American Birding Podcast



How We Take the ABA to the Next Level: A Card, A Shirt, and Your Ideas

JAG plaid pines Below is a picture of my ATM card. Of course, I’ve sloppily cloned out a bunch of numbers from the photo of it, and it’s bleached and nicked from (over)use, but I still wanted you to see it. I should say right up front that this is not the card referred to in the title that I think can help the ABA and birding. That isn’t a credit card or debit card at all. I’ll get to that card soon.

When I moved to Colorado Springs last winter, one of the small but very real pleasures I found in the mountain of hassles that accompany moving was my discovery that my new bank wouldn’t force me to carry the same old boring ATM card. Their website would let me upload my own photo to personalize it (or choose one of their many stock photos).

RUTU card_4450.

So, perhaps feeling a twinge of homesickness and certainly lacking any photos from Colorado yet, I chose this shot I took of a flock of Ruddy Turnstones feeding on horseshoe crab eggs along the shore of Delaware Bay. It’s a picture that just makes me happy.

RUTU flock

I can’t tell you number of opportunities this card has provided me to talk to people about birds and birding. And the fact that I can say it’s my photo really adds to the lift I get when I do so. With one simple change, my ATM card has gone from being something with which I have little personal connection to a co-branding collaboration between me and Wells Fargo. Pretty cool, if you ask me.


How does this relate to the ABA?

Well, one of the perennial ideas that the ABA (and many other organizations) have employed over the years is the idea of an ambassador group. In the ABA’s case, what this has generally meant is that very small numbers of super-wonderful and super-dedicated volunteers have been recruited. And please please please understand that nothing I say here should be construed as criticism of those terrific folks or their tireless efforts. I am nothing but grateful to them. But I am interested in providing them (and lots of other members, I hope) with a more streamlined, elegant, effective, and fun way to promote the ABA and birding in general. To use a buzz word, something more viral.

What has often been done is that expensive, heavy boxes of expensive, heavy publications have been shipped to our ambassadors (did I say how much I appreciate the efforts of those folks? ‘Cause I do!) who would then display them at a table at a local bird event or nature festival.

Now, I love birding festivals. I go to a lot of them and I’ve spent a lot of time in booths at them. I only want festivals to get better and better. But I have to say that from a return on investment standpoint, that old ambassador strategy seemed less than optimal when it came to getting new members. It was however, good for visibility and was often a great way to contact existing members. And we’ll still do that sort of outreach, whenever we can.

Another recruitment tool is the standard membership brochure. You know, with the little, “fill it out and mail it in,” membership application. We have ’em. Everybody has ’em. They’re useful, too. But they also seem to me, in the age of social media, very impersonal and a bit cumbersome.

So here’s what I see as an innovative and I hope, effective approach to ABA outreach. It’s something I’ve had in mind for quite awhile and have discussed with various people, including current ABA ambassadors. But I think it’s time to open it up to you. I’d ask that you look over our ideas. Tell me which ones are good and which are not. What ways would you suggest to make it better?


The Program

  • The key is interacting with people in the field, at the eyepiece. Go where you can help people see more birds and get more out of the birds they’re seeing right where they are. That could be a traditional “birding spot” or not (a city park with a duck pond would be fine, for example). Set up your scope. Hand over your binoculars. Tell the people you meet what birds are around and a quick story or a few cool things about those birds. Here’s a very quick example.


ABA First Lady Liz shares her bins, and a family of Prairie Falcons, with a (former) stranger

  • This program should have very little barrier to entry. If you want to do it, at most you should have to spend a few dollars, possibly splitting the cost with ABA, and that’s it. You’re in.
  • There needs to be an easy way to track and reward your success. If you get us 1 new member, I want us to be able to know and to thank you. If you get us 10 new members, I want to really thank you.
  • I want to know what types of rewards would be meaningful to you. Free membership for yourself, a special hat or shirt, your name at the top of a new listing category? What about for the super achievers? Optics, or travel, or at least discounts thereon? A donation to a club or cause?
  • We might want to come up with a name other than “ambassador.” Field crew, something. I need help here.
  • The ABA would produce two basic items to help you seem more “official,” and maybe give you a teeny confidence boost, if you’re feeling a little shy. At the most basic level, one is a card and the other is a shirt (you’ll see there are some possible variations, but let’s start with card and shirt).

