FAAS: A Timely IdeaAuthor: TFH Staff
TFH has targeted aquarium societies as one of the crucial components of a viable aquarium hobby in the 21st Century, and we have committed to promoting aquarium clubs whenever possible. We were excited to discover that a venerable organization has accepted the challenge to assist aquarium societies in the new millennium, and we are happy to share this information with our readers.
We had the opportunity to interview President Rick Borstein of the Federation of American Aquarium Societies (FAAS). FAAS is a service organization of and for aquarium societies of North, Central, and South America. Founded in 1973, it is getting a major renovation under Rick’s leadership, and the potential that exists for this organization to effect a qualitative change in the nature of aquarium societies in this hemisphere has many people excited. We hope that this interview will pique your interest and get you and your local club involved.
TFH: What do you mean when you say that FAAS is a service organization for aquarium societies?
Borstein: Aquarium clubs are important to the health of our hobby. FAAS member societies play a key role in helping hobbyists grow and learn. Don’t get me wrong—TFH does a great service to our hobby every month, but a lot of information is still “in the village.” In other words, books and magazines can only take you so far. Sometimes, you need to talk to someone who “has been there.”
Clubs offer a place where information can be exchanged from person to person. I’ve been involved in aquarium clubs for over twenty years. Without the relationships I’ve built though these clubs, I’d never have been able to spawn over 130 species of fish. Clubs are a great source for rare and unusual fish—sometimes called hobbyist fish—that aren’t necessarily found in stores.
Clubs are a great conduit to get kids involved. We can make sure youngsters are successful and turn them into lifelong hobbyists.
Clubs do a lot of good for the hobby, but it isn’t necessarily easy to run a club. That’s where FAAS can help.
Running an aquarium society takes a lot of hard work. Clubs have to recruit volunteers, manage their finances, publish a newsletter, and carry out revenue-generating activities such as auctions, swap meets, and membership drives. The success of an aquarium club depends on having good leaders who know what they’re doing.
FAAS is an organization that helps clubs run better. We provide “best practice” information and act as a place where ideas can be exchanged. For example, my home club has been very successful running tropical fish swap meets. FAAS put together a program, which all clubs can view online, that covers all the key elements of how to market and conduct a winning swap meet.
TFH: How much does it cost to be part of FAAS and who can join?
Borstein: FAAS is free to join, so the price is right! Membership is open to any freshwater, marine, pond, or aquatic plant society in North or South America. We’re in the midst of a membership drive right now.
Borstein: Right. We’ve seen a lot of change in the pet industry in the last three to four years. There are fewer local fish stores. These stores act as a key channel that clubs use to increase awareness. There has also been a lot of consolidation among aquarium product manufacturers. The result has been that working with the manufacturers has gotten more complex.
We feel we need to grow the FAAS membership base. If we speak for greater numbers of hobbyists, that increases our leverage and relevance. It allows us to share what works in one club with the rest of the club community. There’s strength in numbers.
Borstein: That’s easy. Just go to the FAAS website and register the club at www.faas.info. We have an online registry of clubs organized by country and region. I should probably mention that the person who registers should be the FAAS Delegate. The delegate’s primary role is to pass information between their society and FAAS. Many clubs have a FAAS column in their newsletter which helps them communicate FAAS news to their membership.
TFH: Is the website new? I don’t recall hearing much about it before.
Borstein: Well, it’s not new but it reflects our move to becoming more of a virtual organization. We re-launched our website in March 2007. Clubs can now find articles sorted by category such as Publications, Auctions, Society Issues, etc. We also have downloadable programs with audio that can be used for monthly meetings in lieu of a speaker.
TFH: So, the club needs a computer to show the program?
Borstein: Yes. Fortunately, most clubs have a member who owns a laptop computer or they have invested in a club laptop. The club will also need a computer projector which acts as a digital slide projector. Our programs include audio, so a good pair of computer speakers is important, too.
The programs are in PDF format with embedded audio. To play them, the computer will need to have the free Adobe Reader.
Borstein: FAAS pays from $100 to $150 for a program. Some speakers donate them to us. The programs are created by speakers who frequent the aquarium club circuit. We’re always looking for new programs, so if someone has a program to share, I hope they will contact us! We are slowly building up our program library.
TFH: Let’s get back to the clubs themselves. Do you feel that the average hobbyist is aware of the clubs available in their local area?
Borstein: No, I don’t think they are and that’s a shame. Local clubs generally do not have the funds to do large scale advertising in the newspaper, radio and so on.
However, it isn’t hard to find a club. We have listings of our member clubs on the FAAS website and TFH has a list of clubs in every issue. A web search is another good way to find a club.
The greater problem may be that entry-level hobbyists are sometimes a bit timid to go to a club meeting in the first place. I can understand why. It’s tough to walk into a room where there are a lot of people you don’t know.
If someone who feels that way is reading this, they shouldn’t worry. All the clubs I’ve been a part of are especially welcoming to new members. Go to that meeting!
Still, I think clubs could do a better job with community outreach.
Borstein: Outreach is the set of activities that extend beyond the club’s membership.
Most clubs have a website which they use to promote club activities. The best clubs have terrific hobby information on their sites. Many host online forums or classifieds sections, which are a great way to connect inexperienced hobbyists with those in the know.
Another example is a revenue-generating activity such as an auction or swap meet that attracts hobbyists of all levels in the area.
Some clubs are great at working with local pet shops and host “Club Days” where experienced hobbyists help out the shop’s novice hobbyists.
All of these activities promote the hobby and generate interest. The hope is that the casual hobbyists will want to learn more and join the club.
Borstein: Our biggest challenge is awareness. We need to make sure that more folks know about FAAS and the organization is relevant and useful to the clubs. Importantly, we need clubs to know that we’re not the FAAS of five or ten years ago. We’ve changed.
Our number one “to do” item is to have more useful content on our website. That is, information that helps clubs run more effectively.
We plan to offer more services via our website. One long-term plan we have is to create a National Aquarium/Pond Speaker Database. Traditionally, it has been challenging for clubs to find good speakers for their meetings and events.
To do all this, we could use some volunteers. We’re always looking for people who want to contribute in some way. Send me an email at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from TFH readers!