A number of years ago, I asked at a genealogical society if the board of directors could have an all-day meeting to discuss where we wanted to be in five years as an organization. The idea was immediately dismissed as a waste of time. I was told, “We don’t even know where we want to be five months from now, let alone in five years.”
That society is still around, but it may no longer be thriving as it once did.
There are likely a number of other genealogical societies who struggle to survive. Year after year, they see their expenses go up, while at the same time they see their revenues go down.
Is time running out?
Many societies blame the introduction of online research almost 20 years ago as the beginning of the downward trend in membership. And they’re probably right.
Much of what genealogical societies offered in 1985 is no longer attracting legions of new members. But some societies still operate as if they’re in the 1980s.
Nevertheless, societies shouldn’t give up and accept their future demise. Members shouldn’t put on blinders to only focus on their personal research. They shouldn’t ignore their society’s problems, hoping someone else will solve them.
What a society’s board of directors and members need to do is evaluate and perhaps re-define their organization’s purpose in today’s world. But that’s easier said than done.
In his presentation, Future Vision for Genealogical Societies, David E. Rencher raises a number of thought-provoking questions societies need to discuss to help them move forward.
This is a presentation the board of directors and members of every genealogical society should watch — whether their society is thriving or barely surviving, large or small.
Mr. Rencher is the chief genealogical officer of FamilySearch and the vice-president of Development for the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and he delivered the closing presentation at the all-day 2018 North Texas Genealogical Society Summit on September 28.
In his 50-minute presentation, Mr. Rencher talks about the importance of needing to know where your society is today and how to make changes, and he asks several thought-provoking questions every society should ask itself, including these:
Why do genealogical societies exist?
Why does your society exist?
Does your society still serve the purpose for which it was created?
Has the mission statement kept current on the changing landscape?
What if your society operated cashless?
He also talks about the social experience genealogical societies provide and how that doesn’t work for younger generations.
Toward the end of his presentation, Mr. Rencher speaks about a 64-page book, Society Management – Now and Into the Future, he wrote with Edgie E. Donakay.
Discussion points, forms, and more videos
This year’s summit was attended by 40 people representing 16 genealogical societies. The summit’s agenda included table discussions and exercises, table readouts, and a panel discussion.
Participants chose one of two table exercises: Draft an Action Plan for Key Issues or Design a New Genealogy Club. Key points to discuss were provided to each person.
Members of a panel discussed six key issues: Meetings, New Members, Social Media, Remote Members, Volunteers, and Beginning Researchers.
And here’s where it gets even better.
The Dallas Genealogical Society has generously posted on its website videos of the morning and afternoon table readouts and the panel discussion, as well as the discussion forms in PDF.
These are tools that any genealogical society can use or adapt for their own purpose and unique situation.
A ten-gallon hats off to the people of North Texas for this initiative and for sharing.