The Card

  • The card should be larger than a business card but still pretty small. I’m thinking it should be at least 3×5″ but not more than 5×7″. It ought to tuck neatly into a “little Sibley,” a Kaufman guide or similar sized book. Folded over once, it should fit easily into a pocket.
  • The card should clearly communicate the message, “I enjoyed meeting you and birding with you. Here’s how to take some next steps and/or stay in touch.”
  • The card should be beautiful and eye-catching, with at least one photo or other art work. Ideally, users could upload their own photos, or choose from some great shots and art that the ABA would provide free of charge.
  • The card should be thoroughly ABA-branded, with logos, contact info, etc. It might offer some sort of less expensive trial membership, or a special premium or gift for joining.
  • The card should be personally branded, too, with your contact info, to the extent that you want it to be. Want more readers for your blog, more Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and so on? That should be easy. Want none of those things? That’s fine, too. Use the space to put a quotation about birds or birding that you like or anything that makes the card yours.
  • The card should be environmentally friendly in its materials and production.
  • The card should look professional. We shouldn’t be asking you to print if off on your home printer.
  • The card should have your ABA member #, or a bar code, a QR code, or something that lets us know if the person you gave it to actually joined and thus lets us thank and reward you.
  • I am open to the idea of the card giving contact info for other organizations in addition to the ABA, especially local bird clubs. Even bird-related businesses aren’t out of the question, but we’d very likely want the biz to contribute money or other resources to the program. It’s got to be first and foremost you, the ABA member and the ABA itself, but I want the ABA to support and work well with groups that support us and our mission.
  • The card, ideally, should have something useful on it. Something that would make it valuable even if they never got in touch with you or joined the ABA. The ABA Code of Birding Ethics (almost certainly in an abridged form due to space limitations) is one possibility. What else would be useful? Some very basic identification info? Birding tips? What?
  • The card should also be available in an electronic version, easily e-mailed, texted, or passed using Bump or some similar app.
  • Hard copies of the card should be printable in fairly small quantities, without tying up too much ABA staff time. There are many digital presses; e.g., MOO, that do this sort of thing, though I don’t know of one yet that does exactly this. Do you?

The Shirt

  • The shirts (and hat and binocular strap) already exist in a simple, elegant form. You can get an ABA logo shirt at Shop@ABA right this minute. But I’m thinking of a special shirt (or vest, or banner, or flag). One that you wear or display only when you really want to do outreach (and one you can take off or cover up if you want some privacy for a while).
  • The shirt prominently displays the ABA logo, perhaps in a slightly modified form. But there’s a tropicbird in blue and green and blue, for sure. Almost certainly the words, “American Birding Association,” and almost certainly our URL:
  • Even more prominently, the shirt says, “ASK ME ABOUT BIRDING!!!” I think it does that with those exact words, in big big letters. Think about those old Frankie Goes To Hollywood T-shirts from the 80’s:


  • The major function of the shirt is to identify yourself, at some distance, as a person that wants to help others enjoy birds and birding more.
  • It would be great if the shirt looked good and/or cool. But not to the extent that it obscures the basic message. “I am a birder and I am here to recruit you!” Any suggestions for how to balance wearability with impact are most welcome.

Your Ideas

OK, that’s what I’ve got for right now. I’m sorry for running on so long, but as you can see, I’m trying to put a bunch of thoughts out there and see where you all take them. Now I need you to say what’s right and what’s wrong with these concepts. Help us come up with something really cool.

I appreciate your interest in and support of the ABA and I can’t wait to have this program fully launched. With your help, it’ll be a lot of fun and do a lot of good.