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Federation of Genealogical Societies logoI just finished listening to the very first episode of “My Society,” a free weekly Internet radio show sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies. This week’s episode featured Curt Witcher, speaking on the topic of “Bringing Genealogical Societies into the 21st Century.” This fits very well with his keynote presentation at RootsTech: “The Changing Face of Genealogy.”

You can listen to the archived version for free at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mysociety/2011/04/23/bringing-genealogy-societies-into-the-21st-century

The recurring theme through the episode was “high tech, high touch.” If societies want to be successful, they need to find ways to touch more people with their mission-centric activities. Technology for technology’s sake isn’t the answer, according to Curt. Taking what you’re good at and what is tied to your mission — whether it’s queries or publications, etc. — and using technology to touch more people with it is what will drive success.

Societies need to remember two things, according to Curt. When people engage in an activity, they want two things:

  1. They want to be successful.
  2. They want to enjoy themselves. (Yes, people want to have fun with genealogy!)

The Indiana Genealogical Society was given as an example. They publish news items and queries on their blog. They started a digitization program with a probate court; this project brought in over $2,400 in donations and grants. (What society wouldn’t like to have a project that brings in money?!) Their “biggest” success, in terms of bringing in new members, has been their “2 for 92″ program — where they set a goal of having on the IGS website at least 2 databases for each of Indiana’s 92 counties. They’ve met this goal and have 565 databases on their website! As Curt said, your society has to have a meaningful presence 24/7. It allows members to be successful and to enjoy themselves. With that much data, the Indiana Genealogical Society certainly does that!

One of the phrases used by both Curt and by Thomas MacEntee, the host of My Society, was “If you’ve always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” (Which Curt added the follow-up: “And how is that working for you?”) “Always” and “never” should be red flags for things that need to be explored. Clearly, societies cannot keep doing things the same way they always have. This isn’t to say that everything needs to be dumped. (“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, certainly, but the bathwater does need to be changed” was how Curt put it.)

So how do we get our societies to change? First, you need new talent. Relying on the same core volunteers for everything only burns them out. Curt recommended looking beyond your society. Tap into other networks, whether it is your church, local convention and visitors bureau, local schools, etc.

One point that struck a chord with me was his observation, “We can’t allow perfection to be the obstacle of progress.” It will never be perfect. As soon as we embrace that fact, we can move on and have progress. Yes, things will need to be changed, but that’s ok. Along with that thought was one of my favorite quotes: “It will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

I think Curt and Thomas did an excellent job getting “My Society” off to a strong start.

My Society airs on Saturdays at 2:00 Eastern/1:00 Central.

(Disclosure: I am the webmaster for the Federation of Genealogical Societies. This post was written on my own time; I will receive no compensation for this post, nor was I asked to write it.)

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