Helping Local Chapters Survive

September 29, 2015

Genealogy and the recording of family history has been around for a very long time. For some reason, in the 1950’s it became a popular hobby again. Many genealogical organizations were started to encourage people to follow their hobby. This included the Ohio Genealogical Society.

The Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) was (and is) unique in that we encouraged chapters throughout the state to become affiliates in order to promote genealogy in general and to give encouragement to those chapters and societies to move forward and grow. The goal was to have at least one local chapter from each county – 88 chapters. We did achieve that number, but it did not include one from every county. Cuyahoga County, for instance, had several chartered groups. We issued charters to out of state chapters in Florida, Arizona and California. This last spring we were one county short of meeting the 88 counties when the Shelby County Genealogical Society was chartered.

This last week we have learned that two of our chapters are disbanding. Both chapters are citing reasons of not enough membership, officers have been in office too long, members are older, and more.

It is not an easy decision to disband your organization. There are many things to be considered. What happens to your treasury? What happens to your publications? What happens to your records?

Let’s look at a fictional chapter scenario. What was the original purpose of the group? Was their community aware that such a group existed, or was it only a word of mouth organization for those that might be interested in genealogy? Did they create bylaws and standing rules? Were those bylaws and standing rules enforced? Did they elect responsible officers? Did they set term limits for the officers and board members? What was their programming goal? As the years went by, did they keep up with the changing world of genealogy? Did they create a web page that was maintained on a regular basis and kept up to date? In more recent years, did this group embrace social media? The organization itself must keep in mind that change is good – it cannot go on the premise “we’ve always done it this way” and thrive. Did they choose interesting program topics with speakers from outside the chapter? Or, did they use only their members as speakers? Did this organization publish any books or data lists? If you were a member of this organization, did you encourage your friends to attend the meetings?

Chapters that maintain the same officers for many years run the very risk of becoming stagnant. A proprietorial air slowly creeps in that can be detrimental to what you are trying to do. Is your chapter encouraging new faces to take responsible positions? Remember, in the world of genealogy change is constantly happening. Your chapter has to change, too. Change can be good!

Now, let’s look at you as a member of this organization. Are you involved? Are you an officer or a committee chair? Do you volunteer to work on projects? Or, are you the member that comes for the social hour, the refreshments, and the program? If you are not involved, why aren’t you? Being involved with your chapter brings you more insight as to how the organization works. It is a personally fulfilling way to make your contribution.

Today’s genealogical chapters and societies need the support from all of their members. Without that support, your organization may be the next to disband. It is not the responsibility of a handful of people to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Does your chapter/society have an up-to-date brochure? Is the website up to date? Does the website include programming information as well as a way to contact the chapter officers by email? Not snail mail, email! Today’s world seems to demand instant gratification for those doing their research. Is there a Facebook presence? Do you have a blog? What databases do you have on your website for those researching in your area? Does your organization help youth groups such as scouts or those in 4-H? Do you have individuals in your group willing to speak to community organizations about what you do and what your programs are?

Will your organization survive? The Internet is posing great challenges to chapters and societies today as everyone thinks that everything is on the internet. Networking, conversation, and personal contact are very important elements to the world of genealogical research. Take a friend to your next meeting of your local chapter. Offer to volunteer for something – anything! – get involved! If you don’t get involved, don’t complain about the way things are done. Make a difference. Make YOUR chapter grow and thrive!