It's now official: as of January, next year, I'm in as the new president of our local genealogical society. As much as I hate to see my predecessor step down—and to follow in the shadow of the sparkling Sheri Fenley—rules are rules and bylaws are bylaws. Ours said the third time was a charm; after four times, an officer is termed out.
Naturally, I've had plenty of time to contemplate my fate. On one hand, I'm stepping into a position which has been filled, for the past four years, by a go-getter. Our society has made great strides during her tenure. On the other hand, there is so much yet to accomplish. As Sheri herself has often said, there are more family history enthusiasts in our local area than attend our monthly meetings. The challenge is to nurture an organization compelling enough to entice them to join us.
The challenge is to meet the needs of the local genealogical community before the members of that "community" even realize they are part of the group—or admit that they have needs which can be met collectively. I've already mentioned my hunch that the linchpin of organization-building will likely be the ability to form partnerships. But these partnerships—and the impetus behind their formation—cannot simply be a repeat of the old, tired techniques organizations of the past have used.
I think that concept—seeking innovative answers to organizational issues—already resonates with others in the genealogy community. The other day, I could just hear the frustration in the sigh that must have accompanied Gail Dever's entry in her Genealogy à la carte Facebook group: "I am so over 1985." What she meant was that more than the usual-for-1985 needs to be done if we are to draw in others to our society events in 2018.
What prompted Gail's Facebook comment was elaborated in a recent post on her blog. In explaining the drawback to the approach taken by the Quebec, Canada, federation of genealogical societies—the Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie—in promoting their annual National Genealogy Week, Gail observed,
Right now, the activities are similar to what people likely held in the 1980s. Open houses, presentations, and book launches are good events, but these activities need to be supplemented with more modern-day initiatives to help shake off the image of genealogy being a hobby for old folks.
Suggestions Gail made in her blog post included the advice to "start looking at how the big genealogy companies promote their products" to take cues on how to advance the positioning of genealogical societies.
This, likely, is sound advice. And there is likely more such quality input out there for us to draw on, should we be willing to enter into dialog on this quandary. After all, though we love history, we don't want to become it; we will not fulfill our mission by accelerating its extinction. On the contrary, those of us for whom such thoughts resonate should join in the conversation about how we as societies can become more pertinent to twenty first century researchers.
I've always taken the approach of thinking outside the box—or at least getting the bigger picture. While there are plenty of articles—such as those made available on the Federation of Genealogical Societies website—designed to guide boards of directors in running a genealogical society, I also expand my horizons to the wider realm of leadership in nonprofit organizations.
I follow blogs on that wider arena—such as Beth Kanter's blog, subtitled, "How Connected Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change." Though Kanter's most recent book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, doesn't speak to an organization of our size, her previous book, The Networked Nonprofit, can open our eyes to our brave new technological world of possibilities.
While I don't see genealogical societies engaged in social change, per se, the techniques used in that arena certainly can be adapted to further our own mission and goals. We, too, are nonprofit organizations, engaged in education, outreach, and universal access. It's just that our social "change" encourages people to awaken to the value of preserving our heritage.
Though our mission may focus on history, that doesn't mean our mode must follow outdated dictates. In our own group's experience, we are awakening to the possibilities of how much more we can accomplish as an organization through the power of partnerships. Our communities are full of micro-organizations like our own, peopled by members whose wish to make a difference is outstripped by their lack of resources. Finding like-minded others with whom to partner on joint ventures is often the key to actually accomplishing what we dream of achieving. By carefully crafting a win-win partnership with like-minded groups, we can expand our organizational horizons.
I'd love to see us enter into dialog about how to go about such endeavors, whether through comments on our respective blogs, or on our Facebook pages, or even live at conferences or face to face in small meetups. I am positive there are ways for us, as genealogical societies of all sizes, to become a thriving and pertinent part of the social fabric of our communities in the decades ahead.