Monday, August 14, 2006

A Decline in Genealogical Society Memberships, The General Trend

This is the first part in a series of articles that will look at the declining membership in genealogical societies and what can be done about it.

There's a trend going on that's causing some concern among the executives of genealogical societies. You wonÂ’t find much mention of it on the societies' web sites or in their newsletters but it's talked about behind the scenes plenty. Their concern? Membership is on the decline. Is there less interest in genealogy? More likely there's less interest in joining a society. You see, membership in other organizations is down too. Many fraternal organizations, religions, civic and social clubs are feeling the effects of this trend as well.

There are a myriad of reasons why "joining" is on the decline. Since my interest is in genealogical societies in particular, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the declining memberships in other organizations. But I will mention three significant reasons that people are less inclined to join organizations in general these days.
  1. People used to have more limited options for connecting with others. But technology now offers us more options. In fact we practically have communication overload with cell phones, Blackberries, WiFi, Chat rooms, VoIP, email, video conferencing, streaming video, podcasts, forums, blogs and Wikis in addition to the traditional methods of face to face meetings, writing letters, and landline telephones.
  2. Our lives are busier. Becoming a member of an organization requires commitment, at least on some level. It may include a time commitment to attend meetings, a financial commitment to pay dues, and or a larger commitment to actually contribute to the betterment of the organization by actively participating in achieving its purpose. Take an informal survey of your family and friends and you're likely to find that they feel like they have too many time/money/obligation requirements in their lives already! They don'’t feel a need to connect. What they desire is a chance to disconnect. The last thing they want is another meeting to attend or another bill to have to pay.
  3. Our society offers more choices for how we spend our leisure hours. The "pie" that is our leisure time can only be divided so many times. Video games, DVD rentals, the Internet, cable TV 24/7, and listening to digital music recordings on iPods are just a very few examples of leisure time activities that have enormous popularity that were only invented in the last few years.
Organizations will also have their own specific reasons for declining membership as well. Genealogical societies have some that are unique to them. Next we will examine some problems/challenges unique to genealogical societies which are contributing to their declining memberships.