South King County Genealogical Society did it!. . .
. . . and your society can, too!
Like most of the rest of the world, genealogical societies were not prepared for the corona virus pandemic. Faced with cancelled meetings and seminars, society function and governance as well as communication, education and service to our general membership were in jeopardy. In the first month of lock down we had to scramble to get online quickly or we would disappear. How can our societies fulfill their educational mission if we’re not providing education?
Fortunately, the South King County Genealogical Society was more prepared than we had thought. When the Rootsweb lists died in 2019, it seemed like a disaster. We decided to use Groups.io, a move that provided so much value to us, yet was free! Because we signed up early, we could create subgroups, had a built-in calendar, photo storage, file space and more. Some of these features are no longer available free but if funds are available and you need the features, Groups.io is still an excellent choice for getting your society online and educating. SKCGS special interest groups are thriving because we can share images via email or login directly to the group on the web, use the shared calendar to keep track of events, and discuss issues and deal with questions before, after and between meetings. Search https://groups.io/search?q=genealogy and find over 2000 groups so far. Find us at https://skcgs.groups.io/g/Society.
When SKCGS had to move to online meetings because of the lock down, we were already accustomed to the new online group.. Adding links to join a Google Meet session was just as easy as pasting in the street address for invitations and reminders for our previous physical meetings.
Many years ago, a tech savvy person in our Society decided that the Google Suite for Non Profits would meet some of our needs for online file backup, now more commonly called “the cloud.” GSuite was then and still is free for nonprofits. It took us a while to begin using many of its features; but now its use is routine.
We place meeting minutes, committee and budget reports in a shared file folder rather than sending endless emails. We upload flyers in various formats for posting to Facebook, Twitter, newspapers and group emails. We use Google Docs and Sheets to collaboratively edit documents and spreadsheets. We even have photo storage.
Virtual Meetings — Free
In these pandemic times, the most important feature of our GSuite is Google Meet. Meet is free, more secure than most of the competitors, easy for the users and presenters both, and very flexible. If a recording is wanted, there is one button to push to start and stop. People can successfully connect by telephone if their internet connectivity is temporarily bad. Did we mention, it is free and will continue to be free?
Our special interest groups have continued meeting once a month throughout the summer and our attendance is actually going up during the lock down, which is amazing. Due to special requests we have added a Genealogy Chat session; now we use G Meets at least once a week for online meetings. We have gained new members because of the friendly, informative interaction at these get-togethers.
It is not uncommon to have visitors from other parts of the country. The wonderful site ConferenceKeeper.org has been a life-saver for our society. In publicizing SKCGS meetings, we’ve announced them here in the blog, on the Washington State events page https://wasgs.org/eventListings.php?nm=76 and in the local newspapers. But most of our visitors report that they find our meetings at ConferenceKeeper, and they tend to come back!
Virtual Genealogical Society Advantages
The Benefits of a Virtual Genealogical Society by Katherine Willson https://www.vivid-pix.com/ondemandclasses ($1.99 for 30 days rental) discusses some of the reasons societies go virtual, the benefits and some drawbacks. We are experiencing few of the drawbacks because of our use of Groups.io and Google Suite.
“The elephant is not in the room because there isn’t a room for an elephant”
Not yet mentioned is social distancing. Most of our population does not want to risk exposure. In our case, the facilities we were using no longer allow groups.
Increasingly we’re finding that people like access to meetings without having to leave home. Webinars and other video lectures and podcasts are booming. We want to be part of that! One advantage we didn’t anticipate is that nationally known speakers are still available for presentations. This opportunity is less expensive for our general membership, and has many advantages for the speakers as well. Virtual session contracts include no travel or hotel expenses and the speakers experience no travel fatigue, which is also true for our attendees.
There are now new ways to cooperate with neighboring organizations–societies, museums, libraries. We can advertise on each others’ platforms, do joint sponsorship of more expensive sessions, and give all of our members and patrons more ease of access.
We don’t know what the new “normal” will be or when it will settle in. The group that doesn’t act now will not be around to participate then.
Please thank the South King County Genealogical Society for letting me post this SKCGS blog. They have a very good blog and it is well worth your time reading it.