He was told “no.” They were “too busy.” They couldn’t even recommend someone for him to call, thank him for his interest, or offer to promote his event through their usual channels because it was about town history – nothing. How infuriating! Luckily, he called me, and even though I live a great distance from him I was able to give him some ideas that resulted in the perfect speaker for his event. He had contemplated abandoning his idea because of the historical society’s response.
I said, “To hell with the historical society. Do it anyway. Their loss!”
Now, I don’t want to alienate all of my colleagues out there who staff or volunteer for historical societies, but this is not an atypical story. Sadly, far too many small historical societies are caught up in defeatest/victim/small thinking. They are so focused on what they can’t do, and how much money they don’t have, they don’t see a revenue generating opportunity when it comes along – like my friend’s idea—and they don’t embrace it.
Yes, I know the challenges faced by these organizations. I have been in those trenches for many years. But I am also a strong believer in finding a way, in having a positive attitude, and being open to new ideas and to change. (And so are SOME historical societies, to be fair!)
But what I really want to say to businesses who want to support local history in ways that will also benefit their business is: Don’t take no for an answer! If the historical society says “no,” understand that they do not “own” local history. We all do!
• Partner with your public library instead (most have a local history room or section).
• Contact your library, college, or high school history department if you need a speaker on a specific topic.
• Search online for local reenactor groups, authors, and so on; there might be a history collaborative in your community, or some other organization where these people “show up” and you could find a qualified speaker/historian that way.
Even if the historical society door closes, please find a way. It will benefit your business and your community, and that’s an important contribution for you to make.
And after you have promoted and held your event (and please invite the historical society…), hopefully they will “get it” and the next time they will say “yes.”
2011 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
History Smiths works with service-oriented businesses to use history — their own and their community's — to achieve customer loyalty, referrals, and high status. Subscribe (above, right) to our free Ezine, Connections, where we share ideas and examples of businesses embracing history to achieve business goals.