Newsletter or Snoozeletter

Ken looks right.jpg

Amy Larner Giroux will be speaking at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Boston on this topic. Unfortunately I'll be down the hall in another session. But the topic of newsletters came up several times on my road trip this month, so I'm going to depart slightly from normal ideas on genealogy education and address the idea of a newsletter for your genealogy society.

Lets get down to basics first. A newsletter is about NEWS– an awesome concept, and its not a lengthy item like a journal or magazine. Its shorter, like a LETTER.

Everything that follows is highly charged opinion of Ken Aitken. I will blunder on. I hope you follow.


A newsletter needs a purpose. Personally I think a genealogical society newsletter needs to promote upcoming events and activities; report on recent events activities and member achievements, and recognize recent activities of volunteers; finally, recruit more volunteers. The ultimate objective of the newletter is to include and retain all members.

If there is room left over in the newsletter, include other real news.

A genealogy society newsletter should come out at least 8 times a year! It does not need to be long. It could be as short as 4 pages. Somewhere I read that historical societies were being advised by the American Association for State and Local history to publis newsletters at least seven times a year. I'm more adament. Eight to ten times a year, please.

Why? Because every member needs to be stroked regularly so they feel they belong to an organization that cares about them. It builds their loyalty. In a time with an ever declining membership in genealogy societies when memberships slump more thaN 10% per year, societies need loyalty. And a newsletter may be the only contact beween your society and the midnight genealogists who work late on the internet researching ancestry.

What form should it take? Why not both paper and electronic . And SEND them, do not just post them on a web site. Some still need a paper copy. Others are happy with a digitized one.

Lets talk about content some more.

First the calendar: if you have monthly meetings, and special events they need to be posted in the newsletter along with any promotional articles you might have for these events– with contact information,registration particulars, etc.

Recent events and activities. You need to make the last meeting or event or activity sound like it was interesting. Your speaker hoped it was! Some of your members stayed awake. And those who missed it need to know the basic gist of the event– not everything said, but a few highlights in abbreviated form. Pictures are good.

Also watch for recent news in the genealogy world. Have someone watch for and report on new websites of interest ( 4 or 5 with brief mentions of content) . Have another identify new books of interest at the library. Again, just a few. Your local librarian might be happy to email you a list each month of new genealogy/local history titles. Select from these lists.

Member news: Here you include info on new members, members newly appointed to offices and committees, members working on projects,member profiles, achievements etc. Use lots of praise! Run a series of articles on the senior members, and the new members so people can get to know them.You might assign an old member to write a short piece on a new member, and the other way round too!. If committee reports need to be published, they should have every member named before appearing in the newsletter. Keep items trim and well written so lots of people can be mentioned. Remember recognition is your objective. And pictures are great for newsletters.

Run a few extras of each issue for new members as they join. Or post them on your public website. Take some along when you have your mall display every January or February and hand them out to new and prospective members.

Now, how do you finance the newsletter? In a four page newsletter, the advertising should take no more than the equivalent of a page, and you should charge enough for a page to pay your printing. If you email all copies, then charge half as much.

And leave out the reprinted articles from the Podunk Advertiser; the lyrics to "I'm my own grandpa",cutesy poems, cemetery listings, "my favourite ancestors" and that sort of stuff. Focus on the living members. They, after all are the reason for the society.

I am positive that a re-oriented newletter along these lines will do more good than you will realize to keep members and keep them happy.

What has been your experience?

And Amy, what do you thnk? Am I nut?

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3 responses to “Newsletter or Snoozeletter

  1. Ken,

    Those are all good ideas.

    However, I don’t see any advertising in the newsletters for the 3 societies I belong to in San Diego. The reality for my local society (Chula Vista Gen Society) is that we don’t solicit advertising due to lack of previous results…therefore, there is no income from it. Perhaps we should try again.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your content ideas – we put ours out every month, 8 pages for a 39 cent stamp.

    We just put it on the society web page and are asking people to opt out of the printed mailed copy due to the cost – about 80 cents per copy. Mailing to every member amounts to about 50% of our expenditures and income, so if a sizable number of members opt out, we will be able to avoid raising dues in the foreseeable future.

    The larger SD Gen society puts out 11 issues a year and does an excellent job – lots of member news, program news, calendar. The other local society I belong to, the Computer Gen Society of SD, puts out a very professional quarterly with lots of program, member and genealogy news. I also see the North SD County Gen Society monthly newsletter and it is excellent also.

    My judgment is that San Diego county is very well served by these 4 societies newsletters, and they each reflect the personality and interests of their members. There are several other specialty societies in the area (British Isles, German, ASfrican-American, Italian, Jewish, etc) but I don’t see their newsletters regularly.

    Cheers — Randy

  2. Thanks for your comments. However,your article seemed to assume that “current events” would be most important to members. Since I live in Hawaii – quite a distance from my Pennsylvania roots – I appreciate the bits of local history, cemetery records, church marriage and baptism records, etc that are published in the newletters I get from the Pioneer Library in Bedford, PA. On a few occasions that bit of information has resulted in a search of other records that I might never have found. Remember, some of us have very little opportunity to be envolved in the activities of the society. The newsletter gives us an opportunity to see items that might seem fairly obvious to the people visiting a library often or who have close ties to people living in those communities today. I do wish I received it more frequently but I also understand the difficulty of keeping volunteers on board creating them and also the cost of sending the letters out. Believe me, I appreciate everybody’s contibution and look forward to each addition.

  3. Aloha Gloria,

    Mahalo for your comments. Delighted to hear from you. I think the items you mention wanting to see are the sort of thing I’d put in a quarterly magazine, not a newsletter.

    Such a quarterly should focus on educating members, introducing resources, local records, etc, and showcasing members writing. This is different than a newsletter’s purpose. Nevertheless, others see things your way, and I remain strongly opinionated.
    Again, mahalo for your kokua in looking at this other perspective.

    Aloha nui

    Ken the Laie Bay Beach Bum

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