In a post almost exactly one month ago, genealogy blogger Gail Dever recounted an experience she had had, questioning the board of a genealogical society on the possibility of engaging in long-term strategic planning. The response to her request for an all-day meeting to create a five-year plan: "We don’t even know where we want to be five months from now, let alone in five years."
In an ominous follow up at the other end of that same month, Ms. Dever called attention to the demise of a local historical society after sixty one years of operation. She pointed to what she felt were several causes of such a turn of events. Her analysis centered upon technology and social media, as well as a general inability to grow with the times and adapt to the pertinent needs and desires of volunteers over the decades—primarily, potential volunteers who are members of a newer generation.
I don't simply want to be a cheerleader for the message Gail Dever is preaching. I want to take an active part in turning things around in my own arena. Thus, I'm finding books to read that will both inspire and equip me to apply what is necessary, so we don't repeat such a downfall in our own back yard.
For this month, my self-imposed reading assignment is a book co-authored by two men well-versed in reshaping the world around them through new technology. They explore the means to inspire and channel what they call "participatory energy" for social good.
Despite the garish title and strident appearance of its cover, New Power, the book I'm reading this month, contains the stories of current movements we are watching unfold right before our eyes—and through that analysis, leads us to examples of how we can apply those same concepts and techniques to our own participation in this "connected age."
Though the authors—Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms—may not have names that are on the tip of our tongues, at least one of them turns out to be a key influencer for a movement you may already have heard of: #GivingTuesday. With Thanksgiving already racing towards us (at least in the United States), you may have recalled, last year at this time, the sequence of named days in that holiday weekend. There's Black Friday. Cyber Monday. And after all that feasting and shopping, there's the respite of taking a day to remember others by a "global day of giving."
While you may have heard of #GivingTuesday, you might not have known who the people were behind the creation of this worldwide effort. Called the "Team of Influencers," the very core of this group began through an initiative in 2012 sprung from the team at New York's 92nd Street Y—the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact. And key to this organization was 92Y's President and CEO, Henry Timms, co-author of New Power.
Perhaps, in the context of such a history-rich and tradition-drenched venue as a genealogical society, such a combo seems to edge beyond dynamic toward the more explosive power of dynamite. If this seems to be overkill for our own survival goals, perhaps we need to rethink just what the problem is. We can learn from the observations and field-tested techniques of a newer generation.
While any steps we take, as genealogical societies, toward that more up-to-date organizational existence of our future, it will certainly be more measured and circumspect than some examples given in the book. However, we cannot use technology and tools which we are not even aware of. Our first step needs to be to learn what is possible, then move toward adapting those tools to the specific applications our own situation requires. It's a learning curve. And we need to be willing to take those first steps.
We can't simply hide our heads from the evolving nature of how groups now get things done. If we want to thrive as pertinent organizations—open to the participation of newer members—we need to equip ourselves with ways that speak to those new members and the up-to-date public with which we will interface as we engage in our organization's mission. If nothing else, this book will get us thinking of how we can begin to do things differently—and more pertinently.
At the close of the month, when Gail Dever shared the news on her blog about the closing of a sixty-plus year old local historical society, she commented,
Let’s hope other historical and genealogical societies are able to find a way to grow their membership, rather than thinking that what worked in 1985 will still work in 2019. They need to act now.
I couldn't agree more. That's what inspires me to keep reading. And doing.