You look down awkwardly, find an interesting spot on the floor to investigate, tie your shoe…anything, anything you can do to avoid making eye contact. That’s right, the nominating committee of your genealogical society has asked for volunteers to fill vacant positions. And if you make eye contact, they might invoke Jedi mind tricks and you’ll be helplessly brainwashed into something you’ll probably regret later. Believe me, I’ve been there. In fact, I was just there. When one of my local societies announced at our last membership meeting that it still had no one to be the president — everyone wished they were in the bathroom at that moment. Fortunately, someone broke, looked up, and the Power of the Force did the rest.
By now you might be asking, if I am advocating involvement, why did I choose to carefully rearrange all the papers on the table in front of me at that moment rather than step forward? Mostly because my volunteer plate is full and I’d rather be able to focus on the roles in which I already serve.
A year ago, I was not involved in any local society other than attending meetings regularly. I am not a fan of the parliamentary process and had no intention of sitting around and haggling about who gets to make motions, making mundane rules, and engaging in endless power struggles. But the longer I attended meetings, and the more people I talked to and met within the local genealogical community – the more I began seeing what worked well, what didn’t, and areas I thought there could be room for new ideas or improvement. So eventually, I did get involved. When you initially become involved, you will be walking a scary line. People instinctively sense fresh meat. You have to be careful and friendly, yet firm to avoid getting into a bad spot. My strategy? I tried to find positions that allowed me do do something I liked and actually filled a need. And I had to find it fast, as I was getting bombarded with positions I “would be perfect for.”
So one year later, I am the editor of one of the local society newsletters and attend all the board meetings (well, most of them). I like writing and reading about genealogy. I like sharing ideas and helping other people learn. I enjoy design and layout. So this position worked for me, and when I saw it was available, I volunteered to fill it.
I am also the new seminar chairperson for another local organization. This was a little trickier. I had been trying to find a way to become more actively involved, but everything I would have been interested in doing was already competently filled. However, I was approached about taking over the seminars, and despite some misgivings of the surrounding circumstances, I realized this was a chance for me to potentially bring some really great presentations to my area. So I did it.
A few months ago, I received an email from the nominating committee advising me that I had been nominated to run for an APG board position. At first, I was not terribly interested in getting into the politics of a national organization with a number of established and strong personalities. However, I responded in the positive for a couple of reasons. The first I’ll talk about shortly, but the second reason I agreed to go ahead and run for the position was simply to repay the faith in me shown by those who nominated me.
That might be the longest intro ever. So as Richard Dawson would say, “Top three answers are on the board. Give me a good reason why I should get involved in my local genealogical society. SURVEY SAYS?!”:
DING! (as an audience): Because organizations actually DO need people in order to continue to operate.
If no one provided any direction, handled the money, scheduled speakers, or sent out the flyers – you’d have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and be looking around wondering what happened. I’ve been lucky that others have been willing to fill the roles that I’d rather not. So far, I have done things I am interested in. There may come a day when I have to fill a less appealing role, but at least by initially volunteering for what interests me, I’ve laid the foundation for a positive experience.
DING!(as an audience): More likely than not, the majority of the work has been done by the few…and they’re getting tired.
The more meetings I go to, the more I realize this. True, some people may hang defensively on to that little niche they carved out for themselves, but others continue to do this because they really care, and are not willing to give it up until someone who cares as much as they do comes along. Be that person. Even if some of the personalities involved don’t quite mesh with yours, respect what they’ve done, the time they’ve given, and their passion for making their vision a reality. You will have your own passion and vision. Get to know these folks that have been here awhile, appreciate their efforts, and learn from their mistakes. I am a firm believer that if you ever hope to successfully implement future change, you better get a firm grasp on the past and present first. I know everyone wants to take the world by storm, but if that storm comes on on too strong, everyone will just retreat to their bunkers. By treating the past with respect and keeping the present involved with the future, you have a much better chance of gaining support.
“Number 1 Answer?”
DING!(as an audience): Because if someone who is as passionate about genealogy as you are doesn’t get involved, who will?
I’m not sure this needs much explanation, and this is ultimately why I chose to run for the APG board position. This is the bottom line. If you’ve read this much of this rambling article, you have the passion to help guide your local society. The active membership of most genealogical societies is getting older and if no one is there to step into those roles, they will just go away. Newbies will never get to go to their first meeting and learn just how exciting genealogy can be. Let’s not let that happen.
Okay, that really was more of one extended answer divided into three segments. But hey, if you want to make your own post about it, you have to get involved, right?