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What Makes a Good Board Member?

What Makes a Good Board Member? 1198 1198 Pam Hudson

It’s important to know what is involved in being a good Board member. BoardSource, considered the premier voice of nonprofit governance, notes that “While all effective Board members understand and meet their basic responsibilities, truly exceptional Board members do more. They go beyond the basics and pay attention to how they approach Board service. These six characteristics build on straightforward Board duties and focus on key traits of exceptional Board members.”

Click here to read the BoardSource article which explains each characteristic.

Ground Rules for Visitation

Ground Rules for Visitation 1198 1198 Kristen Blacksher

By Mike Syslo, former Chair of the National Governance Committee

There are a set of basic ground rules that should be kept in mind before visiting with those who have requested our help.   It is a good idea to review them on occasion, understand them and put them into practice.

  1. If you are on a witch hunt, stay home.

One of our purposes as members of the Society is to bring the love of God to those who are in need.  You cannot do this if your personal expectation is that the people you visit are on the take, that they are out to get us for whatever they can.  If you believe that the people you are going to visit are going to give you a phony story, if you believe before you actually meet with them that they “are only going to sell the food to get money for cigarettes or alcohol or drugs,” then you have prejudged them and shouldn’t be participating in the interview.  Our role as helper obliges us to keep as open a mind as possible.  Give those we serve the benefit of the doubt – at least until you have heard their story and can make a reasonable judgment as to the validity of the need.  Remember, it is the need we are judging – not the people.  So, the first ground rule calls for you to judge yourself – not the circumstances, not others.  What is your reason for going on this visit?  If you are on a witch hunt, you have no Vincentian reason for being there.  Stay home.

  1. If you are an expert on life, stay home.

Have you ever heard the comment: I’ve lived a long, difficult life and I’ve never had to ask for help.?  (Better yet, have you said such?)  Some people (Vincentians) have a tendency to feel that they know the answers, they’ve heard it all before, they know the circumstances, they know what questions will be asked, and they know what they are going to do to resolve the request before the visit occurs.  The problem with being an expert is that experts have the answers before the questions are asked.  The problem with experts is that they are ready with what needs to be done while the words of the request are still being formed in the mind of the one asking.  The problem with experts is that they don’t listen.  And, that is exactly what is expected of Vincentians: Vincentians must be good listeners.  Vincentians should go on a call with no preset plans in mind.  Vincentians should visit those in need with the spirit of a servant asking their masters “what is it that we can do for you?”  Our Lord has called out to us.  It is He whom we are serving in the person of the poor.  We must go to Him humbly asking what it is He seeks.  But He does expect us to say “yes” when appropriate and “no” also when appropriate.  Be a good listener.  If you are an expert on life, stay home.

  1. If you cannot smile and be pleasant, stay home.

Let’s face it, everyone has a bad day once in a while.  It happens to the worst of us.  It happens to the best of us.  However, as Vincentians we represent Christ to those we serve.  We must be pleasant, loving and caring when we encounter those in need.  Our Lord asked us to love one another as He has loved us.  That’s a tall order and we need to represent Him well.  What this means is that if you are having a bad day, you can’t show it.  And, if you can’t not show it, stay home.  You are doing no one any good – including yourself.

If your normal personality matches the movie title “Grumpy Old Men,” then you shouldn’t be going on home visits.  Grumpy people never provide those they encounter with feelings of love and renewed hope.  That’s part of what we are doing when we go to those in need.  We are showing them that God cares.  He cares so much that He sent us to try to help.  So, if you are a grumpy old man or woman, stay home.

Burnout often reflects itself in rude, crude and downright ugly behavior.  Unfortunately, we never recognize it in ourselves.  It’s always someone else who sees it.  And it is worse if the one who sees it is the one you are supposed to be helping.  If you see this in your partner, make sure he/she stays home.

  1. We are responsible for our effort, not for success.

It would be great to point to every home visit that we make and be able to say, “This is one of our finest success stories.  We did such and such and it really turned things around for this family.  They’re doing great now.”  Well, in doing a reality check, we know better.  We know, in fact, that very few of the families we visit for the first time ever even take the good advice we give them.  That’s part of human nature and we should not expect much more.  So then, what is our role if it is not to change people’s lives and get them on the road to heaven?  Our role in serving those in need is twofold.  First, it is to show those who are in need that God cares about them; He cares so much that He sent us to do what we can to help.  Second, our role is to make life a little bit better for them right now, this moment, to give them some hope.  If we can do more, that’s great.  If not, that’s okay too.

