There’s a secret about attendance at genealogy society meetings. It isn’t enough to get people in the door. You have to get them to come back.
I’ve been to a lot of genealogy society meetings over the years. I mean A LOT of meetings. Large societies, small societies, societies in the country and societies in the city. None of them have reported an overabundance of attendees at their regular meetings.
I’ll be honest. There have been times when I’ve sat in these meetings and thought, “You know, it’s no wonder only a handful of people come here regularly. Who would want to come back?”
Attendance is a recurring issue with some churches. Thom S. Rainer noticed this and did a Twitter survey about why people didn’t make return visits to a church. The top 10 list of responses sounded very familiar to me — and very applicable to genealogical societies. I have seen each of them happen in genealogy societies. I’ve adapted Dr. Rainer’s language and added my own commentary.
1. Having a stand up and greet one another time
Rainer reported that this response surprised him. It surprised me, too, until I thought about it. Think about a time when you’ve been introduced to a new group of people, such as being the new kid in class. Suddenly, all eyes are on you and you’re put on the spot. Who enjoys being in that position? My takeaway: Make people feel welcome without making them feel singled out.
2. Unfriendly members
Who wants to come back to a place where people ignore you or are rude to you?
3. Unsafe/unaccessible area
Rainer reported this as “unsafe or unclean children’s area,” which was a turn-off for attracting families with young children. For genealogy societies, we should evaluate if the meeting places are easily accessible and safe. Are there lots of stairs? Is the parking lot well-lit? Accessibility could also be looked at in terms of meeting days and times. Is Monday at 3:00pm the most accessible time for people to attend?
4. No place to get information
Don’t assume that people know things like upcoming meetings, special events, or member benefits. Have a clearly-marked area where people can get this information.
5. Bad website
Don’t even get me started on this one. People might not even make it to your meeting if your society has a bad website. All of the basic info should be there, including the address and time of your meetings. I wish I had a dollar for every website that said something like “We meet the 2nd Tuesday of the month at the firehouse.” Uh, which firehouse? What time?
6. Poor signage
You know that the meeting room is up on the 2nd floor at the end of the hall, but new people might not. Make it as easy and painless as possible to find you.
7. Insider language
Don’t lose people with jargon. Rainer’s favorite example was: “The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet.” I’ve heard similar examples at genealogy society meetings. “March 31 is the deadline for SAs for the CPF.” Huh?
8. Boring or bad meetings
Because who wants to come back if the meeting is boring? Do you really need to have an hour-long business meeting every time or do you do it because you’ve always done it that way?
9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat
Hard to believe this happens, but it does.
10. Dirty facilities
I’ve been to meeting spaces where the carpet stains appeared to be a few decades old. It doesn’t make for a welcoming experience.
We don’t like to think of things like clean rooms or unclear signs as keeping people from returning. We certainly don’t like to think of our members as being a source of frustration for new people. However, all of it has an impact.
It’s cliché to say that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But you know what? It’s true. Take a good look around at your society. What first impression is it making?
Are your first-time visitors walking away and not coming back?