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ABA Member and Non-member Survey Summary

Last September, the annual member meeting of the ABA coincided with the opening of our new headquarters in Delaware City.  Taking advantage of the presence of a number of members of the board of directors, we spent an afternoon  discussing ideas for improving service to our 12,000 members and attracting new members.  One of our conclusions was that an informal survey would help us better understand our areas of opportunity.

On November 15th, a link to an online survey was posted at various locations across the ABA website, blog, Facebook, and in several Flight Calls e-mail updates.  One small notice of the survey appeared in the September/October print copy of BIRDING magazine (mailed in December) but the primary promotion of the survey was via electronic communications.  As an incentive to participate, we offered a weekly drawing from the pool of all responders for a free year of ABA membership or, for current members, a one-year extension.

Responders were given the option to remain anonymous but roughly 45% did include contact information along with their responses.

2,164 total survey responses

During the six weeks the survey was open (through December 31) a total of 2,164 responses were recorded from 1,418 current ABA members, 339 former members, and 407 who have never been ABA members.

This was not a randomized survey and the responses came from those who were motivated to respond.  However, given the quantity of responses (more than 10% of all current members), these results are worth examining!

The percentages that follow are rounded to whole numbers for simplicity and, if the responses have been sorted in by size, the sort column is indicated in red.

You can click on any table below to see a larger version


How long as a member

Table 1

How satisfied as a member

Table 2

how likely are you to recommend members

Table 3

It’s interesting that nearly half (49%) of current ABA members have been with the organization for more than ten years.  It’s great to see that 87% of members are mostly or very satisfied and 82% are likely to recommend membership to others.

members top three reasons

Table 4

In Table 4, “learning more about birds and bird identification” was the most frequently mentioned factor for being a member of the ABA, followed by BIRDING magazine and belief in the mission and purpose.  The only other reason selected by more than 40% of members was “supporting bird conservation” but see my comments on Table 6 below.


Describe yourself as a birder

Table 5

Table 5 is sorted from top to bottom by the numbers in the red column (member responses.)  While there are some differences in emphasis, both groups (members and former/never members) ranked these descriptive phrases in about the same order.

Challenges and needs as a birder

Table 6

Both groups also ranked their greatest challenges/needs in roughly the same order (Table 6) but there is a sharper emphasis among ABA members on learning more about bird identification. This emphasis echoes the member-only responses in Table 4 above where bird identification was also at the top of the list.  We deliberately structured this current question to offer many of the same options as those shown in Table 4 but we omitted “BIRDING magazine” and “supporting the mission” as choices because these are essentially “baked-in” aspects of being an ABA member.  BIRDING magazine comes automatically with membership and I think supporting the mission is strongly implied when one joins an organization.  Without these options, now we see in Table 6 that “finding effective ways to promote or support bird conservation” is the number two challenge/need for both members and non-members.

Use in last 12 months

Table 7

In Table 7, BIRDING magazine is by far the most frequently read publication by current members (94%) but notice that nearly a fourth of non-members are also reading it.  This suggests that many non-members are accessing the publicly available online portions of the magazine or perhaps borrowing a paper copy from a friend.  The relatively new Birder’s Guides are the second most commonly read item by members.  Also note how frequently the ABA blog is read by non-members (52%).

Table 8

Table 8

Table 8 is sorted by the current member responses.  The frequency of bird-related memberships/subscriptions  is in roughly the same order for both groups but in every case the rate of participation by current ABA members is greater than for non-members except for subscribing to Birds and Blooms.  Note that 19% of non-members don’t belong to ANY of the groups on this list compared to only 4% of ABA members.

The final set of questions  (Table 9 below) may take a few moments to interpret.  Here’s what I did:  scanning down the middle row of these seven topics, I saw that two-thirds or more of all survey participants perceive that the ABA is taking an approach that is “about right” on each topic. The strongest example of getting things right is reflected in the second topic (amount of online publications) where more than 8 out of 10 responders selected “about right” with the remainder of the responses very balanced between “too little” and “too much.”

Current perceptions

Table 9

But now go back and look at the first topic, “amount of involvement in bird conservation.”  Again, two-thirds perceive that the ABA is “about right” on this but, among the rest, there are ten times more who selected “too little” than chose “too much.”  Of course, we didn’t define exactly what is meant here by “involvement in bird conservation” and that phrase will mean something different to everyone.  However, these numbers are not surprising considering how much discussion already takes place on this issue in our publications and online communities as well at staff and board meetings.  And, clearly, more is needed!

I’ve marked with yellow the places where perceptions appear to be leaning in one direction or another.  For example, 22% of responders perceive too much “emphasis on listing” compared to 6% who feel there is too little.  And with bird identification, 13 times as many responders feel there is too little emphasis compared to those who feel there is too much.  But, again, about three-fourths think the emphasis is about right!

Of course, the ABA doesn’t have the resources to increase our efforts on all fronts simultaneously so thoughtful choices need to be made.  And thoughtfully choosing means listening better, learning more, and involving stakeholders in decision-making.  Second, as with many things, the devil is in the details.  For example, what exactly does it mean to “emphasize bird identification” and exactly what kind of “information about birding outside the US and Canada” is desired and how is it delivered? By the way, I personally feel that listing (the only items perceived as having too much emphasis) is an important part of the ABA’s history and culture and is a strong motivating force for many valuable birding activities so I would want to understand this much better before making a lot of big changes.

Our primary goal with this survey was not to create a detailed profile of the entire ABA membership or to simply decide issues based on a poll.  We did want to get a better sense of the issues, challenges, and opportunities going forward.  For me, as a member of the board, the value of these responses is that it keeps us listening to the membership and birding community and prompts more discussion and analysis.

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to respond–YOUR ABA will be better as a result.   Thank you also to the members of the Board of Directors and ABA staff for their input and support in conducting the survey and, especially, board member Terry Rich for his help and expertise in our ongoing analysis of results.

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in with anything that strikes you about these results.  Let’s get some lively discussion going!  Given the comparisons in the survey between members and former/never members, it would be helpful if you are willing to include your own status in your comments.

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Carl Bendorf
Carl Bendorf encountered his spark bird at age 12 when he rigged a toy parabolic reflector to a small reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured the song of an Eastern Bluebird near his home in small-town Iowa. Now retired from a career in non-profit management and development, Carl is past president of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union and was recently elected to a second term on the ABA Board of Directors and he serves as vice-chair. In 2011, Carl founded Iowa Young Birders and serves as a member of the board. He and his wife, Linda, live in Longmont, Colorado and Carl's latest venture is Colorado Birding Adventures -
Carl Bendorf

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