Vital for the Future of Amateur Competition
Individual AFTCA Membership
Once in awhile it’s a good thing to lift our heads from the passions of our sport and look around with a discerning eye. Who are we? Why are we? What will we become? These are questions that bear repeating each year and deserve sound answers.
We are the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America. The AFTCA, a near century old organization originating with the intent of creating amateur competition and contributing to the betterment of bird dogs and upland game bird habitat.
What initially was a sport dominated by professional handlers has evolved over time to a sport in which both professionals and amateurs breed, develop and compete for the betterment of bird dogs. The relationship of professionals and amateurs at the highest levels of our sport does not exist in other complex animal competitions in which the arena of competition is a rather substantial asset. If it’s a horse track or dog track, it precludes almost any amateur from competing as big money is paid to professionals to breed, develop and compete with the animals. Amateurs play little to no active role in those pastimes other than to write the checks.
In field trialing, more specifically, pointing dog field trialing, amateurs play a significant role to the success of the entire sport and the end goal of breeding superior animals and improving upland game bird habitat.
Through the promotion of amateur stakes and events developed over nearly 100 years by the officers and trustees of the AFTCA, amateurs can involve themselves to their passion’s delight. The learning curve is more forgiving, the mistakes and errors less costly and the victories more personally gratifying. Amateur competition provides the platform to foster the passion to new and more intense levels. With few exceptions, every successful handler and breeder today started as a green amateur handling that first dog in an amateur stake, and things grew from there. Our organization exists not only to assure the first-time trialer a venue in which to start, but also to assure future generations that amateurs will always have everything from a beginner’s venue to National Championships on some of the finest game bird habitats in North America.
The AFTCA organization and mission has a narrow and unique focus. What may work for other more diverse organizations doesn’t necessarily work for ours. The relationship between the American Field/Field Dog Stud Book and the AFTCA is a critical one and goes back to the earliest days of this great American sport. Each entity provides valuable assets necessary to make things work. Working together amateur participants can play a significant part in advancing the field trial sport.
The AFTCA has a responsibility to evolve as time demands. In today’s world data is king. We think all of us can agree that data is a powerful tool if an organization chooses to use it to define and market itself. It puts our numbers front and center and makes all of us more aware of the need to grow participation/membership.
Nationally, hunters are a group of substantial numbers. Dog and horse owners represent impressive numbers, and outdoor enthusiasts represent large numbers. The data that goes with these groups become powerful tools for promotion and resources. Alone amateur trialers are not a huge and powerful group on a national scale as compared to all groups. However, amateur trialers become far more substantial when compared to other subgroups. Field trialers may not be a substantial group for the purchase of food in general, but suddenly they become a powerfully large single group for the purchase of high end dog food. We are not a large group for the purchase of medicine, but the data change when talking about dog vaccines. The list of examples goes on and on.
If we can utilize our data and organize our membership to a one on one relationship we become stronger . . . not weaker. We can expand our membership data fields, during membership application, in order to gather information that we can use collectively as a group to benefit individual members. Examples of these data fields could be questions such as, “How many dogs you own?” or “How many days a year spent hunting, trialing?”, etc.
Although there have been discussions to implement individual memberships for decades, it has always been tabled because the “wolf wasn’t at the door”. It would be irresponsible for us to sit idle and not try to position our sport for future generations, but more importantly to grow the sport’s participation. We must be smart and use ALL of our resources to accomplish this. To not implement individual membership because some don’t like change was no longer the responsible answer. The use of data to promote and market our organization makes a difference. Quite honestly, club memberships won’t allow that to happen. Individual memberships hold our best option for moving forward as a single united organization working alongside the American Field and Field Dog Stud Book for the betterment of our sport.
Not being able to use our demographics in our current organizations format was one of two primary reasons the vote to implement the individual membership passed almost unanimously. The second reason is our operating finances. We have downplayed for decades the fact that our organization operates in the red without the monetary support provided by sponsors. We don’t know how you can commit your organization and sport to be there for your children and grandchildren when you know the organization doesn’t have a financial plan to ensure its future.
Keep in mind the AFTCA is a grass roots organization that runs financially lean and mean. That doesn’t mean we don’t look for ways to save because that is a constant, but we can’t grow our organization by cutting its heart out. We have one employee whose job is to do most “everything” needed to run day to day operations. Trustees serve each region at their own expense and that includes every plane fare, hotel room, every meal, every gallon of gas, and every cup of coffee. We are not aware of any trustee who has ever submitted an expense, ever caused an expense or ever was paid for an expense by the AFTCA.
The 20th Century Fund has been grown substantially in the past 20 years because of generous donations, sound management and the successful implementation of the painting/print program. Since 2002 this fund has given back $218,920 in grants for habitat improvement. The trustees have been unanimously united that these trust funds cannot not be used for our annual operating expenses. As a 501(c)3 organization we accept funds into that trust with great commitment to secure the principle’s safety and use income earned for the purposes of fulfilling our mission of habitat improvement and the promotion of amateur sport. We make that promise to all contributors and intend to keep both that promise and our 501(c)3 filing.
