Tag Archives: societies

10 Ways Your Genealogy Society Might Be Driving Away Visitors

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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.

Thumbs downI’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?

Walking away

Are your first-time visitors walking away and not coming back?

Is It Time To Drop Your Society?

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On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

The Ohio Historical Society has announced that as of 24 May 2014, it will change its name to “Ohio History Connection.” Why? According to Executive Director Burt Logan, “There’s a disconnect between the quality of services we’re providing and the image, hinging on the name.” (Columbus Dispatch, 21 April 2014.) The name “Ohio Historical Society” is seen by the public as stodgy and antiquated.

I am a long-time member of and researcher at the Ohio Historical Society. I cut my research teeth at OHS. I researched a huge chunk of my senior thesis there. I did an internship there when I was an undergrad. It is a facility that is near and dear to my heart. So it took me awhile to muse about this name change. After mulling it over, I have to say that I agree with their decision.

What’s In a Name?

If you’re trying to reach a younger crowd and tap into new audiences (those who don’t self-identify as “historians” or “history buffs”), you’re not going to get very far if you first have to overcome the hurdle of a stodgy name. Though it is cliché, you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s hard to have the opportunity to show someone — let alone convince them — that you’re relevant to their interests if they can’t get past your name.

There’s another problem with having a name that’s off-putting. People don’t want to be associated with a group whose name they have issues with. I’ve experienced this myself. I love science and there’s a page on Facebook that shares awesome photos and fun science facts. But I’m not going to “like” the page because of its name: “I F***ing Love Science.” (Yes, replace the asterisks with the appropriate letters and you have the name of the page.) I can’t see myself sharing their photos and have it say, “Amy shared I F***ing Love Science’s photo.”

Though it isn’t as extreme, it isn’t hard to imagine people who would say, “Historical society? I don’t want to be a part of an old fogies’ group like that.”

hurdlesA Hurdle to Clear

Let’s think of this in terms of genealogy. I remember a few years ago talking to someone about attending the Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference. I was going on and on about some of the speakers I was looking forward to hearing and some of the vendors I wanted to buy from. She said, “Oh, that sounds great! Too bad I can’t go since I’m not a member.” I had to explain to her that the conference was open to anyone who paid the registration fee.

She saw “society” and thought “members-only.” The name “Ohio Genealogical Society” was a hurdle she had to clear in order to even consider trying to access it.

How many people see the word “society” in the name of your favorite genealogy organization and think that it’s stodgy or that there’s nothing for them since they aren’t a member?

Walk the Walk

Dropping the word “society” from your name isn’t going to automatically bring in tons of new, young members. It isn’t going to bring in groups that don’t instantly identify with genealogy. Having an accessible name is just part of talking the talk. You also have to walk the walk.

Maybe the group really is stodgy. Maybe it really doesn’t offer anything to non-members. Maybe it hasn’t embraced technology and how it can further the group’s mission. If so, no name change is going to overcome that.

You can take an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group and wrap it in a new name — but you’ll still have an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group. Conversely, you can have a group that is doing amazing things, but with the wrong name, it could be creating unnecessary hurdles for people to get to know them.

I know that genealogy societies can be awesome, and you (hopefully) know that genealogy societies can be awesome. But does the person who isn’t completely obsessed with family history know that? Could the name itself be part of the problem for reaching new people and new audiences?

I don’t think a name change alone will cure all of the ills facing so many of our societies today. But I do think that it warrants taking a look at. How about you? What’s your experience?