I read with great interest the commentary submitted by National Hellenic Society Executive Director Arthur Dimopoulos titled, “National Hellenic Society Programs Changing Lives” (Aug. 8). Arthur provides a thought-provoking premise that “bricks and mortar” organizations that have long-standing traditions or legacies likely are on the path to extinction. He cites Sears as an example from the world of commerce, and AHEPA, as a service organization, from the nonprofit sector.
He writes, “What Sears faced is not much different than what a host of once heralded mainstream non-profit service, ethnic, and community organizations face today: Masons, Shriners, Elks, Moose, Knights Templar, Daughters of Job, Jaycees, Daughters of the American Revolution, Rotary, Lion’s Club, Kiwanis and yes, AHEPA too face dramatic challenges in retaining and recruiting members.”
Arthur is not only a colleague, but a close friend of mine. He is a Past Supreme Counselor and member of AHEPA Chapter 438 in Falls Church, Virginia. It was great to see him and his wife at our Supreme Convention last month. We have worked on many projects together. AHEPA is an organizational member of NHS. NHS has supported AHEPA’s Journey to Greece program, which, established in 1968, was a forerunner to today’s study/travel abroad programs. NHS’s students enjoy an evening reception on the rooftop of AHEPA Headquarters (note the “bricks and mortar” irony) prior to their departure on the Heritage Greece Program.
Yes, AHEPA’s “business model” is not without its challenges, especially in membership recruitment and retainment. However, what business model—whether its “bricks and mortar” or online/virtual, or one that relies heavily on grant funding—goes without the fundamental challenge of revenue generation? Or remaining relevant?
Living in a virtual world does not ensure success. For every Facebook, there’s a MySpace, which is still alive, but not what it once was. For every Google, there’s an Ask Jeeves. Pets.com and eToys.com, seemingly great business ideas, failed.
However, recently, Wayfair announced it will opening its first physical store this fall. So, too, Barnes & Noble, which had been closing stores, has plans to open five prototype stores in fiscal year 2019.
Arthur raises a great point. Innovation and adaption are keys to survival, especially for membership-based organizations such as AHEPA, and the others he cited.
During the last 10 years, AHEPA has seen growth and expansion of chapters throughout Europe. There, Hellenes are embracing AHEPA’s mission and the core concepts of volunteerism and community. Here, in North America, yes, a challenge exists—competing for individuals’ most valuable commodity—time—in an every-busy 24/7 world. This is why AHEPA is placing additional resources into digital media communications and exploring “virtual” levels of membership. Our challenge will be to see if we can make both tracks—the chapter-based model and the virtual model—work concurrently.
However, I can’t help to believe that perhaps, in the end, people value interaction with people. A human touch. Camaraderie. Fellowship. Fraternity. Traits AHEPA has provided individuals for nearly 100 years.
Basil N. Mossaidis Executive Director Order of AHEPA (202) 232-6300