This is the draft of the letter to the Board of Directors. Please review it, add your comments, suggestions, and any other information that needs to be, or should be added to it. I will finalize the letter next week 17 October 2008 and mail it off.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Board of Directors
North American Membership Group
12301 Whitewater Dr.
Minnetonka, MN 55343
I am writing on behalf of numerous members of the North American Fishing Club. I have been a member of NAFC since August 2008, and was introduced to the club by the advertisement of the club as a collective of members who share in a love for fishing. The club, as I understood it, and as advertised, is supposed to put its members first, as the most important resource NAMG has. Perhaps, you as the Board of Directors, are being misled as well.
First and foremost, I enjoy meeting other like minded fishermen. I also enjoy seeing and reading about the information passed amongst the members, in so much as, the advice offered, the mutual support, and the various member meets that bring anglers together. I also enjoy the “networking” that occurs between the members, in regards to bartering and selling unused, unwanted, or excess fishing gear. I must admit, I have benefitted a great deal from the generosity of equipment and books sold to me by the members of the club and prices that would put Walmart to shame. In this aspect of the club, I, as well as others, have no complaints. This is member to member service and unfortunately, this is where the club only shines.
I am not complaining for the sake of complaining, nor am I over emphasizing, or over embellishing the following concerns or complaints of the members. These complaints and concerns are well documented on the website, in the forums, that apparently no one from the club hierarchy either reads, responds to, cares about, or otherwise addresses. This is truly a shame for a company that supposedly cares about the members. A number of questions have been submitted through the “Ask the Editors” portion of the website, and I have personally sent 3 or 4 questions and suggestions through this forum, to which there is, and has been NO REPLY. When I contacted member services, I was told that the editors are supposed to reply to inquiries within 2 – 3 days. That has never happened, and when the customer service representative was confronted with this, I was then told the Information Technology folks were prioritizing the issues concerning member log in issues first. My question sirs, are the Information Technology folks the editors of the club? Are they the ones that speak for the running of the club, or am I mistaken in the understanding that this forum is designed for club hierarchy to have direct access to the members of the club to address concerns and suggestions? I suggested when I spoke with the member services folks that perhaps if the club identified a couple of reliable members that could MODERATE various portions of the website, meaning act as a conduit between the members and the various departments of the club, they could alleviate the “work load” of the IT folks and get the answers back to the members so as to quell feelings of not being cared about. It is a possible solution to bridging the communication gap that IS very prevalent. What is even more discouraging is when I asked to speak to the club president or a club officer about some of the concerns and the member services representative did not know who the club president is. She is not alone, none of the members I have spoken with (and there have been quite a few) know who it is either.
It is also concerning and actually very frustrating to me and others that when we contact the club with questions or concerns, we are given the run around. Told, in fact, that the club doesn’t deal with such issues as “starting a state chapter”, “how to organize member meets”, “hold a national club conference”, or being sent forms that are necessary to complete product testing or receive the refund on fishing licenses for life members. No, instead we are referred back to the website, which, in looking at the NAMG website that claims to have award winning member club websites, doesn’t provide members ANY insight into these areas of questions or concerns. In fact sirs, the member store, which is supposed to be a member store contains only a single item for the week or in some cases weeks. Instead of being able to purchase member items, club members have to resort to buying “club” merchandise from third party websites like E-Bay, Sportsman Guide, Amazon, and others, where membership in the club isn’t even a requirement to purchase the gear, like decent fishing jackets, patches, emblems, books, videos, mugs, or otherwise. This is not what I, or for that matter, anyone, would consider an award winning website. I was even told by the member services representative, she personally did not even look at the website, so why would a member be referred to a resource that is; 1) substandard in the first place, 2) doesn’t contain the information that is requested, since that is the whole reason why the member is calling member services, 3) takes so long to even load for the members who still are on dial up connections that they time out before the page loads, 4) doesn’t have a search function that works with any degree of accuracy, and 5) doesn’t even have a section to see who the club officers are, so that you could have a line to someone in charge to register a complaint with.
