Society of Genealogists. New Futures
Society of Genealogists Chairman Edward Percival has released the following message to SoG members and Friends
Let me start by thanking all of you, our members, who have stayed loyal to us during these difficult times. We are a membership organisation, and without that support and renewal, we could not continue to exist. Our staff have worked tirelessly over many years within tight financial constraints to provide the best service and facilities for our membership, but we have had to recognise that a combination of an aging building and IT systems that are no longer fit for purpose means that we need a massive financial investment.
I’m delighted to say we have taken another significant step in the vital transformation of the Society into to one our members want and deserve.
We have now completed the sale of the freehold on the current building. We have leased it back for two years. Thus, the clock is now ticking on our exciting period of change, renewal and growth.
This is a huge opportunity to improve, develop and secure our future, but long term, we will always need the support of our membership via your subscription, donations, bequests and volunteering efforts.
It is, of course, our responsibility as a board to use this money wisely and to the benefit of the members and the Society as a whole, and I will outline how we intend to invest some of those receipts in our future. This will include a substantial portion to move into new premises within the next two years.
In June this year, we commissioned a strategy project, including extensive surveys and substantial numbers of people throughout the UK and further afield were consulted in depth. This included members, volunteers, staff and other interested parties to give their views on the future of the Society of Genealogists and how they think it should be. We continue to welcome your ideas.
The output from this is a clear and comprehensive strategy document with an immediate plan of action, which was approved at the Trustee Board meeting in July. The financial model underlying it was approved at the end of August, and the Transformation Programme can now begin.
What was clear from the discussions is how much you value the library, collections, online material and education. But also, that the SoG fosters a sense of community, and people are members for a variety of reasons.
A priority is how we serve you as members. The overarching view was that members have not been looked after as well as they should have been over many years. Some key themes emerged from the discussions around this:
- The data and collections offering is an unrivalled resource which deserves considerable investment to make it easy to explore, both in a library and from your homes.
- Our physical space is in need of updating and reorganisation with the need for a better way of processing and storing documents.
- The online systems are out of date and incomplete
- The Membership package as a whole needs reinvigorating.
- Communications with members are not as good as they should be
There were several other themes where we could and will improve.
All of these were considered in the strategy document, and the outcome was a clear plan to address these issues, with appropriate investment allocated.
The highlights of that strategy are:
- The Society needs to move to becoming a membership-focussed organisation once again. Increased communication, regular updates on the transformation, a completely revitalised and fresh approach to what you get in return for your subscription. In the immediate term, we will be creating a new function similar to a Head of Member Services, and they will take this new approach forward. Our future depends on retaining and expanding our membership.
- We will begin the complex and lengthy task of systems renewal. This will be prioritised by necessity and then by functionality. Thus, Education and Membership systems will likely be first on the list, and all others will follow. All systems will be upgraded or replaced.
- We will aim to complete the cataloguing of the key unique assets in the shortest possible timescale. We will give focus to particular initiatives around the Collections and Library, and those projects will be completed before new ones are undertaken.
- We will invest in the provision of Online Education. In particular, our paid-for, online courses have provided both valuable funds and given grounds for optimism for developing our content beyond the physical library. This has been successful in lockdown, but the area is in urgent need of an easier way to promote, pay for and deliver courses. This stream of work is already well under way.
- We have set up a Relocation Committee to consider where the new physical space should be, and indeed whether it should be single or multiple sites. This will consider whether storage and processing should operate separately from the library and collections. Also, what provision we make for the workspace itself and related facilities, such as educational teaching space. I am personally heading up this Committee as it is so critical to our future.
- We will restructure the Society to ensure that functions needed to support the Strategy are put quickly into place.
There is a lot more detail and we will be publishing the Strategy and related plan of action on the website, and then giving regular updates as we implement that plan.
In the short term, the design of the transformation programme and the planning and immediate work will be overseen by Neil Allcock.
Neil has been a Trustee but has come off the Board whilst the Transformation takes place, to help us through the initial stages of this critical Programme. He has recently retired from long career in management and technical consulting so has a very appropriate skill set for something of this nature. Neil will be reporting directly to the Board of Trustees, with regular progress updates to you and the Board. He welcomes your feedback and involvement. In due course, we will appoint a replacement for Neil to lead the delivery of the programme.
Why are we needing to do all this? I have written before that unless we transform, then there is no route to getting our income greater than our running costs. We simply cannot continue like that. Although the building sale will provide critical investment funds and stabilise our finances, it cannot be used to underwrite operating losses.
We need you – our loyal members – but we will also need to attract a new generation of members who make use of the fantastic assets and services that the SoG has to offer in the world of genealogy. A world in which, as per our mission, everyone has convenient, affordable access to records, finding aids, knowledge and skills necessary to conduct authoritative research into family history.
I can only thank you again for staying with us, and from this point onwards make the promise that we will be putting our members first during our exciting journey to new premises, new online systems and an enhanced and easily navigated set of collections to enrich your research.
These are truly exciting times for the Society, and I look forward to speaking to you all at regular intervals as we start to deliver the Transformation Programme.