20 September 2020

Who to Choose for OGS President — Heather McTavish Taylor?

Q1. What are the biggest challenges (no more than 3) facing the Society in the upcoming term and how will you deal with them?

I was asked to outline up to three of the biggest challenges that I see the Society facing over the next two years and how I will address them.  As I reflect, I realize that we are facing one big challenge – how do we ensure that the Ontario Genealogical Society will still be in existence in five years?  What do we need to do to make sure that we are delivering a sustainable future?  This is certainly a very lofty question and it may seem that I am stirring up concern, but it is what keeps me up at night.  Over the past few years, overall membership numbers have declined, the Society’s cash reserves have been depleted due to yearly deficits, and, we continue to operate without a strategy or even operating plans to guide program selection and delivery.

I was recruited by the Elections Committee to help steer the organization into a new direction, based on the skill set that I have honed over the past 25 years in both the private sector and working on boards in the not-for-profit arena.  And then the pandemic arrived and created a new level of uncertainty of what the “new normal” will look like for member-driven organizations in the future. These are un-charted waters and a different kind of leader is required to navigate the times and map out a plan for how the post-COVID-19 Ontario Genealogical Society will survive.

So what do I plan on doing to address the “elephant in the room”?  Below are the five key strategies that I – with the support of our Board and membership - plan to undertake during the next two years:

1)     Transition to Board to become more of an oversight board.  The Council of Non-Profits states that “where there are paid staff in place, rather than steer the boat by managing day-to-day operations, board members provide foresight, oversight, and insight.”  We have a talented Executive Director and staff in place.  The day-to-day management of our business should be placed in their capable hands and they be held accountable for delivering the agreed-upon results.  The Board, led by the President will be able to focus on creating programs that deliver on our mission.  Furthermore, I want to ensure a team environment on the Board, and through our volunteers and committees, where individuals are able to participate based on skill sets and areas of interest. Projects will go on the list, objectives and timelines determined, and reports given on a regular basis until completion.

2)    Provide financial stewardship and ensure proper governance.  Working with the VP Finance and resurrecting the Finance Committee, we will conduct a thorough review of our expenses to determine how they can be trimmed without compromising our programming.  I’d also like to create a Fundraising committee that can identify significant ways in which we can increase our revenues without raising membership fees.  We also need to adopt sound ethical and legal governance and financial management policies as well as making sure that we have adequate resources in place to deliver on our mission.

3)    Create a strategic plan and cascade it down to annual plans and key deliverables.  Lead the Board and engage the Executive Director to create a road map of key initiatives for the next three to five years. This plan will be aligned with our mission and will guide our decisions on key projects that warrant our attention.  When an organization has such a plan, key projects can be monitored, their effectiveness measured and modifications can be made to ensure success.  It also allows for proper capacity planning and for those that are managing the projects to be held accountable.

4)    Grow our Community.  By definition, a “Society” is a community; the OGS is a group of people who share a passion for genealogy.  Members choose to join for any number of reasons but they will stay because they feel part of something and included in our community.  Given the current times, we must ensure that we offer ways for members to feel as though they are part of something greater than the sum of the parts, a true community of like-minded individuals.  We are not a big subscription company, we cannot compete with what they offer.  But they cannot come close to providing what we can – a chance to be part of something important, to preserve the records and stories of our Ontario ancestors. 

5)    Re-align and rally around our Mission.  Board members are the custodians of the mission, and must ensure selection of projects that are aligned with who we are.  This includes advocating when the genealogical community could be affected, preserving materials or relationships that are of value to our membership and providing varied educational opportunities for every skill level of our membership.  This will mean making focused and sometimes hard decisions about the projects we won’t work on, that are not aligned with who we are or where we are going.

Q2. What innovations can the Society undertake to help people researching their Ontario ancestors?

I have many innovative ideas for the Society, some I have pitched before and others that are brand-new.  I am very open to constructive feedback as well as listening to and championing the great ideas of others.

1)    Create a committee to champion diversity, equity and inclusion programs.  They will be in charge of developing policies, creating alliances, planning programs all with the aim of increasing our diversity throughout the organization and enhancing our inclusivity.  I specifically want to reach out to the Ontario Black History Society, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and the Ontario Jewish Archives, among others.

2)    Build an online community of members.  I would like to introduce chat rooms, ‘ask an expert’ sessions, peer member exchanges, message boards, mentorship programs and a research buddies section.  Furthermore, as we look to conferences in the future, we must ensure that there is not only a virtual option for participating but also consider other online options to drive more engagement from afar.

3)      Provide new educational opportunities.  This is specific to the closure of the Land Records Offices and the move to all documents being available online at ONLand.  I am working with the Ministry to: a) develop a webinar for our members that will explain how to access the different documents, b) create a tutorial that will be accessible in their help section to walk through the system, and, c) have them place proper formatting as you hover over the inputs online.  These ideas could be expanded for other alliances.

4)     Build an on-boarding guide for new Members.  This could be for any new member (how to navigate our website for example), a new Board Member (strategic plan, key policies and procedures for example) and/or a New Branch Board member (newsletters, copywrite, liaising with the office for example).

5)    Revamping Families.  I believe in the value of Families but think the format is a bit dated.  I would like to see it revamped, with some repeating columns in each issue and some varied types of genealogically focused articles.  I would also like to explore whether the journal can be sold through bookstores and if there is the possibility of selling related advertising to boost up the revenues.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for this opportunity to share my vision.  I hope you will consider all that I have to offer when you are choosing your next President.  I look forward to working with you on this important journey to preserve our past, while building the Society’s future.

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