Getting the Most From Your Memberships: Personal Responsibility

I am a member of a lot of societies, near and far, local, regional, and national. And I serve on several boards, locally and nationally. So this post comes from my personal experience from all of those realms, not any one group in particular. I hear colleagues, friends, and Facebook acquaintances say about their various memberships that they “just aren’t getting anything out of it.” And that statement always makes me pause.

I have always lived by the principle that you get what you give. If you don’t give time, effort, energy, or attention to something, you are going to get very little out of it in return. This goes for various memberships and subscriptions in all aspects of life, not just in the world of genealogy. (For example, have you checked the benefits for your Alumni Association lately? So when someone says they aren’t getting anything out of something, I truly believe they are probably putting little effort into it. If you don’t have time, or if it is not a priority for you to put time into that particular membership, then perhaps it is not the membership’s or the society’s failure, but rather the effect of your own priorities. There has to be a level of personal involvement and responsibility when it comes to what YOU are getting out of your memberships.

I am writing this series of blog entries to try to convince my friends and colleagues to be cognizant of what they are actually saying when they say “I’m not getting anything out of my membership.” If a particular membership is actually not offering anything of value, then by all means, don’t renew it. However, if it provides a long list of benefits that you are choosing to ignore (whether on purpose, or because you don’t have time, or you didn’t research it), and I mean this in the nicest possible way, but that is on you. If you ignore/delete/archive emails that provide important announcements about your membership benefits, again, that is your choice.

And I fall into this trap as well; I am not claiming to be innocent here. However, I’m also not blaming my lack of getting anything out of my memberships on the societies themselves. I realize that I am just too busy with X, Y, and Z to take full advantage of the benefits of a particular membership. This means that I have three choices: I decide to not renew; I decide to renew anyway, being supportive of the group, but knowing I won’t be getting full value out of that membership; or I decide to re-prioritize and make an effort to get everything I can out of my membership.

I hear this complaint again and again. I’m not singling out any particular person or group with this post. Like I said, I’ve been involved in many societies and I have heard this sentiment at all levels over many years. I’m not sure what else societies can do for their members if their members aren’t reading society communications or taking advantage of the benefits their membership already provides. Remember that most of these societies are volunteer run organizations and they are doing as much as they can with the resources they have. If you want to see changes or improvements, volunteer to help.

At the national-level, there are three “big” memberships (there could be more in this category, but these are where I am currently focusing): the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the Association of Professional Genealogists. There are a host of local, state, regional, and topical societies as well (including lineage societies, geographical focus groups such as german genealogy, and others). Over my next few blog posts I am going to highlight benefits that are available at these national groups and at local levels to remind you of what you can get out of your memberships when you put some effort into them.

**Of course these statements may not reflect everyone’s experience. If you have had a different experience and/or a legitimate complaint, PLEASE take it up with the proper direct channels for that organization. I’m sure they want to know their members’ views and to try to make it right. This blog is only expressing my personal opinions and is not the place to vent your frustrations with a given society or organization.

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