 We are responsible for making the effort to help.  We are responsible for our attitudes, for the amount of love we put into the visit, for the amount of love we put into the advice we give.  We are not responsible for making it all work.  We can give advice but we cannot force those we are trying to help to take the advice and run with it.  We cannot place conditions on the help we give; so we should never refuse to help because they didn’t follow our last advice.  Christ asked us to love one another as He loved us.  His love was unconditional.  Focus on what you can control and that is your effort.  You may walk away from a visit feeling like you have made a real difference or you may feel like you were not able to change anything.  The impact of what you do today may not show up for months or years.  If you are going to make an evaluation of the visit, then evaluate yourself, your effort, the impact of the visit on you, and not whether anything is different for the family you visited.

  1. Judgment not judgmental!

Everyday we are faced with making decisions and everyday we make a choice on each one of those decision points presented to us.  Some of those choices are good, some are bad and some are inconsequential.  We hope for the most part that our decisions are good ones.  When we are faced with what our Lord presents to us on our visit to Him (in someone’s home), we are asked again to make a decision, a choice, a judgment.

We are asked to judge the validity of the need and the level of resources that are available to us.  We are asked to listen to what is presented, observe the surroundings, analyze the circumstances, and evaluate what we have to work with.  It is the need that is important.  Is this real?  Do they really need the groceries?  Do they really need the rent help or is the rent not even due for another two weeks?  Do we have enough money to pay the portion of the bill that they cannot cover?  We are asked to make a judgment – period.

Don’t make your decision based on any one of the many varied lifestyle choices that people make: are they living together instead of being married; is it a mixed marriage; are they just going to take our help and use their own money to buy cigarettes, beer or drugs; is the house filthy and the kids as well; does the whole place smell of stale cigarette smoke or urine; is the old man just lounging on the sofa?  These and a thousand other questions are based on lifestyle choices and cause us to be judgmental.

We are asked to make good judgments about whether to help or not.  We are not to be judgmental about lifestyle choices.  It’s not easy.  We have to deal with mind and heart issues as well as all our life experiences.  Our Lord told us to love one another as He loves us.  Don’t deny someone your help because you disagree with how they choose to live.  Make the judgment – don‘t be judgmental.

  1. Who owns the groceries? Let go!

Letting go is something that has been promoted as a necessary part of maintaining both a good mental and emotional balance.  Essentially the saying is “let go, let God!”  Within our Vincentian way of life we are asked to do the same thing but from a slightly different aspect.

 Often our members place a tremendously high value on the material things that we give to those in need.  Often we are judgmental about the people we serve based on how they deal with the things we give them.  Jesus told us to love one another as He loves us.  And He loves us unconditionally.  He doesn’t attach any strings to the gifts He gives us.  He doesn’t ask us to dance to a particular tune in order to receive the gifts He gives out of love.  And He certainly is not going to withhold any future gifts because we didn’t care very well for what He gave us in the past.

The same should be applied as Vincentians give their gifts to those in need.  There are no strings attached.  Our gifts are unconditional.  When we give a person or family a box of groceries, who owns the groceries?  They do.  When we give a person or family some clothing or some furniture, who owns the merchandise?  They do.  They have ownership.  How they handle it, how they dispose of it is their business.

We are asked to make a judgment about the need that is presented to us.  We are not asked to be judgmental about the actions of the people we are about to help.  Let go.  Judge each case on its own merit.  “The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.” (Matthew 7:2)

  1. Work within the guidelines of the Conference.

It has been stated in many ways in many St. Vincent de Paul publications: the basic unit of the Society, the most important unit of the Society is the Conference.  It is the Conference that has the resources.  It is the Conference that does the works of charity.  It is the Conference that decides what will and what will not be done.  In the United States, all Conferences are run democratically. All decisions are made by the group.  No individual member has a right to override what the Conference decides.  Every Conference establishes a set of guidelines upon which the members may operate as Vincentians.  Assuming that the guidelines do not contradict the Rule of the Society, it should be understood by all members of the Conference that the guidelines must be followed.

For example, a Conference guideline may allow for any visiting team to spend up to $150 based on their own evaluation of the need and circumstances.  If more than $150 is needed, then it must be brought back to the Conference for a decision.  It would be improper for any visiting team to simply approve payment of or pay a bill for $220.

If the Conference as a group decides not to give any further assistance to a specific family (regardless of reason), it would be wrong for an individual member or visiting team to assist the family in spite of the Conference decision.  All members must work within the guidelines of the Conference.

