Witcher’s presentation, “High Touch and High Tech: Being a Successful 21st Century Genealogical Society” sparked a fire storm of blog posts, comments, and tweets. See what I’m talking about at GeneaMusings and Luxegen. (Note that some of the comments and tweets referred to Witcher's related keynote speech "The Changing Face of Genealogy." Now for the most part I agree with what I’ve seen in terms of summaries and comments:
- Societies do need to embrace technology to remain viable.
- Societies do need to reach out to a younger generation.
- Websites, e-publications, webinars, and surname databases are all great ways to both embrace technology and reach a younger generation.
We’re beginning to run our societies like businesses. We’re using words like ROI, profit margin, and customer. There is some value in that. There is value in ensuring we are offering sufficient member benefits. There is value in ensuring our societies don’t go bankrupt. There is, however, very little value in constructing a barrier between society boards and society members by classifying members as customers.
Societies don’t have customers—they are built on a member model. They were created by people who came together with a common goal expressed by their mission statement. Let’s look at the state mission statements of a few prominent societies:
National Genealogical Society (NGS)
“To serve and grow the genealogical community by providing education and training, fostering increased quality and standards, and promoting access to and preservation of genealogical records.”Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS)
“OGS is a non-profit organization, incorporated under Internal Revenue Code 501©(3) whose purposes are:Utah Genealogical Association (UGA)
- Fostering an interest in all of the peoples who contributed in any way to the establishment and perpetuation of the state of Ohio;
- Searching for the reasons and forces behind the migration of early settlers into this state;
- Preserving and safeguarding manuscripts, books, and memorabilia relating to the early settlers of Ohio;
- Securing and holding copyrights, master copies and plates of books, periodicals, tracts, and pamphlets of genealogical and historical interest to the people of Ohio;
- Publishing, printing, buying, selling, and circulating literature regarding the purposes, records, acquisitions, and discoveries of the Society.
- Aiding others in the publication and dissemination of materials pertaining to Ohio, including biography and family and local history;
- Receiving and holding gifts and bequests from any source for the benefit of the Society, disposing of such gifts and bequests not needed and using funds derived therefrom solely for the purposes of the Society;
- Doing all things incidental to the perpetuation of the purposes of the Society, and exercising the powers legally and properly requisite thereto.
“UGA provides genealogical information, sources, and education through personal instruction and published media on state, national, and international family history topics, while promoting high standards and ethical practices.”What do these and many other genealogical society mission statements have in common? They all use words like promote, educate, preserve, and foster. These societies were built as service organizations. Do we still think of them that way? Are genealogy societies still a place where we come together to give back to our community? Or are we spending too much of our time complaining about what societies aren’t doing; about what they aren’t providing for us as consumers? I respectfully submit that it’s not a society’s job to meet our needs as consumers. It is their job to meet their mission statement—and in the process to provide a place for us to give back to the community in a meaningful way.
Disclosure: I serve on the board of the Utah Genealogical Association as an unpaid director. I also serve as the unpaid director of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. These opinions are my own and don't reflect the board as a whole. In fact I'm not even sure the majority of UGA directors and members would agree with me!