Clock on display at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, home of the Morrison County Historical Society, in Little Falls, MN, 2018.
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Pursuing Members from a Niche History Market

Clock on display at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, home of the Morrison County Historical Society, in Little Falls, MN, 2018.
Clock on display at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, home of the Morrison County Historical Society, in Little Falls, MN, 2018.

Leading a local historical society, as I do, creating long-term financial stability for the organization is always on my mind. At this time of year, so is membership, particularly figuring out how to increase the number of members.

Members, especially those who remain members over a long period of time, are not only the lifeblood of historical societies, they add immeasurably to the organization in terms of moral, financial, and other forms of support. Colleen Dilenschneider of Know Your Own Bone has a great article that shows the difference in what members provide financially to an organization over the course of a year versus garden variety visitors.

Typically, the members of a local history organization are drawn from the local population of the organization’s service area, which is great. They likely have the most direct connection to the contents of the organization’s collections.

But, local history organizations do not exist in a vacuum, completely unconnected to their region’s or state’s history. What happens in one community is usually part of a larger trend, movement, population, or industry. (Pesky human beings won’t stay put!) When a researcher is looking to put together a history of a larger area or topic, they often come calling at local history organizations.

These researchers might be archaeologists, authors in need of history (for either nonfiction or fiction), writers of National Register of Historic Places nominations or cultural resource and landscape reports, municipal officials looking for info on historic land use for a current project, or business owners looking for the history of their buildings.

If you are looking for new members for your history organization, look to these folks within the professional history niche, especially if they repeatedly use your collections materials or call with questions. I can think of a number of long-time members of my history organization that fall within this category of professionals using history within the scope of their work.

The ones who are members understand that financial support is key to making sure our resources are available and accessible when they need them, which could be at any time. They also understand how key it is to have knowledgeable staff and volunteers running local history organizations because it is through staff and volunteers that they can zero in on the resources they need in a timely and efficient manner. Also, the staff and volunteers at local history organizations can give these professionals leads they would otherwise be hard pressed to find. (Our previous director took a noted archaeologist to a site that became one of the most important ones in the course of his career. And, yes, this archaeologist became a long-time member of the organization.)

While these niche history researchers may have built a relationship with your organization through the use of your collections, it may not dawn on them to become members. Be sure to ask them! Make it easy for them to join by sending along a membership form or a link to sign up online.

And that is your fundraising advice for today. 🙂


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