  1. Your decision is the right one.

The visiting team must have confidence in themselves and their decision-making ability.  They are being asked to make a decision that will affect not only the person/family they are working with but also the Conference.  The visiting team members are the only ones present to hear the story, to ask the questions, to understand the circumstances and to formulate a resolution to the problem.  Their decision is the right one.  The only exception to this is if their decision contradicts a Rule of the Society or a prior decision/guideline made by the Conference.

No one within the Conference has a right to criticize the team for the decision they made.  Other members may make recommendations as to other questions that may be asked in similar circumstances next time, other resources that may be referred, other paths that may be suggested.  But criticism is out.  Our role as Vincentians during the meeting is to bolster, encourage and assist each other.

Always remember: unless you are doing something contrary to your Conference’s prior decisions or contrary to the Society, your decision is the right one.


Take a moment and review all eight of the ground rules.  Essentially, they all deal with attitude.  Attitude is what you bring to the visit.  It affects the way you think and the way you act.  It truly is your contribution to the encounter.  Our Lord presents us with opportunities to serve Him by serving those in need.  It is not so much the material things that we give that are important as what we bring from our hearts.  Let us close with an excerpt from Praying With Frederic Ozanam (pages 92-93, Ron Ramson, C.M.).

Frederic’s Words

            On 21 October 1848, Frederic wrote a remarkable article in his newspaper, the New Era.  The article was entitled “Help Which Humiliates and Help Which Honors.” 

            Help is humiliating when it appeals to men from below, taking heed of their material wants only, paying no attention to those of the flesh, to the cry of hunger and cold, to what excites pity, to what one succors even in the beasts.  It humiliates when there is no reciprocity, when you give the poor man nothing but bread, or clothes, or a bundle of straw – what, in fact, there is no likelihood of his ever giving you in return. . .  But it honors when it appeals to him from above, when it occupies itself with his soul, his religious, moral, and political education, with all that emancipates him from his passions and from a portion of his wants, with those things that make him free, and may make him great.  Help honors when to the bread that nourishes it adds the visit that consoles, the advice that enlightens, the friendly shake of the hand that lifts up the sinking courage; when it treats the poor man with respect, not only as an equal but as a superior, since he is suffering what perhaps we are incapable of suffering; since he is the messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and our charity, and to save us by our works.

            Help then becomes honorable because it may become mutual, because every man who gives a kind word, a good advice, a consolation today, may tomorrow stand himself in need of a kind word, an advice, or a consolation; because the hand that you clasp clasps yours in return; because the indigent family whom you love loves you in return, and will have largely acquitted themselves towards you when the old man, the mother, the little children shall have prayed for you.

So, You’ve Been Elected President…

So, You’ve Been Elected President… 1198 1198 Pam Hudson

Thank you for sharing your time and talents with fellow Conference and Council members as well as those in need.  As with all involvement in the Society, we hope your work as a Vincentian servant leader will lead you to greater faith, an increased desire to serve and stronger friendships.

Do you feel some anxiety about taking on a Vincentian leadership role?  Let’s take a look at a few common myths behind that anxiety.

Myth #1:  You need to know everything now.

No Vincentian has taken a leadership role already knowing everything; to be honest, no current Vincentian leader knows everything now.  What most Vincentian leaders do learn is where to look to find information, where the resources are and who in the Society has experiences and wisdom to share.

Truth #1:  You will learn and grow during your time as a Vincentian leader.

 Myth #2:  You are now in charge of everything.

A Vincentian leader is a servant leader who understands the role of God’s providence.  Your ultimate role is to harness the gifts and spirit of your members and direct them to growth in holiness and increased love for one another, and in ways of service to others.  To do this you will need to allow God to direct you.

Truth #2:  God is in charge of everything.  You are called to discern where God is leading and to follow through – and help your members do the same.

Myth #3:  You are all alone in figuring things out.

This myth could not be further from the truth.  The Society is truly a global network of charity.  Fellow Vincentians in more than 150 countries are serving those in need, as you are, and desire to do so with love and in an effective manner.  As you attend regional and national gatherings, or reach out to other Vincentian leaders, you will find that many people are more than willing to share their knowledge.  You will only feel all alone if you do not participate in such interactions and relationships.

Truth #3:  Most Vincentian leaders love to talk about their experiences and help each other.

 Reach out to other Vincentians – even if they are not from your area – for advice and support.  We will share useful information relevant to your new responsibilities in these Frederic’s e-Gazette articles throughout the year.  Thank you for being willing to serve through leadership, and may you be blessed through your witness of following God’s lead in your Conference’s/Council’s service while encouraging others to do the same.

