As many of you may have noticed, USPA transitioned to a new website in December. We designed it to create a better experience for everyone: those who wish to learn more about skydiving and make a first jump and others, like yourselves, who are accessing member benefits. DZOs, media, government officials, aviation enthusiasts and many others visit uspa.org for various reasons, and we want to do our best to present our amazing sport to them.
While overhauling the website was no small feat, we made the feat even larger by transitioning our membership database to a new platform, as well. USPA is a voluntary membership organization with about 42,000 members, and each one of those members generates dozens of database entries. USPA maintains information for every renewal, record, award, payment, donation, license, rating, approval, sign-off and application. We keep some records just long enough to meet IRS needs, and others we keep in perpetuity.
Due to evolving needs of the organization and improvements in technology, USPA has changed the system for maintaining member information numerous times. It all started with large notebooks that contained names and license numbers written in pen. This eventually progressed to typewritten entries on looseleaf paper in three-ring binders. These notebooks and binders still exist at headquarters, and we use them regularly to help skydivers from the 1950s and ‘60s with inquiries about their memberships. Those pages—now discolored with binder holes ripped and reinforced—are a thing of beauty. Many have been laminated to protect them from further degradation. I love flipping through the abused pages. They are a glimpse into our past.
In the 1980s, USPA batched its membership renewals and sent them monthly by courier to a data-processing vendor in Washington, D.C. The vendor would then send us an updated membership list on microfiche weeks later. It took about six weeks from the time USPA received a renewal for the updated member data to be available in the office on microfiche for reference. Later, USPA moved the process in-house for efficiency.
As technology evolved, so did USPA. Eventually, USPA began keeping track of its data on software created by various vendors. Each time, our ability to serve our members improved. Over the last five years, you’ve likely noticed that it's possible to complete more and more routine transactions with USPA online. It started with the ability to join USPA or renew a membership and moved on to include rating renewals and certain license applications. You can now apply for records, vote for your board of directors, view the online course manager and access many more resources and complete many more tasks, all online. As you’ve asked for greater electronic engagement, USPA has met you at that door, and we will continue to enhance our online presence.
The recent change was another big one. Rather than using an outside vendor, we’ve developed a custom solution for our database software needs. It is a vast improvement over one-size-fits-all databases and will allow us to serve our members better. We named it Parachute Association Work Space … PAWS.
We’re excited to launch into this new year with this new tool. And we’ve gained a strong appreciation of what it’s taken to serve and keep track of our members for over 75 years. We’re equally as excited to take today’s new technology and develop better functionality, access and resources for all of you.
Albert Berchtold | D-27832
USPA Executive Director