As we announced at the AGM, we feel that after 21 years of operation, we need to consider how to manage the Group in the future in the light of several factors:
- a steadily declining membership
- the general lack of contributions by members of material for publications (though with some honourable exceptions for which we are very grateful!)
- the lack of members who are willing to join the Committee or assist with the running of the Group
- the trend towards electronic exchange of information and the decline and cost of printed matter
We agreed at the AGM to seek the views of all members on how the Group might continue to serve those who are interested in the Lin(d)field surname and families, in a way that is sustainable and affordable and which makes best use of technology to publish information, whilst also engaging with the widest possible group of interested people and organisations around the world. We will take the views expressed by members into account in formulating proposals on how to proceed; however, it may be that we are forced to recommend changes that are contrary to the preferences expressed by members. Whatever proposals are put forward will be discussed at the AGM in September and put to a vote if the proposals involve a change to the Constitution of the Group.
There are several fundamental questions that we need to consider, with some overlap and interdependencies between them:
- The publication model; firstly whether to continue with a ‘publication’ containing a collection of articles. Given the general lack of contributors, this would necessarily continue to be published as it has been, at somewhat irregular intervals as sufficient material was collected. The alternative model is to make material available in individual articles as and when they become available. This option is not really practical using a paper format due to the printing costs, handling time and postage costs in sending out paper material, so this choice influences …..
- The delivery medium; whether to produce printed material or distribute in an electronic format, or both. If the latter, whether to send material by e-mail (as we currently do for Life-Members) or to make it available on the website for members to access when they wish. This aspect influences …
- The sharing model; whether to make all of the material available to the public without any restrictions (which obviously implies that we cannot collect any subscription income) or whether to limit some material to members only in return for a subscription. This in turn interacts with ….
- The subscription model; firstly whether to charge a subscription at all, and if so whether it should be an annual recurring amount or a one-time payment. An alternative to charging a subscription is to rely on voluntary donations, perhaps with a suggested amount for new members who want us to supply information or to carry out research. A final aspect is how any monies are collected in order to make the administration easier – ideally we would like members to pay directly by bank transfer or using a service such as PayPal. The subscription model also determines …..
- The research model; whether to pay for any research facilities centrally. At present, about £350 of subscription income is spent on access to information resources such as Find My Past and Ancestry (that is, about half of each subscription). This means that when members, particularly new members, send us what they know about immediate family, we can quickly access details of birth, marriage and death registrations, together with census and other data to help build up the family tree of the person concerned and show which branch they connect to. Without central funding, individual members would have to pay for subscriptions to these services individually. (Find My Past, by way of example, currently costs £108 annually, although vouchers can be bought for a small number of queries as required).
Perhaps the obvious starting point is the question of paper versus electronic delivery. We are obviously conscious that a minority of our members have not given us an e-mail address, either because they do not have direct access to a computer, or simply because they prefer to receive paper communications only. However, our understanding from national statistics is that very few people cannot access the Internet, be it at work, at a friend’s or relative’s computer or in a public facility such as a library. We recognise that members who cannot access a computer easily may benefit from a short message, perhaps by text to their phone, to warn them that something has been added to the website, if that is how material is published.
In order for you (and us) get our heads around these various possibilities, and to avoid getting too technical, we have broken the problem down into a choice between 3 basic options. We ask that each member lets us know, before the end of August, which of the options they prefer. We would like you to do this by allocating votes to each option, with each member having 10 votes to cast. If, for example, you feel very strongly that one option is the best, you can allocate all 10 of your votes to that option. If, on the other hand you think that 2 of them have equal merit, give 5 votes to each. We will take the total numbers of votes into account when deciding how to proceed, and will put the selected proposal to the AGM in September for formal approval if necessary.
The 3 options are:
- OPTION A: Continue as at present with an annual subscription, and with a paper publication from time to time. It seems inevitable, however, that the frequency and size of the journal will decrease, reflecting the shortage of contributions and the increasing costs of printing and postage. Even with a reduced size of publication, the rising cost of printing and postage would of course still need to be reflected in future subscription levels.
- OPTION B: Cease production of the paper journal, and stop collecting subscriptions. Continue to accept any material that people might send and add it to the web site if appropriate. This would effectively amount to a winding up of the Group as a constituted body, since there would no longer be any distinction between members and non-members, and the web site would be accessible to anyone. The process for formally winding up the Group is set out in the Constitution and would require a vote at the AGM.
- OPTION C: As with option B, cease production of the paper journal and stop collecting subscriptions as such, but keeping the Group in being. New members joining would pay a lifetime subscription when they joined, and existing members would be deemed to have lifetime membership without further subscriptions. Members would then be invited to make donations if they wished to support the Group and defray the costs of maintaining the website. (The existing website does not cost the Group anything, as it is provided by my own service provider as part of my monthly contract for e-mail and internet access. It is however somewhat limited in the facilities we can use, and so as part of Option C, we would set up a new service at a probable cost of around £120 per year. This would allow facilities such as the payment of donations and would also allow members to have access to secure parts of the site not available to the public.) This option would also require changes to the Constitution and would therefore be subject to a vote at the AGM.
We urge all members to express an opinion. Given that most members are unable to attend the AGM, it will be the only opportunity to let the Committee know your views. Please send your preferences to the Secretary, by post or e-mail.