Warning: Many in the genealogy ‘industry’ will disagree with this approach since it doesn’t look at ‘all things genealogy’ through their frequently rose-colored glasses. However, it is my reality and so I here it is.
Over the years that I have been getting deeper and deeper into genealogy and family history I have found one truism: It is very easy to spend your money on this great pursuit. I personally find that it is one of the most addictive undertakings I have ever come across and its’ spell is a powerful one!
It wasn’t long at all before I had pretty much lost track of a number of the Society memberships I held, the Historical Society memberships, the subscriptions, the magazines, and on and on! I quickly realized that I was doing myself a disservice by simply waiting for the ‘Hey, it’s time to renew’ notice to arrive in order for me to make a decision. At those renewal times I tended to be hasty and emotional in my decision making. This did not lend itself to my being objective and making certain I was getting a good ROI (return on investment) for my genealogy spending.
It must have been about the third year enjoying and really getting ‘into’ my family history and genealogy when I got a renewal notice in the mail that I literally stared at and thought to myself: ‘Why am I getting this, what group is this, and how come I have no recollection of them?’ That realization moved me to action and as a result I created a simple system for measuring the ROI of my genealogy spending. It works for me and I think it might work, or at least help you, too.
Since one of my life’s mantras is ‘KISS!’ (Keep It Simple, Scott!) I did just that. It is short, easy, simple, but a system that I consider useful and one that I can use from year to year for comparison purposes. I do this exercise each autumn since waiting too late in the year runs into the holidays and more pressing family and personal activities.
To begin with I created a simple table in MS Word, but I am sure you can use any program you want and make it a whole lot fancier and more powerful too.
You can see from the picture that I made these headings across the top:
Name – Price – How Do I Interact –How Often Do I Interact – Ah-Ha Value – Volunteer – Do I Enjoy the Materials I Receive or Just File It – Total
Price: Since I am a cheap fellow, I assigned three options for Price and I like a good value: Under $20, $20-$99, and $100+. If it cost me $20 a year or less, I give it 3 points. If it is in the middle I give it 2 points, and over $100 I give it a 1. I value cheap and this means that the high priced items must really cut the mustard in the performance categories in order to stay in my budget from year-to-year.
Interaction: I value the ability to interact with organizations and their data and materials electronically. Therefore, if they are mostly online, they get 3 points. If they are about half and half electronic to paper, then they get 1 point. If they are basically not useful beyond simply having a presence online, then they get 0 points.
How Often I Interact: This one is easy! If I think back and I know I used them frequently they get 3 points. If it was erratic or sporatic then they get 2 points, and if I look at their name and can hardly recall much of anything about active interactions with them about them they get a 0.
AH-HA Value: This one is certainly subjective and personal, but I know when I am using a resource, reading a magazine, newsletter, database, or visiting a website and I have what I call an ‘AH HA Moment’. That time you discover something new, find a difficult piece of data, laugh out loud, etc. If I think back on the organization’s materials and recall ‘AH HA Moments’ I give it 3 points. If I cannot recall any AH HA’s then it gets 1 point since I may not always remember my every interaction correctly.
Do I Volunteer or Have a Working Relationship with a Staffer or Volunteer: If I volunteer or have a working relationship with a staffer or volunteer, then they get 3 points. If not, then they get 0 points. It is amazing how valuable it can be if you have the ability even with a subscription site to actually get worthwhile assistance when you need it and not just a FAQ or have to wait weeks for an email response.
Do I Enjoy Their Materials or Tend to Simply File Them Away: As a writer, I believe there is value in reading and enjoying what I am reading. On the other hand I have gone through entire magazine issues, newsletters, mailers, websites, etc. with only the thought of ‘wow, I gained nothing for my time spent here’. Worse yet, I have looked back and realized there were certain ones that I wasn’t even spending the time to read. So if I enjoy their materials, they get 2 points, if I don’t they get 0 again.
Total Them Up: Then I total them each up so I can then rank them.
Analysis: Once done with my list, I can do my analysis and budget. I list the outcome by rank and attach the actual dollar value of each item. Certainly there are exceptions and the ranking is neither foolproof nor ironclad. For example, sometimes I continue a membership or sponsorship knowing I will be using them more in the future than I did in the past year and don’t want to drop them in the interim.
While it is never easy for me to write those ‘I am sorry, but I will not be rejoining you this year’ notes, it is a whole lot easier when I can see that I am making a reasonable decision based on my past usage and values.
While my system works for me, I will be the first to admit that it is not foolproof and may not work for everyone. That said, it sure works for me and assists me in making smarter decisions in my genealogy finances.
ADDENDUM: I will also say that I keep a dual system, but basically it is just like this one, for Expert Needs. It really helps me recall who I may want to use again in the future and who I will take a pass on. As I have gotten deeper and deeper into my family history I find that I am using standard resources less and specialized experts and expertise on what I call a ‘project basis’ more and more.