Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Engaging Offsite Members: Volunteer Opportunities

For many societies, Offsite Members represent the majority of their possible volunteer base. While these folks may not be able to act as board members or bring snacks, they can contribute more to their societies than just dues. While it might be obvious that Offsite Members are those people who support your society from another state. A less obvious group includes those members who are in your own back yard, but don’t attend meetings. Check out these project ideas to get your creative juices flowing. By tailoring a few volunteer opportunities to engage this large pool of supporters, you’ll build a more vibrant society experience for all.

Conversion Projects

Last week, Amy Johnson Crow wrote a great article on how to mine your old newsletters and publications for blog content. You can read here if you haven’t already. Accessing that older content can pose a challenge though. Let your Offsite Members help you solve it.

Scanning old newsletters and publications converts your physical content into a more usable digital form. In most instances, those scanned documents will now also be search-able. For those few projects where a scan won’t make an adequately search-able document, volunteers can transcribe that material into a new usable format. Hosting this now searchable content on your members only section of your website or converting it to sellable e-books breathes new life into old content and has the potential to increase your revenue streams.

Indexing projects are always a great way to convert existing content into a more usable form. Your own collections are a wonderful place to start but aren’t the only options. Free sites like and have specific programs for indexing the digital material on their site. Subscription services like allow users to annotate their collections. Those annotations then become part of the searches returned for a name. Your local library’s genealogical section is full of unindexed material they could use your help with.

Enlisting Offsite Members for these kinds of projects offers your society a much larger pool of volunteers to work with. This, in turn, means each volunteer can be assigned a small, manageable part of the project. (I’ll be writing more on Micro-volunteering later in the year.) Add a level of competition or reward for project completion and you’ll see these types of projects really work for your society.


Your newsletter editor is laboring every month to find enough content. Yet many members write for their own blogs. All society members represent a great source of written content. Most of them though, will need encouragement to write the kind of full-length articles required for blogs and newsletters alike. Instead of asking just one or a few members to produce content for your publications, reach out to a variety of members for a commitment of one article per year of membership. Out of state Offsite Members have just as much genealogical information to share as the member who makes every meeting. There are plenty of general interest topics that can be covered regardless of where someone is located. But for the creative, those Offsite Members have valuable information to share with your Onsite members as well. My home state of South Carolina is a great example. It has experienced several major out-migrations. I’d love to read an article from my fellow SCGS members from Mississippi on how to find my South Carolina ancestors there.

Social Genealogy

Speaking of out-migration: your Offsite Members live in the places your Onsite Members need research. The opportunity exists for creating reciprocal look-ups that allow Offsite Members to contribute research where they are located in return for research where you are located. Or even contribute on a Random Acts basis. Instead of the usual inbound Query in your newsletter, consider creating an outbound Query or “Can You Help” section focused on locals seeking the assistance of the larger membership pool.

Ready to take on a larger project? We are genealogists so naturally we love to do genealogy! With the proliferation of both free and subscription genealogy on the web it is now easier than ever to work together on genealogical problems from a variety of locations. The founding fathers of your community came from somewhere, and likely left for somewhere as well. Take the "mug book" idea to the next level with society projects based on the research talents of all your members.

And So Much More

These are but a few ideas of projects you can use to engage with your Offsite Members. They are a part of your community and deserve your consideration. By creatively engaging their talents and energy the whole society benefits.

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