Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Not renewing OGS membership

I've lived in the Province of Ontario longer than anywhere else and have been active in family history for more than 10 years. Up until a couple of years ago I'd said that I'd join the Ontario Genealogical Society when I found an Ontario ancestor. I didn't dream I would, but it turns out a grand-uncle was one of the many pre-World War I immigrants from Britain. He worked for Canadian Pacific at the Lakehead, joined the CEF, was blinded, and although he did return to Canada after the war, moved back to Britain in the early 1920s.

Having found an Ontario ancestor I needed to live up to my word so I joined the OGS two years ago.

The way OGS is set up you have to pay the Society annual subscription, recently increased to $60, in order to be a branch member, annual subscription typically an additional $15. Most people agree that the strength of OGS is its branches. Through them members, and others, find support for their personal research and help build understanding of heritage in their community. Branches are successful, often by virtue of dedication of a very small nucleus of volunteers.

By comparison, the provincial organization is widely seen as poor value for money. That's my impression having spoken to numerous members. If OGS has statistics to show otherwise, not just anecdotes, perhaps they'd share them.

The provincial organization, with its $60 per year for membership, something I argued against at the last OGS Annual General Meeting, is not one that caters to my interest, I wish it did as is implied by the three questions on the front page of its web site.

It need not be that way. NEHGS recognizes that its members have interests beyond the area and offers online "a large collection of materials covering not only the rest of the United States but Canada and Europe as well."

It may be your OGS experience is different and you value the headquarters services more highly than I do, especially if you have extensive Ontario ancestry.

I won't be renewing my OGS membership. But I will, as a nonmember, attempt to find some way to continue to support the local branch without being held to ransom by the provincial organization.

10 comments:

Mike More said...

John, before your time as a member, I wrote an article on the benefits of OGS. I think it is still valid: http://ogsottawa.on.ca/?page_id=208

Mary Anne said...

I cancelled my OGS membership a number of years ago, and the recent fee rise for the umbrella organization has simply confirmed the view I held at the time, which is similar to yours, JDR.

The only difference is that I have lots of Ontario ancestors. Mine settled all over Ontario, it turns out, and if I were to join more than one local branch, it would cost me a great deal more than $60+$15. Now that I am retired, and have the time to indulge my genealogy researches, I cannot afford this.

It is a real shame, because the lifeblood of the OGS is the small, local branches, which as you point out, are run by a few local volunteers. Unfortunately, as one OGS Branch President recently told me, about 80% of its members do not live locally. They join to gain the local knowledge that the branch embodies in its volunteers. Because they are not living locally, they do not volunteer to run meetings, oversee the library, and give back to the branch, although I am sure they would if they could.

I also disagree with the OGS executive's recent decision to solicit original materials that branches own, scan them, and put them behind a "members' only" firewall, so they are not accessible to the general public! This may be in the interest of the OGS, but it is not in the broader interest of people who are researching their Ontario ancestors.

Mike More said...

You don't like the fee increase to cover the costs of the operations but you want OGS to provide free copies to the general public. I don't see the logic. But then I have never agreed with the Society giving away the hard work of its members to those who won't contribute anything themselves.

If you want a say in how an organization is run, pay your membership fees, volunteer to serve and vote on issues. I will give John the benefit of the doubt as he is technically a member under 31 December and has volunteered his time. Anyone who is not happy with an organization can vote with their feet. But please don't denigrate those that remain.

Mary Anne said...

Not denigrating at all, Mike, and not expecting to be denigrated in my turn ;-)

Rather, I was appreciating the hard work that volunteers ALL put in, in their various personal ways. And commenting on the difficulty of maintaining an organization that gives people services and has expenses, but also needs to attract volunteers in order to survive.

Pierce said...

Like you, I don't see $60 of benefits from head office. Also like you, we don't have Canadian roots - our parents and grandparents were the immigrants, so various indexing projects provide little benefit.

However, we in Toronto don't have a BIFHSGO to help us with our British research, so Toronto Branch is the best we've got. It's the personal interactions with other members and the presentations at meetings, workshops, and conferences that provide value to us. And head office does little to enhance those benefits.

Head Office doesn't even provide much useful leadership. We should be pushing local authorities to release more of the records family historians need. Instead, when OGS has records (e.g. IOOF applications) some members would be interested in, they apply just about the most restrictive privacy rules they could find to limit access. They seem paranoid that someone who applied for insurance over 80 years ago might sue OGS for some embarrassment. (And they would be hard pressed to find any records that anyone would be embarrassed about.) Even the Ontario government is less restrictive.

When OGS had financial problems, they did not look very hard at where they could cut costs - in fact they are finding new ways to spend money. So they just jack up the membership fees, and hope that not too many people like you will say it just isn't worth it any more.

Bob Crawford said...

As your Immediate Past-President, I have been involbed with most of these issues. Contrary to the thoughts expressed here the whole Board of Directors of OGS (YOUR REPRESENTATIVES) did review the costs of running your provincial organization and agreed that the fee increase was justified. At Conference 2009, there was an opportunity for the membership to speak to the issue as some people did. When it came time for the vote, the motion was passed.

