • Achieving a balanced operating budget.
  • Establishing sources of steady investment income.
  • Seeking opportunities to provide profit-making services.
Ensuring financial security is not as visible as member services or the American Philatelic Center, but is just as important (if not more so) to the health and survivability of the Society. The APS is financially healthy. We have a $3 million endowment, which provides some of our needed income. We have about 46,000 generous members who have made the first year of our capital campaign a success. We have a Finance Committee, a Board, and a Staff all committed to addressing the fiscal challenge and are meeting that challenge head on. We will achieve our goal, but it will take time, focus, and hard work.

Maintaining the Strategic Plan


The integration of planning, process, and budget necessitates a review of the availability and allocation of resources necessary to achieve desired goals. The American Philatelic Society Board of Directors should initiate such a review as often as determined necessary, but at least once every two years after a new Board of Directors takes office.

The goals contained in this Strategic Plan provide a framework for actions to promote stamp collecting and achieve our strategic goals over a two-year period. The results of this implementation will be evaluated to determine the accomplishments and impact of the American Philatelic Society's programs and activities. The importance of relying upon Strategic Plan goals as a basis for activity establishes direct linkages between the Strategic Plan and the Budget, which also must be reviewed.

The Implementation Plan

APS Executive Director Bob Lamb and his staff at APS Headquarters in Bellefonte produced an implementation plan designed by department. Each department has identified strategic objectives that support the Strategic plan and a timeline for implementation. The timelines are broken into measures that will aid both Staff and Board in determining the success of the plan.

This Plan is an important management tool that will guide Society activity during the next few years. It will also serve as a framework for an ongoing assessment of our processes and for determining how to best allocate limited resources. An examination of our plan, our budget, and our guidelines clearly shows how they complement one another. I'm proud of the work done by both the staff and the board in developing and implementing the APS Strategic Plan, and grateful to APS member Steve Zwillinger, who served as our meeting facilitator.

Your letters and e-mails were taken into consideration in all of the planning we have been doing. I encourage you to continue voicing your opinion. This is YOUR APS! Contact me by mail at P.O. Box 250, Pleasant Plain, OH 45162 or by e-mail: tongajan@aol.com.

Janet Klug
May 1, 2005

Published by permission. ©2005 Janet Klug

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