FGS Luncheon with Curt Witcher
This continues my series on Rootstech 2011 Takeaways.
Curt Witcher’s talk at the Rootstech Federation of Genealogical Societies luncheon was outstanding. Those of you who heard his keynote talk know what I mean. He was on fire this weekend and had great messages to share.
Witcher is the Department Manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN. He is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association and participates in other genealogical and historical committees of that organization. Curt is a past-president of the National Genealogical Society and of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. (see his full bio at the end of this post).
I took a LOT of notes from this session and will share with you a few points he shared and the takeaways. I don’t want to duplicate his talk here as speakers spend a lot of time and effort preparing but I do want to share with you the gist of his message as I heard it. I’m the FGS contact for our local Alberta Family Histories Society and serve on the AFHS PR committee.
Consider High Tech Elements
Curt Witcher urged Genealogical Societies to consider the high tech elements.
We need to meet members WHERE they are, with the DATA they want, in the FORM they want, WHEN they want. It is important we advertise.
High tech elements include:
- Members only databases
- Social media
High Touch Elements
- touch members at least 1x month
- give them useful data in a timely fashion
- do things that make them feel involved
- people want to be touched
Does your gen society have a VISION?
TAKEAWAY – If you keep doing what you’ve always done you keep getting what you have always got. Dream new dreams and have new visions. Reach out and touch someone. This will help a genealocial society grow.
Is your Gen Society working towards its own Demise?
He suggested that a gen society that only has print pubications, annual seminars, limited hours at the library, limited contact information or outdated info on the webpage is not doing enough.
He used specific examples of gen societies that didn’t appear welcoming and gave reasons why.
His suggestions for improvement:
- don’t limit queries and don’t charge
- build a surname database of people asking for information
- build a database of member’s research interests
- have online subscription membership
- make people feel good
Gen societies MUST have an e-publication. They need to have online registration and webpages must be updated.
Instead of mentioning that a gen society is opened limited hours and meeting limited times, he suggests we make the front page of our webpage and all contact with our members appear as a Welcoming Open Door.
TAKEAWAY – “Please come! We have a GREAT TIME! Join us!” Make your message exciting and positive. Don’t stress the negatives.
What is Your Gen Society’s Mission?
Witcher stressed that it is important for a genealogical society to be MISSION centric.
- Have open aims
- open hands
- don’t continue to do it the same
- what are we doing to show members we care?
- what difference do we make?
Today’s genealogists want to have fun and be successful. People won’t engage if they don’t feel success or they don’t have fun.
He suggested the society go VIRTUAL. Try meetings online.
Need for Action
Gen Societies tend to study issues to death. Task forces are passé.
Curt addressed the following concerns
- “Our members will never go for that”. Have you asked them?
- Never did it before
- Simply can’t be done
- It’ll cost too much
- Doing fine without it
- Tried it before but it didn’t work
- Put it off for now
TAKEAWAY – Ready! Fire! Aim! Fire! A good idea doesn’t have to be perfect. Go Go Go! Learn from version 1 and make version 2 better. The key is to take action.
I have more notes but I think you get the picture. This was a dynamite talk from a prominant long time genealogist. I felt Witcher had important messages to help genealogical societies move forward and be successful. They will do this by meeting the needs of their members.
One thing Witcher did not mention was the importance of our volunteers. (this wasn’t the focus of his talk but bears mentioning). Without them we would not have genealogical societies.
On a personal level, I feel my local gen society is welcoming and working towards exciting new things. We have a great executive team and webmaster. We featured several sessions on High Tech at a one day conference last fall and our next newsletter is focused on social media and other tools to help find our ancestors online. I see us moving towards more online components such as a members area with great electronic content. I’m proud to be part of a forward thinking team.
Thanks for a great talk, Curt Witcher.
UPDATE – Witcher provided examples of two genealogical societies who have gone “high tech high touch” and ‘get it’. They are Indiana Genealogical Society and NEHGS.
About Curt Witcher – Curt is the Historical Genealogy Department Manager at the Allen County Public Library. Curt B. Witcher’s success in community involvement, integration of technology in library science, and collaboration with various organizations has made him a highly visible individual in the genealogical community. His dynamic presentation style has made him a highly favored presenter among a wide variety of audiences. Witcher is the Department Manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN. He is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association and participates in other genealogical and historical committees of that organization. Curt is a past-president of the National Genealogical Society and of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. He also has memberships in a number of historical and genealogical organizations and is the founding president of the Indiana Genealogical Society. He is an adjunct professor in Indiana University’s Continuing Education Program and is coeditor of the 1987 through 2000 editions of the Periodical Source Index published by the Allen County Public Library Foundation.
Witcher has served on the Advisory Board of the Passenger & Immigration Index Project for Gale Research, Inc. and was a research consultant for both PBS “Ancestors” series. He is also on the Advisory Board for Ancestry, Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah and a contributing columnist for their magazine. Witcher was distinguished in 1995 as a fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association (FUGA) and received the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award in 1997. He was one of the Kellogg Foundation’s 1997 “Expert in Residence” scholars, a 1998 recipient of the Presidential Citation from GENTECH, Inc., and the 1999 recipient of the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ David S. Vogels, Jr. Award in recognition of career contributions to the Federation and its members. (Source: Biography Rootstech 2011 )
RELATED: Here is a great summary that came out of one of the ‘unconferencing’ sessions on Societies at Rootstech
[Disclosure – I was designated as an Official Rootstech Blogger for the conference and as such received such perks as free registration]