Friday, October 26, 2012

Rest for the Weary
Are you tired of running your Genealogy Society for years with no relief? Is this your third term as [whichever board member] and there's no end in sight? If so, I have a few ideas that may bring relief.

I know: it sounds blunt and seems obvious, but please hear me out. I think sometimes we can assume that no one else is interested in serving on the Board because no one has volunteered lately. While that could be true, when was the last time you asked for volunteers? And how many people did you ask?  I wonder if non-board members assume everything is fine--that we don't need help--because they haven't heard anything to the contrary. Or maybe they heard your initial request, but figured somebody already responded since they didn't hear the request again. As you know, people lead busy lives. I think if something is not on their day-to-day "radar", they probably won't realize when help is needed. So I'm saying, let's fire that flare gun and get on their radar.  Ask again.

I have an impression that a lot of people don't know what a society board does or how. I remember thinking at one of my first board meetings,
"Who the heck is Robert and why are we following his rules??"  I also assumed "board" = "bored".  ;)  While admittedly some of the proceedings and topics aren't ... fascinating, some certainly are. I suggest communicating the more interesting parts of the meetings to potential board members.  Have a picnic, a game night, or go bowling or something! Invite non-board members to join you. Do something fun and post pictures of it on your Facebook page. Chat with the non-board members during the event. If you get to know them a little better, maybe they'll get to know you too. Blog about your board members' contributions, about your projects and statuses, and so forth. And I highly recommend creating a "Cliff Notes" version of your Board's procedures.  For newbies [or those considering a position], trying to figure out the by-laws, policies & procedures, lingo, roles, etc., can be mystifying!

Is there something written in Robert's Rules of Order that forbids Apprenticeship? I hope not because I think it's a great idea! It may be easier to get an Apprentice rather than someone to take over the entire job right away.  Why not offer to have them shadow you in your role on the Board? Maybe they can assist you in some way while they're learning. Then they can decide if the job is for them and you can see if they're qualified -- if it's a good fit. I'm just throwing this idea out there.

I know that some people are reluctant to volunteer for something unless they know what the task involves and how it will impact their life and schedule. What are the job responsibilities? How much time does it take?  Is it long term? Which skills are needed? Is attendance at every Board meeting required? If you address these questions in a Job Description, I think your chances of finding a willing volunteer increase ten-fold.  Oh! and post these job descriptions on your website or some other suitable place (at least have a print-out available for perusal).  And while you're at it, go ahead and also post those Cliff Notes mentioned above.  :)  Maybe even the by-laws, etc.

A board position may be more attractive to some if they can attend board meetings virtually -- over the Internet (e.g. Skype, Google+, GoToMeeting, etc.).  I know that level of technology would be a leap for some societies, but it is possible.  If people are too busy to commute to your meetings, giving them the option to attend virtually may remove their barrier to volunteering.

Maybe your members aren't interested in serving on your Board. If that's the case, then the ideas in this blog post may not be of help to you. However, maybe... just maybe they don't realize there's still a need and that they have the skills you're looking for. By giving your Board some good P.R. and creating some procedural flexibility, you may just get that rest for the weary -- in my opinion.

Jenny Davis


  1. In one of my jobs, part of the requirement was that I actively identify people who could take over. We paired up the newbies with the veterans and actively groomed them and gave them a path. We knew that almost everyone would retire within ten years and we couldn't leave that void. I'm passionate about this topic.

    In our society, we are limited by small turnout. It's hard to groom people who are not there. Yet I know we could actively INVITE people who have volunteered when they filled out their membership renewals to take a more active role. Great post.

  2. Hi Jenny,

    I was in one of those jobs for a while and have taken a break. I belong to one genealogy club and two local historical societies. I'm a 40 something dad of three girls and time goes by fast.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets