Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can Potential Members Locate Your Historical or Genealogical Society?


Several months after sending a mailing to historical and genealogical societies in the state of Tennessee to make sure they knew about the then upcoming National Genealogical Society Conference in Raleigh, I continue to receive some back which were undeliverable. I tried to locate current information on each society through their web sites. If I was unable to locate it, I used the address we had on file from the 2009 conference. Each packet included a copy of the 16-page brochure as well as a letter from me, a fellow Tennessee genealogist. While I did not make an official calculation, based on the number returned to me and the approximate number I sent, about ten percent were returned.

Many societies are in a "dying state." Could it be because they are not reaching potential members? In the 21st century, an online presence is essential. Some societies lack one. In many cases, web sites look abandoned. If your site's design is from the 1990s or early 2000s, people question whether it still exists. Setting the "last updated" code to read the current date does not fool those who stumble upon your site. Many apparently up-to-date sites lack a means of contacting the society.

Your society's web site should include both an email address or contact form and a current "snail mail" address. If your society has a dedicated facility, be sure to include a phone number as well. Your web presence can attract new members. Describe the benefits of joining the society. List the benefits of membership--your newsletter or journal (and its frequency), publication discounts, discounts to workshops, a library for members, etc. Include information on categories of membership (individual, family, life, etc.) and the current price of each of these. Some societies offer PDF forms which may be printed and mailed or options to purchase memberships online using PayPal. Offer a sample newsletter or journal to site visitors.

I located a few societies relying only on a Facebook presence. They are missing a chance to reach many potential members who do not use social media. If your society does use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, be sure to include information on your web site so people know how to follow you.

If your society sells books or back issues, make sure to have an up-to-date page providing information on the publications along with costs (including shipping and tax, if applicable) so libraries and individuals know of their availability. Some societies offer PDF order forms to mail back and/or the ability to order using PayPal.

Make sure your web site is not contributing to your society's demise. Provide and keep contact information updated.

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