I received in the mail yesterday my first book from the club. Not that I mind receiving the books, but it strikes me as insane that I should be solicited to buy a book, when I have yet to receive my membership welcome kit, gifts, and card. This suggests to me, as well as others in the club, who have been lured by the “elite” fallacy of life membership, that the club doesn’t care about the member, but is more interested in their money. This is a corrupt view for an organization that “prides itself on its members”. Preys on its members is more appropriate language in this case. As I suggested to member services, as other members have as well, why not just list the books and videos in the “non-existent” member store and allow the members to buy what they want instead of sending out unsolicited materials. It is a waste of money for one, and two, for some members who live in rural areas and have to travel to put the materials back in the mail to send back to the club, a serious inconvenience. Why inconvenience the member? I bought the entire 50 book set from a club member, but there is an implied “threat” of sorts in the card that is being sent back along with the book. Specifically, when I check the “No” block, it states “I understand this is my ONLY chance to participate in the Library that includes the Line ‘n’ Lure Product Sample Program.” Why threaten a member with “loosing” a benefit if they aren’t interested in that specific product. I know this is something that has been suggested as a “pressured sales tactics” which have been determined by courts in some states as “extortive business practices”. This is not what I would consider as “pride in the membership”, nor as your website suggests, “…Regardless of how our members choose to consume media, NAMG is committed to providing them with useful, instructional, and entertaining content and products, now and in the years to come.”
This brings us to entertaining products, which includes the product testing program, that again there are caveats to that are not disclosed anywhere on the website or in any of the membership information. I raised the question concerning the testing program, with member services, since I never received a reply from the “Ask the Editors” forum, and I asked, “There has been a real problem with members not receiving testing products, and the feeling is, once you become a life member, you don't get any products to test. The feeling is, the product testing "promise" is a scam to solicit members and get dues. What's the deal?” The answer I was given was, “Product testing is a program where the members are given an opportunity to assist product manufacturers with field testing various products to get feed back on those products. Members must fill out a product test profile to be considered for the program. Once the member gets a product to test, and they complete the testing feedback form, they must fill out a new product test profile. However, if a member receives a product to test, and they do not submit their test report, they are removed from the product test program permanently, regardless if they submit another profile or not.” I understand when the club sends a product for testing, they expect it to be tested. And I also understand that there are some people that will try to get something for nothing, and the club needs to weed these people out, however, if the member doesn’t know about the repercussions for not filling out the form, and a form is requested from member services and was either never sent or received, how fair is that to the member?
The morale of the members of NAFC is seriously low. When I visit the website, or speak with the other members, I don’t sense any real pleasure in belonging to the club. Quite honestly, I received a “Congratulations, you have been nominated for an exclusive life membership” letter in the mail two days ago. When I saw that, I thought this is nice, but how in God’s name would I justify buying a life membership, when I am being solicited to buy books, “threatened”, shoved aside (as I see it – since I have yet to receive even my “Basic” membership kit), and told that I am being offered an “EXCLUSIVE” deal. By exclusive, does the club mean “milked” for more money, so I can be forgot about once I become a life member? I don’t think so.
I admit sirs, this letter seems very negative. But there is something that can be done to improve the situation. I am advocating on behalf of all the members. I have used my personal examples, so this letter could not be construed as “hearsay”. I would encourage the Board of Directors to take some time and read the forums of the NAFC website and see for yourselves the level of discontentment with the members. I would also say in closing that if advocating for the betterment of the North American Fishing Club and its members costs me my membership, then so be it. I am requesting a response to this letter. If a response is not forthcoming, I will forward this letter on to other agencies, bureaus, and businesses as appropriate. It is my fondest desire to see the NAFC become the club the NAMG claims it to be, and to see the improvement in the morale of the members they desire and deserve.
William E. Smith
Any day on the water or in the woods is solitude itself.