If any of you have managed to keep your costs down to the levels they were 8 years ago, they should step forward and help to run the day to day operations of the organization.

It was a $15 increase not $60. $1.25/month is not an onerous amount of money. The price many of you spend on a "Timmy's" without thinking about it

I disagree with the comment that the OGS Executive solicited material from the branches and then "hid" it behind a firewall. The provincial office responded to requests from the branches to provide a secure area on the web where they could post material for their branch members. The provincail office does offer a scanning service but then the material goes back to the branch and they do with it what they wish. If you don't think it belongs behind a firewall, talk to the branch that did it, not the Provincial Office. If a branch does not wish to use their members' only area, they do not have to do so.

As far as OGS not "pushing" the various government bodies to change the current leguislation goes, you are sadly mistaken. We have actively suported the preservation of a number of pioneer cemeteries (where your ancestors are buried). I personally have spent MANY hours of volunteer time helping defend these sacred places. This included preparing for and participating in Licence Tribunal hearings that lasted weeks. I did this for all the members of OGS, not just myself. The Provincial Office has been very active in this project. We have particpated in the new legislation to protect all pioneer cemeteries. Have you spoken to your local MPP and/or signed a petition in support of this new legislation? If not, why not?

With reference to the IOOF papers, OGS currently adopts the 100 year restriction as our interpretation of the legislation that currently exists. Our interpretation of this legislation is under review by the OGS legal counsel (another thing your fee pays for) at this time. It is not a matter of embarrassment, but legislation.

You might be interested to know that it is propbably not appropriate to site the dates used to release Vital Statistis documents. Those dates pertain only to the government body that collects and retains these vital statistics, not others like OGS. OGS is required to comply with the provincial privacy legislation and as I sadi, we are exploring that issue to ensure that we are in compliance.

This has gone on too long but my final comment is that the current projects that OGS is involved with are being financed by grants from various government and private agencies and no money comes from your $60. These projects will provide significant genealogical resources that a single branch could not hope to make available.

By the way, the Board is short a Director for Region 3. Anyone with ideas to run the organization is free to come forward and provide their leadership in this manner.

Dave Obee said...

The obvious question: In your opinion, which societies are giving you a good deal for your money? How does the OGS compare, on a cost/benefit basis, to the Society of Genealogists? Or the Ulster group? (And for the record, I am in all three.)

Mike More said...

To make a comparison a bit closer to home, Ottawa Branch OGS and BIFHSGO operate in the same city, with roughtly the same number of members, and as far as I can tell, similar programs. An annual membership in BIFHSGO costs $35, whereas Ottawa Branch is $15. Is it stretching too far to assume that OGS (Provincial) provides $20 of support to Ottawa Branch (membership processing, insurance, legal, donation of all OGS publications, advertising, etc.)? Let's scale that back and assume it's only $10 and that Ottawa Branch could operate as an independent organization for an annual fee of $25. I belong to seven branches with combined branch fees of $78. If they each required an increase of only $10 to operate independently that would cost me another $70, not the $60 that OGS costs (and for that I also get Families, Newsleaf, and a chance to attend the annual Conference). And to top it off, I just used my OGS=WorkWearhouse discount card and save $14.00, which is practically the fee increase. I think I'm getting a good deal for my money.

JDR said...

Thanks to all who have posted on this topic. It's a learning experience.

On Dave Obee's question on membership, I'm a member of the Society of Genealogists and BIFHSGO, as well as OGS and its Ottawa Branch for a few more days.

Over the years I've also been a member of the Norfolk (UK) FHS and British and Midland FHS, these two for a couple of years until I found I was no longer able to get value from them. I always encourage people to join societies for the area of interest to them, and to drop membership when they find they no longer get value. No society wants disgruntled people as members.

I don't find SOG membership tremendous value, but it hasn't dropped below the threshold considering my interests. I do see SOG working to improve value.

BIFHSGO has the twin benefits of focusing on my area of origin and being local for me. During my presidency it was suggested BIFHSGO should expand to a Canada-wide society. That was something I resisted owing to the difficulty, and cost, of providing a satisfactory service to members who live remotely.

The other comment I take issue with is that non-members should not make comments on the operation of OGS.

OGS positions itself as representing the genealogical community in Ontario. It receives considerable support from the province for its activities, especially but not limited to project grants received from Trillium. These give the broader community, member or not, an interest in the Society. While OGS need not listen at least this blog will, while it continues to exist, give everyone the opportunity to express a view.

Mike More said...

John, I'll question the use of the word "considerable" in terms of support from the province. According to the 2008 financial report, OGS received $20,783 in grants, for both Operations and summer students. The report doesn't specify how much for each. That works out to about 6.9% of the OGS revenue. Or if spread over the population of the province, about 0.2 cents per person.

OK, that doesn't include the $179.4K Trillium grant over two years to digitize records in the province. That's another 1.5 cents per person. So I guess that everyone is almost entitled to their two cents worth. But, frankly, I'd rather they volunteered their time and kept the two pennies.