Get the Board All On the Same Page

It would be wonderful if our society board members all had the same operating system, applications and level of expertise. It would make collaboration so much easier. Something as simple as distributing an agenda for an upcoming meeting can be a challenge when it is created on the latest and greatest version of Word but most of the board are using much older versions or a different operating system.

Fortunately we now have several very impressive – and affordable – options. Not only do they make it easy for societies to work together online, they also provide a secure archive to store the information we need to keep. Two platforms immediately come to mind – Dropbox and Evernote. Here’s why . . .

  • Both platforms support Windows and Mac desktops along with iOS and Android mobile devices.
  • Both are affordable. An annual premium plan for Evernote is $70 and for Dropbox is $99. The society would purchase one account and the board/staff members share the society’s folders from their own accounts. If they don’t already have an account, they can sign up for a free account and use it.
  • Both support including photos, PDF documents and links to support your society’s archive needs.
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Paper app on an iPhone

Things get really interesting when you use them for your collaborative efforts. Do you normally create a draft agenda document and email it to each board member to add their topics? How many times does it have to make the rounds before you have a functional agenda? With Evernote, you create a notebook and share it to your staff. When it’s time to build your agenda, create a new note and notify the others to come add their items. Everyone can access Evernote using the device and Evernote app of their choice. It will have the same look and feel, no matter what each member uses to view the agenda note.

Dropbox recently released Paper – a free app for Android and iOS devices. It serves as an editor within the Dropbox platform. Desktop users can access it through their web browsers. Inviting others to participate is easy. Just type @username (using each user’s actual username) and each will be notified that they were mentioned with a link to that document.

Which platform should you use? Whichever platform most of your staff are already using. Create a prime account for the society. Share the needed folder/notebook to the appropriate staff members. Users can work in the society account from their free account. The society creates shared folders/notebooks for meeting management and other collaborative needs and invites the appropriate board/staff members to participate.

Since these two platforms have become favorites in the genealogy world your staff may already be using one or both. Some members will need help getting started, but it won’t take long to introduce them and get them comfortable using it. Your biggest challenge will be changing the routine. Old habits are hard to break.

How to Get Non-Profit Status

Society CornerIs your society officially registered as a tax-exempt non-profit association? There are a number of benefits including:

  • your society doesn’t pay federal income tax
  • your society is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions and contributors can deduct their contributions
  • as an “official” non-profit, you can get discounts with services like PayPal

Don’t know what it takes to get non-profit status? Check out this article at wikiHow for details. Note that in many states, you may need to register both at the state level and the federal level.

Manage Society Articles with Scrivener

Society Corner badgeHow does your society maintain the many articles published in your quarterly journals and newsletters? Over the years those publications become quite an archive of genealogical goodness. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in many cases your archive is mostly paper copies. Even if you’ve saved the master copies created on desktop computers, chances are good that the software used to create them doesn’t exist anymore and you can no longer read those old files.

Why is this a problem? The articles and transcribed records published in those old issues could be a goldmine of revenue for your society if you can digitize and organize them. Once that is done, it is then possible to make them available for sale. Fortunately, many of today’s scanners are able to create digital files of “editable text”. Instead of just having a photocopy of each page, you can actually copy/paste the text from the scanned file. You don’t have to have a high-end scanner either. Many of your members have impressive scanner apps on their phones. They may not be the best choice for an archival quality copy of the original document but they will give you editable text with a minimal amount of effort. Look for a scanner – desktop or mobile – offering OCR (optical character recognition) support.

Scanning will make it possible to digitize your paper masters, but now you need a safe place to organize and keep them for future use. That’s where Scrivener comes in. Scrivener is not a word-processing program, but rather a writing platform. What’s the difference? It’s designed to organize manuscripts into scenes rather than documents. The writer can then arrange and rearrange those scenes as needed. For the family historian, it means you can write the stories as your research gives them to you and then arrange them into timelines, family groups or whatever. For the publications chair, it makes collecting, organizing and managing articles a lot easier. And it supports Markdown [see An Introduction to Markdown] which will insure those articles won’t get left behind as technology moves forward.

Scrivener ($45.00) is available for both Windows and Mac desktops. In the example below you are looking at a society newsletter project in Scrivener for Mac. The selected article appears in the editor panel while the sidebar provides access to individual articles organized into folders by issue. The Front Matter section holds repetitive content such as publishing guidelines and copyright notices. There are also areas for managing graphics, notes and even research (making it so useful to family historians).

Screenshot-01.png

Scrivener can import files created in Word, Pages and other formats, so it’s easy to pull member-submitted articles into your project. It also supports including photos and graphics. It offers features like automatic backups to protect your work and snapshots so you can quickly return to a previous version of an edited article.

The compile feature makes it possible to export the entire publication or just selected articles. Your publication can be exported to rich text (RTF) or Word (DOCX) format for printing or further formatting. You can compile to HTML, ePub and Kindle format using custom stylesheets. Scrivener includes a number of compile formats so you can choose how your compiled document will look. You can also create your own custom formats. These would be quite useful if your publish in a “journal” format, however an outside app like InDesign would still be needed for more complex magazine-style layouts.

