Not all genealogy societies are thriving. Some are on the brink of disbanding and others are surviving on a small number of attendees. At the same time there are genealogy societies, large and small, that are not only surviving but thriving. What is the difference? What is one doing right and the other doing wrong?
Genealogy societies come in all sizes and purposes. There are local (town, city) societies, county societies, area societies, state, topical and national societies. The purpose for all of those are different and yet the same. When organized, they proposed to interest people in genealogy. There was also the intent to get people together who share a common interest … genealogy.
Interests and objectives have changed in the last twenty years. People are involved with their families and both spouses work. Time is of importance and getting together to discuss genealogy or hear a short program about genealogy is not of utmost importance. Genealogy is still seen as something people do when they retire. Once they retire the older generation is gone and the stories and artifacts are also gone. That is when I hear, "I should have started this research years ago." Could organized societies appeal to the younger, active, busy individuals? If they annoy attend meetings, perhaps they can attend a one time event, such as a genealogy fair or a workshop. Reach out to them and eventually they will find time to join the society.
Why should genealogists take time out for a couple hours of get-together in the name of a genealogy society? After all, they have computers, databases, digital images, blogs, social media … everything they want in front of them. Does Internet have everything they need? Do they understand the techniques of research, how to evaluate a record or what type of evidence is in a document? Can the genealogy society supply this information? Do you have genealogy computer classes? Consider developing a computer interest group that will draw the genealogy computing folk back to the society. However, remember that you should still reach out to the members who do not own a computer … yes they are still doing genealogical research.
Yes, genealogy societies can supply information and offer assistance to members. A good deal of the time, they fall short. Does your society welcome new members? Do you actively solicit new members? Several years ago I attended a genealogy society meeting and was not introduced or spoken to during the meeting. I went away knowing that I would never return to the meeting. A simple "Welcome" would have been enough for me to pay my dues and join and society.
Is your society a "good-old-boys club?" The recycling of officers and those reluctant to step aside for new officers are signs that the society has turned into a clique instead of a society. Should there be term limits to office holders? Officers are telling me that they can't find anybody to take the office. Maybe if new members were welcomed you would eventually build up a roster of potentials for offices. Don't scare them off by asking them to take an office within the first year of their membership. A few years ago I wrote to a genealogy society telling them I would be willing to take an office. I am still waiting to hear from them and don't think I will be hearing from them. A relative did the same thing and was told they would welcome her support and help and send her information about what she would be doing. Many months later, she has received nothing. Her task was to solicit new members. If somebody willingly assumes an office or responsibility, do not ignore them.
If you have an office in a genealogy society, it is your obligation to fulfill the responsibilities to the fullest. If for some reason you are unable to do this, please step up to the plate, acknowledge the problems involved and then ask for help or resign. Sometimes we get in over our head or family issues or health issues cause us to slow down. Don't slow down at the expense of the genealogy society. Perhaps you can remain in office but allocate duties to others for a period of time.
What are the goals and needs of your genealogy society? Are you providing incentive for members to return to meetings? Do you show an interest in them, welcome them and listen to their needs? Are your programs meaningful? Or does most of your meeting involve the business of the society, leaving a brief time for a program? Reevaluate your meetings and find ways to stimulate members. A few meetings devoted to helping each other with research can be interesting, but not at every meeting. Not everybody wants to attend genealogy meetings devoted to social gossip or the reading of minutes. Listen to your members. Ask what they want.
Does your society have a presence in your community, area, county or state? Do you advertise your meetings? This can be something as simple as a community announcement in the newspaper or TV. You can also send out e-mails informing members and potential members of the meetings. If they don't have e-mail, take the time to send them a letter or make a phone call. Periodically have events that draw attention for prospective new members. This can be an open house at the library, a genealogy fair or a booth at a county fair. Does your community have a welcoming committee for new arrivals in the community? Make sure information about the society is in that welcome basket. Talk to your Chamber of Commerce about your organization and how you can appeal widely to the community.
Start a blog or Facebook group for your society. These are great ways to call attention to your society, particularly if you do not have a newsletter or publication. Let people know that your society needs them as much as they need the society. It's a two-way street. If your society opts for a blog or Facebook group, be sure it is maintained and kept up to date. People will not read it faithfully if it months old or there is no action on it.
There is a genealogy society here in Nebraska that has no officers and no dues. It is thriving. They have no treasury, no minutes, just informative meetings. They were organized a few years ago in hopes that people would come to learn and enjoy. Volunteers send out notices about the meetings and put posters up each month in business windows. Their programs range from interesting to awesome. Month after month they draw anywhere from 75 to 100 or more people to their meetings. If they can do this, so can your society with officers and structure.
Go get 'em!!