Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Declining Membership in Genealogical Societies: Does it Feel Good to Belong?

People join groups for a lot of reasons. One reason people commonly join genealogical societies is to make a contribution. Maybe they're hoping that in the process of data gathering or extracting information they'll gain access to records that might help them with their own research. Or maybe they want to contribute because they've been helped along the way by some "Genie Angels" and they simply want to return the gesture. Or maybe they want to contribute because they expect their efforts will be appreciated and helping others makes them feel good about themselves.

Regardless of why folks decide to contribute to a society project, one thing needs to be understood. There are very, very few martyrs in this world. People most often give with the expectation of getting something for themselves in return, even if that something is only the good feeling that comes from knowing you did something nice for someone today. But an expression of appreciation and gratitude is a shot of "feel good" for any volunteer.

One thing that executives of genealogical societies need to ask themselves is, "Are we doing enough to say "thank you" to those who are sacrificing their time and talents for the greater good of the organization and its projects?" Burn out comes more quickly to those who feel used up and not replenished. Some people derive satisfaction from a job well done. But for most others, a boost to their self esteem by way of public recognition may be just what's needed to keep them contributing regularly and renewing their membership. Who wouldn't want to renew their membership with an organization that has honored them among their peers and made them feel like something of a workhorse or scholar?

The competition is stiff these days for volunteer time and effort. Most volunteer organizations are feeling short staffed. If the contributing members in your genealogical society aren't feeling good about their contributions they aren't likely to continue their membership. They will, however, be welcomed at any number of other organizations that are short on help and needing new members. When volunteers are in short supply the niceties often get neglected in favor of focusing on production tasks. But be careful that contributing members don't get taken for granted. That will lead to burn out and then membership dropout. If a genealogical society doesn't sufficiently show appreciation for its volunteers, it is contributing to its own decline in membership.

In the preceding posts, we've looked at many factors that contribute to the declining membership in genealogical societies.

In Summary:
1. People have more options for connecting with others so joining an organization holds less appeal.
2. Becoming a member of an organization requires commitment and people feel over-committed these days.
3. There are many more leisure time activities for people to choose from.
4. Our mobile society makes attendance at traditional genealogical meetings impossible for many would-be members.
5. Attendance at traditional meetings has become less convenient relative to other means of getting genealogical research tips and advice.
6. Traditional meetings aren't timely by today's standards.
7. A lack of adequate indexing makes traditionally published society journals less accessible than electronic forms of media.
8. Traditionally published journals are very time intensive to produce relative to the content being offered via other media.
9. Traditional publishing of journals doesn't allow for interactivity in a timely manner.
10. Society volunteers may not be getting the recognition and appreciation they need due to a lack of resources with a declining membership. Which in turn results in a further declination of members.

Whew! That's a lot of significant reasons for the declining membership in genealogical societies. And for those organizations who are set on doing things the same old way they've always been done because, well, "it's the way we've always done things!", the death knell may be ringing before too much longer. That old song and dance isn't working anymore. But for those societies who are willing to bend and adapt by letting go of some of the traditional ways of doing things and expand their offerings in some non-traditional ways, the future may be bright indeed!

In the next few posts in this series, we will look at what can be done to reverse the trend of a declining membership and to bring more members into genealogical societies.