Thursday, May 7, 2009

Genealogy Society Newsletters

We had a challenging discussion yesterday at our Chula Vista Genealogical society board meeting. The question was: Should we offer the current society newsletter for free on the CVGS web site?

At present, we send a password via email to our members and they then use the password to read the newsletter in a PDF format, or download and save it, or print it out. About 25% of our membership does not have an email address, so we print and mail the newsletter to them each month. The CVGS web site has only the current issue password protected - the previous eleven issues are available to read, for free, by anyone browsing through the site - see the Newsletter page here.

The stated purpose of the password was "so that people could not read current information on our newsletter without paying for it." The concern is that people in the Chula Vista area will read the current newsletter online and will not join the society. What other arguments are there for "hiding" the current newsletter, or all editions of it, from online readers?

The society has offered a $10 per year "newsletter only" option for those in distant places who want to support the society and stay current on the society activities. No one has subscribed in this way for several years. When the newsletter was available in a print version only, this was certainly necessary to cover the printing and mailing costs.

The discussion in favor of putting the current newsletter on the web site without a password included:

* The purpose of the genealogical society is to offer programs and services that enhance genealogical knowledge and member participation.

* Persons join the society for the programs and services, not just to read the newsletter.

* Putting the current newsletter on the web site will promote the current programs of the society.

* Almost all of the information in the newsletter is news of "what's coming" or "what happened," plus some articles written by members or reprinted by permission from online sources or other society newsletters.

* Much of what is in the current newsletter is already available at the CVGS web site and blog - the Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe.

* Presently, people interested in the society activities can wait one month and read all about them in the previous month newsletters.

* Presently, visitors to the Chula Vista Civic Center Library can pick up a free copy of the current newsletter in the Family History section of thel ibrary.

* Making the current newsletter accessible to readers would reduce the workload of the webmaster.

The CVGS Board decided to put it to the test - we agreed to put the current newsletter online for the rest of 2009 and then evaluate the decision, based on the membership renewals, at the end of the year.

As the current newsletter editor, I favor this approach. I don't think that we have anything in our newsletter that should be hidden from the genealogy world, and I don't think that people are reading the newsletter in lieu of attending the society activities.

How have other genealogy societies handled this? I know some have their current newsletter online, and some do not. Some email a PDF version to their members with email addresses, but still mail printed copies to all members. Some societies have opted for email distribution only. Some societies just print and mail their newsletters or other publications.

The collection of CVGS newsletters since January 2008 is now online for reading and browsing at

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society would like to exchange newsletters, via a PDF attachment to an email, with other genealogical societies. If your society would like to do this, please email me at


Gena Philibert-Ortega said...

Although, I could see the fear that posting a newsletter for all to see would discourage membership-I think it could do the opposite. I like reading other society newsletters. I would be more encouraged to join if I could see a newsletter. I think the newsletter reflects the health of the society and the activites they put on and the value I would receive for my membership dollars.

In this age where so much is available for free on the internet, I think a society could only benefit by sharing their newsletter to subscribers. The only time where this may not be a good idea is if the newsletter is more of a journal and lengthy in format.

The value of your society is in the education you provide, amongst other things. Making your newsletter available for everyone does not take away those who want to and will join.

Anonymous said...

I think Lulu has great potential for both a print and electronic version of your newsletters, journals and other publications with the added plus of being able to offer past issues for sale without the aggravation of managing inventory, shipping and collecting the money.

Another option is the MagCloud service which was designed specifically for subscription-type services.

Steve2 said...

The answer to the newsletter quandary is to be found by considering the overall purpose, goals and marketing of your society. A newsletter is only one component of many aspects of your society. Are you communicating only to members? Or is the newsletter designed to communicate, educate and promote the society's benefits? What is missing is the vision and a marketing plan to execute it. I suggest the Society take a step back and look at the bigger picture of how to build membership by including all components.

Deb said...

The Tennessee Genealogical Society just went through the same discussion. We decided to post our Ansearchin' News, which has been published since 1954, on our web site and make it free to the public. We're not posting the most recent editions, as that will be our benefit to members. We give members the option of receiving current issues via hard copy or PDF format. The Ansearchin' News is located at

Terri O'Connell said...

I agree with Gena, I think it could help grow the society. I would make sure that there is a blurb in each newletter advising if they like what they are reading and want to learn more, or become a part of it to join the society today.

Brian said...

I know this pose is close to a year old, but I have to chime in anyway. Our society just started a newsletter as a benefit to members, because we had no benefits at all to begin with.

I haven't suggested it yet, but I would like to put a few random issues online once we have a few behind us so that people can see what we're all about and see the information contained in the newsletter. A lot of people think a society newsletter is geared at telling people information about the society, upcomgin events, past events, etc. Ours actually contains a good deal of genealogical material we've scraped out of old books, etc. that would be relevant to anyone researching in our area.

Another thing I have seen, which relates somewhat, and I think is completely absurd is a local gen. society that has a magnificent library of materials and refuses to put any information online because "they want people to come use the library."

Most people are not going to spend their hard earned money, particularly in today's economy, without knowing they will get something back in return. why would I drive 45 minutes to go to a library that has nothing on its web site telling me specifics around the materials it has available and maybe even willing to put a few materials online for free so I can see the types of things I can expect when I get there.