How a History Book Can Benefit Your Cultural Organization
HOW A HISTORY BOOK CAN BENEFIT YOUR CULTURAL ORGANIZATION
Cultural organizations are an integral part of public life, allowing groups large and small to foster community bonds and celebrate their shared history, interests, and traditions.
While most cultural organizations have established ways of keeping these traditions alive, there is one activity that your organization may not have considered: writing a book about your history.
There are several critical reasons to create a written history of your organization, from preserving institutional memory to crafting a compelling narrative that can be used for fundraising, new member recruitment, and promotion of your mission and goals.
Not a writer? Not a problem. Hiring a ghostwriter is a simple way to transform the rich and varied stories that make up your organization’s history into an organized and absorbing story in print.
Is my group considered a cultural organization?
Cultural organizations are those dedicated to the preservation and promotion of shared identity or interests, be it a cultural or ethnic identity, a language, a religion, an art form, or even a sport or style of cuisine.
These organizations may take the form of large international groups, such as the Alliance Française, which comprises hundreds of chapters dedicated to preserving the French language and culture.
They can also be small, hyperlocal organizations, such as the Whiteclay Immersion School, a school on Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation working to preserve the A’ani language.
They may be ethnic or folk museums, like the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, or hobby groups, like the Denver HO Model Railroad Club.
A shared identity may even be one of location, as with the Brooklyn Heights Association, the oldest ongoing neighborhood association in New York City.
Whatever its focus, every cultural organization has a distinct history of its own that may extend back decades or even centuries. Here are a few reasons why that history is worth recording in a book about your organization.
Preserving Institutional Memory
Writing a history of your organization is an effective way to preserve institutional memory.
The Dictionary of Archives Terminology defines institutional memory as a collective of “personal recollections and experiences that provides an understanding of the history and culture of an organization.”
It is everything from the story of your founding to the buildings you’ve occupied over the years to the quirks and personalities of your members.
Institutional memory relies on transmission—it must be passed down in a direct line, otherwise the facts may become distorted, like a game of telephone, or forgotten entirely.
Think of your own organization.
Perhaps the best-known story is that of its creation—the names of the founders, the reasons why they saw a need for its existence, the vision they had for its purpose and direction. But over time, founders retire, move, or pass away, as do the individuals who take their place.
If the heart of an organization is its people, writing a history book ensures that the vision, contributions, and legacy of its members will be remembered long after they’re gone.
Writing an organization’s history is also a way to create a cohesive narrative out of archived records like newsletters, meeting minutes, photographs, member rosters, and financial reports.
Maintaining an archive of these items is itself a critical aspect of preserving institutional memory, but a written history is an excellent complement, providing color, depth, and context to the disparate items your organization may have retained over the years.
Continuity of Mission, Goals, and Identity
A written history can also provide a clear picture of what an organization has accomplished over time. It can keep your mission and goals consistent, document programs and initiatives launched over the years, and record what worked and what didn’t.
This history also ensures the shared values and identity of your organization are communicated consistently to new members.
Take, for example, an organization dedicated to preserving a language.
For five years, language classes have been held on Saturday mornings, but a new teacher wants to move his class to Wednesday evenings.
Is there a reason not to?
After all, the decision to hold Saturday classes may have been made simply because it fit the original teacher’s schedule. But what if there is a more significant reason, like an informal needs assessment conducted the first year of the program that showed most individuals in the community have trouble accessing transportation on weekdays?
Oftentimes, we rely on institutional memory, i.e., the knowledge of longtime members, to answer such questions. But that knowledge is not always accessible.
In a February 2018 article in theTufts Observer, Jordan Lauf described the difficulty of maintaining momentum and consistent focus in a Tufts University activist group that, because of its very nature as a student-led organization, sheds its most senior members every semester.
While turnover is rarely so extreme, many organizations go through turbulent times at some point in their history. Hiring a ghostwriter to compile your organization’s history provides a definitive record of your past, helping you avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Fundraising and Outreach
Many cultural organizations are registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits that rely on private donors and grant funding to sustain their work.
If you’ve ever written a grant proposal, you know it’s a tedious process that most of us would rather avoid.
Writing your organization’s history can help alleviate that stress, providing you with a comprehensive, streamlined document that incorporates many common elements of a grant proposal: your mission and goals, descriptions of your programs and services, the need for those programs, and measurable impacts on the community you serve.
With these narratives ready to go, grant writing just got a lot easier.
Even if your organization does not require grant funding, you probably still rely on outreach.
It could be to attract new members who will pay dues, sell tickets to festivals and performances, promote your classes to new students, or find local sponsors for events.
In these cases, a written history provides professional, ready-to-use content for promotional materials like flyers, websites, social media posts, event programs, annual giving letters, and much more.
Examples of Histories of Organizations
Here are a few examples of groups that have seized the opportunity to hire a ghostwriter and craft a compelling history of their organization.
- “Past is Prologue: The History of Alpha Kappa Alpha (1908-1999)” by Marjorie S. Parker (Self-Published, 1999). A history of Alpha Kappa Alpha, established in 1908 as the first Greek-letter sorority for Black women
- “Ohio 4-H: Celebrating 100 Years of Youth Development” byErnin Shea Deel (Donning, 2002). A history celebrating the centennial of Ohio 4-H, which provides youth development programs through agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, and other activities.
- “Women Helping Women: A Centennial History of the Boise YWCA/WCA” by Sarah Nash (Donning, 2011). A history of the Boise WCA, which evolved over a century from a provider of safe housing for single young women to a center providing services for those healing from domestic abuse and sexual assault.
- “A Religion Of This Age: A History Of the Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, 1959-2009” by Elaine Mancini (Community Unitarian Church, 2009). A history of the second 50 years of the more-than-century-old Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, New York.
- “Our Roots Run Deep: A History of the River Road African American Museum” by Thomas J. Durant (Walsworth, 2002). A history of the River Road African American Museum, which educates visitors about the history and culture of African Americans in the rural communities of southern Louisiana.
- Curtain Call: 125 Years of The Actors Fund (Donning, 2016). A history of the Actors Fund, a national nonprofit founded in 1882 to provide aid to individuals working in the performing arts and entertainment
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