Genealogical societies, like many other organizations, seem to have trouble drawing in active members who’ll help keep it going. The groups I’m familiar with formed in the 1980s or ’90s. The people who started the clubs and served on the board are 30 to 40 years older now. They need younger folks (yes, that’s you, whether you’re in your 20s or your 50s or 60s, you’re younger!) to step in as president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. They need you to serve on the board. They need you to take on some of the business of running the group.
If you’re a member of a genealogical society who’s never served on the board, let an officer or board member know you’re interested. It really only takes a couple of hours a week, if that, to keep the paperwork in order and attend the board meeting.
If you’re a society leader looking for ways to get more people involved, here are some tips.
First, you need to grow your membership. The larger the pool, the easier it’s going to be to find people to step up to lead.
If you use Facebook, be sure to create a Page for your society. Some societies have a Facebook Group, and that’s great for interacting, but a Page has a better chance of showing up in search results. Post two or three times a week. You can sit down for a couple of hours and schedule a months worth of posts in advance, or do it as you go, just don’t forget. The posts can be a an image with a funny genealogy-related caption, or a link to a resource like an archive or digital collection online. You can share history-related events going on in your area or articles related to using DNA for genealogy. Encourage your members to Like your society Page and to click “like” on each post they see. The more people who Like or comment on a post, the more it’s going to show up on other people’s newsfeeds.
Next, create an Event on that Page for every meeting or workshop. I’ve seen several organizations that just do a normal post about the topic of their next meeting. That’s okay, but if you post frequently, it’s going to get buried. Making each meeting an Event makes it easier to find AND if your members Like the Event it will show up on the sidebar on their pages and their friends’ pages. An Event has the potential of going farther than a regular post. I don’t know about you, but if I’m checking out an organization and want to know when they meet, I will click on Events and expect to see their next meeting, fundraiser, or other activity listed.
If your society has a website, be sure it’s up to date. How frustrated do you get when you look up a company or organization’s website and find that it hasn’t been updated in weeks, months, or years?
Watch for opportunities for your organization to participate in community events. Societies I’ve been a part of have sponsored a prize at the county’s school history fair, they’ve taken part in the town’s Christmas celebration, in the library’s Halloween party, and they’ve organized a one-day showcase for heritage and lineage groups. Many areas have fairs or festivals; inquire about setting up a table or exhibit.
Look for ways to tell groups of people about your society. Perhaps you could speak at a meeting of the local service club or include a brochure in a large subdivision’s welcome basket for new residents.
Send press releases to local and regional newspapers, magazines, TV news, and radio stations. Keep it simple.
- Who – This is your organization and/or the name of a guest speaker
- What – Tell them about your next presentation, your special event, your milestone anniversary, or your special project
- When – Time, date, and day of the week
- Where – Location, including the street address and the name of the building
- Why – Include a “boilerplate” with three or four sentences about your organization, when it was founded, your mission statement, and where people can find more information (website, Facebook, email address)
Consider also sending a press release when you notice something that could tie in with your organization. Here’s an example – if you live in a coastal community, an historic tall ship may dock for tours for a few days. Is there someone in your organization whose ancestor served on that ship when it was new or even helped build it? If you hear about a new series of one of those DNA or ancestry shows, point out to those local news outlets that your organization can help people make those kinds of discoveries about their own family.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response to your press release, and don’t give up. Sometimes a brief announcement will be made or a calendar listing will be printed, and it’s up to you and your members to find it. Sometimes the people who receive the news release just don’t “get it.” Maybe they’d like to do a big story but they’re short-handed or it’s a busy news day. Keep pitching the ideas. Someday the stars will align and your organization will get a really nice story in print or on the air. Be sure to share it on your social media pages or your website when it happens.
All these things raise the profile of your organization in the community. As more people find out about your society, you will start to see new faces at your meetings and events. Some of them will join. Some of them will step forward into leadership roles. All this will keep your society going strong for years to come.