In the early 1900's when automobiles were new still fairly new to civilization and paved roads were few, there was a sign at the beginning of an old, badly rutted dirt road. The sign said, "Choose your ruts carefully. You will be in them for the next 20 miles." All societies have their ups, downs, and in betweens. There are three big ruts, or challenges, that continually pose a serious threat to genealogical societies, and they are definitely interrelated. The first is stagnation . Does your society seem to be going no where? It's the same old thing month after month--no new projects, ideas, or goals. Current projects are bogged down. Stagnation isn't too bad if it doesn't last very long. However, if it is allowed to continue, it is the death knell of a society. The second challenge is burn out. This occurs when there is only a handful of people who do all of the work. There seems to be a growing number of people who want to be members of a society, attend its monthly meetings and be instructed, but want to make no contribution of their own time and energy. I know that everyone is very busy with many demands on their time, but it is a simple fact that unless all contribute, the society will sooner or later not be there to instruct anyone or accomplish important projects. The handful of people who do all the work are to be commended, but they too are contributing to the problem. Delegate. Don't wait for others to volunteer. It is a certainty that you will become burned out at some point and will have a society of people who have become conditioned to be totally dependent on you-- unable to function and take leadership roles when the workaholics burn out and quit. The third challenge is discouragement which can be caused by stagnation, burn out, or other problems.
In prescribing a treatment for the above ills, I would like to refer to an article from the FGS Delegate Digest, Winter 1997, by Susan Farrell Bankhead. She cites a scene from Alice in Wonderland in which Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, "Would you tell me please, which way I ought to walk from here?' The cat replied, 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.' Do you know where your society wants to go? Or does your society just wander down any path it finds?" If your society is in a rut and struggling with stagnation, burn out, discouragement, or just general lack of direction, it is time to reassess your goals and decide where you want to go. Actually goal reassessment is a good thing to do even if your society is healthy. It's like a physical check up, and we know that physical exams are the key to prevention of serious health problems. Have a meeting in which you work to get a large turn out of members, and brain storm. Make a big list on a board of all the dreams you have for your society. What direction do you want to take? Where to you want to be ten years from now?. You say that it's all you can do to plan for next year or next month? Then you are too short sighted and need vision. The death knell rings again. Allow yourselvesl to dream, and from all the dreams you come up with decide upon long range goals and prioritize them. Then take your top one or two goals and establish short range goals that will lead to the completion of those long range goals. Set completion dates and make assignments to make sure things get done. Write these things down for all to see. It is so important that everyone has a chance to participate and help decide the direction and future of their society. Many heads together are so much more productive than a few, and members who have helped set the society's goals will be more interested in achieving those goals. Follow up and discuss the progress of the short term goals in future meetings. Evaluate your progress and set new short term goals if needed. Circumstances may necessitate a change of goals or plans. Don't get discouraged if changes need to be made. It is a strong and vital society that can recognize where things aren't working and adapt. Whether your society is in a rut or not, meet and evaluate your direction and goals. Get a check up.
Last of all I will shout it out once again until I am hoarse. WHAT WE DO IS SO VERY IMPORTANT! We are not just a bunch of pesky hobbyists who tinker with things that don't matter to others. WE ARE A VITAL CORNER STONE OF A HEALTHY, CIVILIZED SOCIETY.
Pat Thompson, President, MSGS