ATA Seeks to Rewrite the Book on Local Chapters

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Local chapters of the American Teleservices Association are being revived after they were disbanded by the previous management of the organization, which represents about 1,000 telemarketers and call center operators nationwide.


The ATA hopes the chapters will flourish under hands-off management in which the local groups will get minimal guidance from the association.


The Washington association, which hired a professional management company after its board resigned last year amid a financial scandal, wants to use the chapters to stay in touch with local legislative issues and to provide networking and educational opportunities for its members at the regional level. The chapters also will aid in recruitment for the ATA, which has suffered from falling membership in the past few years.


"I think the [previous ATA management] thought the idea of having chapters was redundant to the ATA, but with this new organization, the new directors, they feel that the local chapters are actually vital to the organization's existence," said Joel Linchitz, president of Phone For Success, New York, and interim president of the ATA's New York metropolitan chapter. "They want local information to filter up to the national organization."


The New York chapter held its inaugural meeting this week. The Southeast chapter, which includes Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, held its first meeting this month. Chapters are to meet in the summer or early fall in Virginia, Ohio, Southern California, Illinois and Washington state. ATA members in Arizona have expressed interest in starting a chapter, said Anne Smith, chapter development manager at the ATA.


"One of the things we've heard over and over since taking over the ATA is that our members really miss the opportunity for local networking and for a grass-roots legislative effort," she said. "Most of the legislation [that affects the industry] takes place on a local level. We can get together at a local level and see how to combat that."


Chapters still will have to apply for ATA certification and have their bylaws approved, but Smith said they would have more autonomy to pursue their agendas under the new system. To join a chapter, companies or individuals first join the ATA, so any recruiting done locally will also strengthen membership in the national organization.


"We hope that these chapters will sign up new members, and that will benefit us at the ATA and put us in a better position to support the chapters than we currently are in," Smith said.


Individual chapters will collect membership dues in addition to the $1,195 to $2,395 that companies pay to join the ATA. Local chapters will set their own rates for membership based on what services they want to provide for their members.


Benjamin Harris, president of Unicall International Inc., Fairlawn, OH, has kept Ohio ATA members together through quarterly "town hall meetings." He is leading the organization of the new Ohio chapter, set to hold its first meeting in August. Harris said 75 or more people have attended to discuss legislative issues, participate in roundtable discussions or tour local call centers.


"We have a very strong call center community in Ohio," he said. "It's a nice group that continues to grow."
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