Genealogy Soc. Education Programs:Challenges & Suggestions

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When I first joined a genealogy society in the autumn of 1979 I noted there was a pattern to the meetings – an educational program built into each meeting. Over the year I saw that it did not really work that well for me. What was wrong?

Now, almost 30 years later I have a few clues on how to improve the educational program situation.

  1. Volunteer instructors burn out. As the old blues number says, “the thrill is gone” and instruction grows boring, the instructor tired. Or the instructor has done the same routine so long they are reluctant to change or give up the job. How do we address this? Personally I suspect we need to change committee memberships every couple of years, adding new people in with old ones, and rotating out folks before they et fatigued. Make the change a big deal with public recognition, thanks and applause.
  2. Speakers and subjects get overworked, show up too frequently and lose audience appeal. The key to this is variety. Introduce new subjects, recruit new speakers. I recall seeing a notice of a program on craftsmen’s marks with an antique dealer and a collector discussing pottery marks and silver marks and what resources you could find to identify them! But the next time they sheduled a presentation on occupations and trades, they had a different program and presenter. The theme appeared regularly, the presentation differed. Similarly your society’s annual lecture on family photographs could bring in a historic fashion person one year to discuss identification and dating of photos, an archivist another time to discuss preservation, and a photographer another time to discuss how to copy old photos. Yes, the general subject repeats but in delivery it changes, and the presenter changes.

    You might also do a survey asking them to identify their top three learning needs, and take those into consideration in revising your program.

  3. Sometimes people get tired of a program every month. Perhaps we need to think in terms of education as a learner’s experience not as an instructional activity. So what would be wrong with cancelling the meeting and car pooling to the cemetery for a graveyard tour, ( or a tour of the local museum) giving peope a chance to talk with each other? Or gather at Mrs. Donetski’s place to make perogi’s and sample them?
  4. Program publicity failure. Years ago a young lady suggested to me the importance of making evry occasion a great occasion. Never fully understood her, but the idea has merit. First figure out what makes the program special. Then sell that idea. Newletters are key to education program promotion. Every member gets one in time for the event. See my diatribe on newsletters in a previous post. Contact every member by e-mail a few days in advance of the event, inviting them, and signing the praises of the event. Is there an angle the local paper might be interested in. Prepare a media release with photos and contact information and sell the idea to the editor. A few days ago I told you about Dr. Jack Sevy getting a full page story on my visit to his city. Potentially every monthly educational program could be the one to bring in new members. Posters are simple to crate on the computer. Produce one for each event– a different one with a different look. Get them up in the library, historical society, museum and family history center. You do not need 20 of these, but just a few if its all you can do. But make them all look different.

So, what do you think? will this help.


One response to “Genealogy Soc. Education Programs:Challenges & Suggestions

  1. Ken,

    Ah, the challenges of being a society program chairman! A topic dear to my heart, and a continual challenge.

    Your suggestions are all excellent, and I will take them to heart.

    Of our 75 members, about 50 have email, and we send program reminders before our general meetings and for our research and computer meetings. I think it helps – it gets people to anticipate the event by a few days. We also have a telephone tree that calls before the general meetings – this works well with a small society, but not a large one.

    As a program chairman, I have a speakers list of San Diego people that numbers about 20. I am trying to use some outta town talent (for instance, we got an email over the transom from Colleen Fitzpatrick in Orange County who offered a program on “Forensic Genealogy” as a way to advertise her book of the same title – signed her right up!) to add variety to the regulars. We are trying not to use speakers more often than once every two years, except for our own society people.

    You are dead on right about burning out your committee people and instructors. Our board terms are two years and that is long enough at one job – up or out…the key is to have folks ready to step up or step in – a good chairman will groom a successor and committee members who can step up to a committee chair.

    Cheers — Randy

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