Alum Seeks to Make American Philatelic Society Relevant—Even Cool—to More Diverse Members
APS members Kenneth and Helen Noelle created this official seal, presented in 1968, out of more than 10,000 stamps. Below, Executive Director Scott English ’93 shows off the recovered Inverted Jenny stamp, which had been stolen in 1955, at the 2016 World Stamp Show in New York.
If modern art, Instagram hashtags and video chats with punk fans seem incompatible with stamp collecting, then Scott English ’93 has a message to deliver.
Those are just some of the tactics that the executive director of the American Philatelic Society (APS) has employed to make the world’s largest stamp club relevant and hip. Now he’s trying to reshape its graying and overwhelmingly male community of nearly 28,000 with an initiative to recruit 2,020 new members in 2020, emphasizing young, female and racially diverse collectors.
“Inclusivity is something we’re aiming for,” he said. “I want to create enthusiasm and excitement and make people feel welcome.”
It might come as a surprise that English isn’t a stamp collector himself. After majoring in history at UMD, he held various government positions—including as chief of staff for Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who made “hiking on the Appalachian Trail” a euphemism for excursions of the extramarital sort.
English arrived at the society in central Pennsylvania in 2015 ready to refocus his organizational experience. Besides getting its finances in order and overseeing construction of its new library, reaching new populations was a top priority: While the APS retention rate is around 90%—death is the main reason for leaving—51% of members were under 60 in 2000, compared to just 17.5% now.
“We’ve just been appealing to the same people,” English said. “They’ve just gotten 20 years older.”
He knew he couldn’t woo 20-somethings into attending weekend stamp shows. Instead, he took a digital-forward approach, revamping the APS website, offering online memberships and promoting nontraditional uses of the collectibles using #stampart on social media.
To highlight and appeal to more diverse collectors, the society’s magazine published themed Black History Month and Women’s History Month issues. To reach younger audiences, the APS offers downloadable K–12 lesson plans.
Those efforts—which not only helped attract new members, but also re-energized former ones—expanded following COVID-19. With in-person events canceled, English had to find creative ways to connect members. The society started regularly hosting live video chats, featuring everyone from international collectors to geologists/dinosaur stamp enthusiasts to the Punk Philatelist.
Even if sticking postage on correspondence feels as rare as the 1918 Inverted Jenny stamp, English hopes to prove that collecting is viable, affordable and intellectually stimulating.
“He’s trying to convince people that this is not just a hobby for boring, middle-class, older men,” says Chad Neighbor ’74, who joined the APS in 1990 and chaired the Scottish Philatelic Trade Association from 2012–19. “There’s something for everyone.”
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