Getting others involved in your genealogical society

I really enjoyed listening to the Federation of Genealogical Societies first BlogTalkRadio show today. The theme was “Bringing Genealogy Societies into the 21st Century.” Today’s host Thomas MacEntee and guest Curt B. Witcher did a fantastic job with the show. I found myself nodding in agreement with what they said during the hour-long show.

Some posts in the chat room during that show focused on how to get others involved with the tasks of running a genealogical society. In many cases, it takes just some small steps. It may be a case where someone doesn’t really feel they are part of the organization or doesn’t know anyone. If you ask them to take over the Program Chair job or the Publications Committee if they have only been to a few meetings, you are likely to hear “no.”

Let’s look at some steps that may begin to get new folks involved. I think that once some people feel comfortable they will become more involved. One of the best things I ever did was to become involved in the
Minnesota Genealogical Society, some of its Branches, and with the National Genealogical Society,  Federation of Genealogical Societies, and some other groups. As I felt more familiar with them I agreed to take on some tasks. In retrospect that was a smart thing to do.

  • Do you have preregistration for society meetings and seminars? Look at the list of those registered and email them to ask if they would arrive about 15 minutes earlier than the doors open. For those without email, use a postcard! They could be your greeters. If the weather is decent one could stand outside, smile, and welcome folks. The person or persons inside could direct them to the registration table and to where the lectures will be held.
  • Ask others to help direct people to open seats in the sessions. Assure them they can reserve their own seat ahead of time and won’t have to miss anything.
  • Ask others to keep any eye out for the neatness of the refreshment table. Do napkins, cups, or other items need to be replaced? Are there spills to be mopped up? They won’t have to miss the sessions, but will be giving valuable service. Maybe in a few months, they would be willing to take over more (or at least a part) of the setup of this table.
  • Speaking of registration and refreshments, do folks then just go in the room to wait for the lecture? Why not have a few tables and chairs for them to sit and talk. This lets people meet each other. You could have a few board members in this area to begin some chats.
  • No one on your society’s board seems to think it’s a smart idea for your society to have a blog or an electronic newsletter? How about a fifteen minute PowerPoint presentation at the next board and committee meetings showing some of the great ones that are out there?
  • People in your society not comfortable with a computer? See if a local library has classes or perhaps the local senior center does. Let you members know about these. Perhaps your society could have a few computer and getting to know the Internet sessions before or after your monthly meeting.
  • When your meeting starts does the person that first speaks introduce him or herself? Then do they welcome those there for the first time?
  • Does it appear that one or more of these helpers at a meeting are quite competent and outgoing? Ask them to help with other short-terms tasks. 
  • Do you have team building events? It could be as simple as getting together at an area cafe, coffee shop, or having a picnic with no other agenda. 
  • Does your organization have some committees that don’t involve large time commitments? Maybe a couple hours a month. Start people off on these committees. 
  • Are your board members identified as such? Do they mingle at meetings? Designate at least 2-3 board members to do this. They can talk with people one-on-one. Ask about their research, let them know about the next big event, or just be there to talk. 
  • At one or multiple day events, have a drawing to see who gets to sit with your main or other speakers at lunch. Board members are not eligible! Make it a table of 4, 6, or 8.
  • Having door prize drawings? Have some of the newer folks help distribute these as the tickets are drawn.
  • Do you have a new member orientation? Do you honor your volunteers?  
  • Don’t just ask them if they know HTML, are a whiz at databases, know how to run the microphone system or are great at signage. Task board members with learning such things in the midst of other conversations. 
  • Pair new volunteers with a season volunteer. That helps in learning the ropes and also means the new person will get to know someone else!

These are just some tips to help people feel more comfortable with your organization. THEN you can ask them to be more involved. We are almost through April which is National Volunteer Month. Did you honor your group’s volunteers?

Didn’t listen to today’s show or want to listen again? It’s free and the archived edition is at
The next show is Saturday, April 30th at 1:00 p.m. CDT. That means 2:00 EDT, Noon MDT, and 11:00 a.m. PDT. For those of you outside the U.S. just google time zones or time zone converters to figure out when the show airs in your time zone. I will let you know about future radio shows and the new FGS webinars that debut next Saturday.

(Disclosure: I am a members of the Board of Directors of FGS and am also on the committee developing and overseeing the radio show and webinars. I am not compensated for either of these volunteer jobs.)

© 2011 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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3 comments on “Getting others involved in your genealogical society

  1. With our group ( the Board has realized that we must give them more than they ask for, more than they expect and send them away from a meeting feeling that this was not a waste of their time. We begin at 12:30 on the first Saturday with Coffee, Cookies & Conversation (sharing, networking) and the meeting begins at 1:00. We take minimum time for business, always have a door prize drawing, and strive to have programs and speakers that THEY (not us) would benefit from and listen to and enjoy. Running a genealogical society is hard work but oh, so rewarding.
    Donna Potter Phillips

  2. Great comment, Harold. I use this introduction technique in several of my lectures. It can be done as easily as having everyone in the audience turn to someone they don’t know and introduce themselves. I especially like to do this in Focus on Societies lectures at FGS Conferences.

  3. Paula —

    “When your meeting starts does the person that first speaks introduce him or herself? Then do they welcome those there for the first time?”

    Good questions, but I’d add one pet peeve of mine: Do they then ask *everyone* to introduce themselves, rather than just asking the new people to do so and then leaving them to wonder who everybody else is?


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