If you are using Markdown within the Scrivener editor, you can compile and export an “archival” copy of each issue or project in plain text format. If you do not use Markdown, export your archival copy to HTML. It is also plain text only it has a lot more “formatting code” elements than Markdown.

Since Scrivener is unlike most word-processing apps, it will take some time to get comfortable using it. Fortunately it is so popular with writers – and now family historians – that there’s a lot of support out there. Lynn Palermo’s Scrivener for the Family Historian [PDF – $9.99 or Print via Amazon – $14.99] is a good place to start.

Next up . . . what to do with that collection of genealogical goodness once it’s all digitized and organized.

Society Scrivener

How does your society maintain the many articles published in your quarterly journals and newsletters? Over the years those publications become quite an archive of genealogical goodness. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in many cases your archive is mostly paper copies. Even if you’ve saved the master copies created on desktop computers, chances are good that the software used to create them no longer exists and you can no longer read those old files.

Why is this a problem? The articles and transcribed records published in those old issues could be a goldmine of revenue for your society if you can digitize and organize them. Once that is done, it is then possible to make them available for sale. Fortunately, many of today’s scanners are able to create digital files of “editable text”. Instead of just having a photocopy of each page, you can actually copy/paste the text from the scanned file. You don’t have to have a high-end scanner either. Many of your members have impressive scanner apps on their phones. They may not be the best choice for an archival quality copy of the original document but they will give you editable text with a minimal amount of effort. Look for a scanner – desktop or mobile – offering OCR (optical character recognition) support.

Scanning will make it possible to digitize your paper masters, but now you need a safe place to organize and keep them for future use. That’s where Scrivener comes in. Scrivener is not a word-processing program, but rather a writing platform. What’s the difference? It’s designed to organize manuscripts into scenes rather than documents. The writer can then arrange and rearrange those scenes as needed. For the family historian, it means you can write the stories as your research gives them to you and then arrange them into timelines, family groups or whatever. For the publications chair, it makes collecting, organizing and managing articles a lot easier. And it supports Markdown [see An Introduction to Markdown] which will insure those articles won’t get left behind as technology moves forward.

Scrivener ($45.00) is available for both Windows and Mac desktops. In the example below you are looking at a society newsletter project in Scrivener for Mac. The selected article appears in the editor panel while the sidebar provides access to individual articles organized into folders by issue. The Front Matter section holds repetitive content such as publishing guidelines and copyright notices. There are also areas for managing graphics, notes and even research (making it so useful to family historians).

Screenshot-01.png

Scrivener can import files created in Word, Pages and other formats, so it’s easy to pull member-submitted articles into your project. It also supports including photos and graphics. It offers features like automatic backups to protect your work and snapshots so you can quickly return to a previous version of an edited article.

The compile feature makes it possible to export the entire publication or just selected articles. Your publication can be exported to rich text (RTF) or Word (DOCX) format for printing or further formatting. You can compile to HTML, ePub and Kindle format using custom stylesheets. Scrivener includes a number of compile formats so you can choose how your compiled document will look. You can also create your own custom formats. These would be quite useful if your publish in a “journal” format, however an outside app like InDesign would still be needed for more complex magazine-style layouts.

If you are using Markdown within the Scrivener editor, you can compile and export an “archival” copy of each issue or project in plain text format. If you do not use Markdown, export your archival copy to HTML. It is also plain text only it has a lot more “formatting code” elements than Markdown.

Since Scrivener is unlike most word-processing apps, it will take some time to get comfortable using it. Fortunately it is so popular with writers – and now family historians – that there’s a lot of support out there. Lynn Palermo’s Scrivener for the Family Historian [PDF – $9.99 or Print via Amazon – $14.99] is a good place to start.

Next up . . . what to do with that collection of genealogical goodness once it’s all digitized and organized.

Society Email

emailiconDoes your genealogy society have email accounts for board members and staff? Why is this important?

  • It maintains continuity as different people move in/out of positions within your society.
  • When new people move into officer or staff positions, the outgoing staff member passes on the account password so the new person can access the email account. A quick password change and the new officer has complete control of that account. Your membership will always be able to contact the society president using president@mysociety.org.
  • New officers have instant access to all historical messages in their accounts.
  • It makes it easier to maintain outside accounts (like web hosting services or PayPal) when the people who maintain and make payments to these accounts change every year or so.
  • It reduces personal liability in case of litigation. Should there be litigation with subpoenas for all email records, society accounts would be the focus instead of personal accounts.

If your society uses a hosting service to maintain your website, that service probably also includes email. You can also take advantage of free email providers such as Google’s Gmail or Yahoo Mail. If you are considering using Google for Non-Profits, it includes free email accounts using your own domain name.

Use positions rather than people when you set up your email account. Instead of JohnSmith@mysociety.org use president@mysociety.org. For the commercial email providers you can include the society initials with the name – mcgs.president@yahoo.com for example.

Some members may not be comfortable managing multiple email accounts – especially if they only use webmail to access their messages. It can be irritating to have to check mail in multiple places. In this case an email client program may be the best choice. These programs – Outlook for Windows, Mail for Mac and iOS devices – support easily managing multiple accounts in one place.

Email is one of the most affordable ways to communicate with your members and staff. It’s time to take advantage of the many opportunities these services can offer.

*Email icon courtesy AJ Cann via Flickr.