While exciting, new leadership in the nonprofit arena, like the recent appointment of Jeff Shevlin as executive director of the American Numismatic Association, is challenging.
Executive directors are expected to raise money, enhance programming, support staff and serve board members’ interests, all the while maintaining the integrity of the organization. It’s a tough job, even under the best of circumstances.
For the ANA’s new executive director, this job will prove to be even more difficult in light of the problems attached to — and caused by — his predecessors. Overcoming the poor reputations earned by previous directors will rest upon Mr. Shevlin’s own behavior and strength of character; however, overcoming the obstacles the ANA encounters as an organization needs to be shouldered by everyone associated with the ANA. Unfortunately, for the ANA, the obstacles are many — in addition to the economy and its impact on donations and fundraising, the association has an aging membership, limited partnerships and educational programs that rely upon outdated technologies and pedagogues for delivery.
First and foremost, I would hope that the board and Mr. Shevlin will work to encourage young people to join and be active in the ANA. While aspects of the existing programs are good — excellent even — their reach is limited and out-dated. Today, successful youth and educational programming are coordinated with state and local programs, and provide real data that prove their value and worth to the educational community.
Additionally, a number of youth organizations would make ideal partners. The Boy Scouts of America leaps to mind. Here is an organization that has a ready-made conduit for membership should the ANA be willing to foster a partnership and retool some aspects of their educational program.
Second, a large chunk, if not all, of the organization’s educational programming could be funded through grants. With sound review and robust data collection, it is feasible that the ANA could secure grant-funding for the bulk of its youth programming. It will, however, require some investment. The programs need to undergo rigorous evaluation and the association will need to invest some resources into securing professional help with research, grant writing, evaluation and data maintenance.
I further hope that the ANA reviews its existing programming to see where programming aligns with educational content standards, (math, science or history, for example). Alignment with the educational community will result in stronger programs available to a wider range of young people, and make the ANA more competitive.
In addition to building the youth programs and its outreach efforts to education, the association should work to take advantage of technology. When I was working at the ANA in the early 1980s, the National Geographic Society was often cited as the ultimate in nonprofit organizations. While that sentiment might have been more related to funding and prestige than to the agency’s structure or function, it was certainly true in how NGS applied technology. Throughout its history, the NGS has been extraordinarily effective in working the latest in communications technology into its program delivery. Everything from the pictures and drawings in the early journals to the popular television series in the 1960s, to the interactive apps and educational websites of today, all speak to successful implementation and integration of technology to mission. Again, with professional assistance, the ANA could do this as well. Imagine an app for a State quarter dollar or an interactive site in partnership with the National Park Service for the new America the Beautiful quarters.
The possibilities are endless, but only if the ANA supports its new leadership and the new leadership is willing to take a few chances. In order to survive the competition for resources and secure a place in the sun, the ANA will have to prove its relevance. If it wants to continue, the ANA can no longer be passive in applying new strategies.
Mr. Shevlin will need support, good ideas, and the resources to enact change. In return, Shevlin will need to demonstrate strong, sound character that complements the ANA instead of destroying it with selfishness and short-sightedness. The ANA is a good idea, but only if its membership wants it to be.
Didi Fahey is a quantitative analyst and statistical evaluator in the Denver area. She has worked with nonprofit organizations for over 25 years.