Over the past three years the AFTCA generated $96,800 more in expenses than it generated income. This has been the continuation of a pattern.
The support we receive from sponsors covers this deficiency. There is a very minimal net (gain or loss) from running the 16 National Championships from year to year. The balance of the income is tied to club membership fees and balance of the expenses relate to running the office. Besides hosting 16 National Amateur Championships in 2015, the AFTCA oversaw ALL amateur stakes, affording the winners to have their placements entered into the records of the Field Dog Stud Book, also sanctioning all regional championships, awarding 2,101 win certificates to amateur handlers participating in approximately 1,235 stakes involving some 27,149 dogs. In addition to those in the field responsibilities the AFTCA worked behind the scenes and played a leading role in developing field trials Minimum Requirements, rules and regulations, guidelines and recommendations. The AFTCA continues a leading role in the creation, implementation, revision, updating all facets of our sport. The AFTCA makes a difference in our sport and most of us can agree that the AFTCA shouldn’t rely on our sponsors to make up the difference in our finances. It is time for this amateur organization to become self-sufficient.
At the last two annual meetings, the Trustees discussed many options of how best to close that financial gap and allow ourselves to eventually become financially self-sufficient for our operating expenses. Fees, including entry fee increases and dog taxes, were carefully considered but in the end, a $25 a year fee to be paid by each participating amateur with the individual membership passed. The costs and efficiencies to manage this fee were important. The purpose of this fee is for no other reason than to help fund the negative gap that exists in annual income and operating expenses. That’s an important statement and worth repeating. The $25 fee will be used to help fund the negative gap that exists in the annual income and operating expenses. We are also looking at other ways to help fund that gap, including reviewing expenses and creating small profit centers like an online store. But we also feel very positive that we can create more win/win situations for members and sponsors in this format thereby giving members an even better return on membership fees and sponsors a better return on their investment.
Our goal for the 2015/2016 season is to implement the individual membership in a way that does not exclude anyone from participating. We knew implementing this membership would present challenges, and not all of them predictable. We ask for membership participation, patience and trust. We will work through the challenges and be a stronger organization for it.
Please keep in mind that amateur stakes exist today because of the efforts over the years of the officers, trustees and participants. Our goal is to have amateur stakes exist tomorrow as well. The AFTCA has a responsibility to manage and oversee all amateur stakes; the $25 fee is a small part of the effort that each participating amateur pays in order to keep amateur stakes viable today and into the future.
From the beginning we knew that adjustments in implementing the membership would be necessary. Because of the feedback some flexibility is in order, so we would like to make clear the membership plan for the remainder of this trial season. Beginning in November, 2015 there was a two-month membership drive in which many members signed up. Now, beginning on January 1, 2016 anyone who does not have a membership will not receive a certificate for any eligible placements won after January 1, 2016. Keep in mind that all eligible placements won during the period of January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016 will receive all certificates earned by amateurs who receive their membership number by June 30, 2016. After June 30, 2016 no certificate will be awarded to nonmembers.
Beginning on January 1, 2016, in order to have a win in a Regional or National Amateur Championship recognized by the AFTCA or the FDSB, the owner and handler of the dog must have a membership number within 30 days of the event’s official start date. For the breed clubs this membership does not involve your club’s events during this trial season. As a group no one of us wants to exclude anyone from enjoying this great passion. We also want everyone to be able to continue to receive their win certificates and championship titles so our goal is to be patient, helpful and supportive of every amateur’s participation during this transition.
At the June, 2016 annual meeting the trustees will discuss the concerns their Region membership have expressed to them over the past year and decide on a path forward on how to best proceed. On the table to finalize will again be membership requirements in order to participate in a Derby, shooting dog or all-age amateur stakes, and how to best work with the specific breed clubs going forward.
There are still legitimate unanswered challenges, chief among them is how will this membership requirement, in its current state, affect participation with new trialers. Certainly we want the membership to work in a way that is positive for the sport in all aspects, most importantly, participation and perpetuation. This sport is for all of us, but to work best into the future it needs all of us.
There is no hidden agenda or secret motivation in implementing this membership. Our goals are to use the individual membership to better communicate with ourselves, better market ourselves, empower ourselves and position ourselves moving forward. The old structure can’t do these things. We know asking for additional money is never well received. We hope by laying out the truth of our finances it will help all amateurs to realize we can make things work if everyone does their small part. We must rely on ourselves and not continue to hope that others come to our rescue.
We wish all amateurs in this great sport and all who participate in all venues the best of successes in 2016.
Torben Hansen, Pres.
David Williams, 1st Vice-Pres.
Rick Stallings, 2d Vice-Pres.
Frank LaNasa, 3d Vice-Pres.