We remind you of the valuable resources on the National website and urge you to review the Governance Page (https://members.ssvpusa.org/governance/) where the Governance Training DVD and the other material the National Governance Committee has prepared can be found.  Then make plans to use these tools.  Your Conference and Council will be better off if you do so.



Good Stewardship

Good Stewardship 1198 1198 Pam Hudson

By: The National Governance Committee

What does stewardship look like in your life?  The National Governance Committee suggests you think of this through the prism of a Vincentian lens which should have a spiritual and biblical foundation.

Then ask yourself what stewardship means to you, to members of the Society, and to your respective Councils and Conferences.

Certainly, as good stewards we need to give thanks for all the gifts we’ve received.  This means thanks to God, thanks to our bishops and pastors for allowing us to serve within their dioceses and parishes, thanks to our volunteers and employees, and thanks to every person who has helped us by donating goods and money.

Good stewardship involves, among other things, accepting and acting on the following principles:

  1. The principle that everything we have is a gift from God who has given us the ability to serve others
  2. The principle of responsibility
  3. The principle of accountability.

Let’s examine these further:

First, stewardship includes recognition that it is God who created everything and through whose grace and blessing we have been given the ability to serve others and to receive the funds needed to do so effectively.  It is God who has given us the graces we need to discern how best to help people.

With this comes the principle of responsibility to use the gifts bestowed on us wisely.  This may mean helping other Conferences and upper Councils as well as those who come directly to us.  We help those who come to us or who we have sought out and found because they are God’s children.  We help other Conferences because we know the people coming to them also need help. We help upper Councils mainly, but not exclusively, through solidarity dues so they can animate and promote our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Friendship and Service.  Responsibility also means not hoarding funds but rather honoring donor intent that those in need be helped in whatever way is prudent and will alleviate material, spiritual and emotional need and anxiety, and that the help be delivered by men and women who are well formed in what it means to be a Vincentian.

The principle of accountability also needs to be considered when discussing stewardship.  When we as Vincentians become stewards of resources and money given to us, we have an absolute responsibility to give an accounting to all of our stakeholders – they were discussed in recent articles.  This includes filing annual reports which have information that is shared with bishops across the country and helps the National Council fulfill its obligation to account to the greater church.

In short, we all have an obligation to be faithful stewards of all God has bestowed upon us and to see that in the end we are serving the common good and furthering God’s Kingdom.

Conference Collaborations: Enhancing Our Network Of Charity

Conference Collaborations: Enhancing Our Network Of Charity 1198 1198 Julie Witzel

By Phoenix Diocesan Council President Shirley Smalley

In August of 1833, Leon Le Prevost, a member of the first Conference who later went on to establish the Religious Order of St. Vincent de Paul, wrote: In this moment there is a great movement of charity and of faith…” The same could be said of our time and our place in this world. Although we are often distracted by negative forces, influences and movements, we must never lose sight of the hearts of our non-Vincentian brothers and sisters who like us long to help others. We witness that concern and compassion flow out of the actions of individuals, families, corporations, faith-based groups and civic organizations as they respond to natural disasters and other large-scale tragedies.

From the very early days of the Society, our founders understood the need to work collaboratively with the government and other organizations in order to better assist the poor and suffering. In December of 1833, the first Conference accepted the role of “Commissioners of Charity” for the administrators of the La Bienfaisance neighborhood. While our present-day Councils often enter into collaborative agreements and relationships, our local Conferences tend to function primarily in cooperation with other Conferences and Councils, seldom reaching out to other groups in their local area.

If Conferences are isolated and do not interact and cooperate with other local faith-based groups and charitable organizations, we are overlooking resources including potential volunteers who can assist us in providing assistance to our neighbors in need.  By joining forces we not only increase our ability to help others but we also engage the community and provide others with the opportunity to be actively involved in helping those in need. Additionally, our outreach efforts help spread knowledge about the Society and our mission of charity and love.

On the Conference level, most collaborative relationships do not require a formal contract but more of a mutual understanding based on agreement in protocols and policies. Identifying groups in your area should be the starting point followed by outreach and relationship-building. Such relationships should start by sharing with the group’s leaders or members our history and mission, as well as letting them know how we currently serve those in need in our community.

The process must include a two-way conversation that provides us with an understanding of who they are and how they currently serve the community. Once that relationship is built, we can begin a conversation on how we can work together to benefit the needy, always keeping in mind that we can only function within the Rule of the Society. Just as we honor who they are and their procedures and guidelines, they must honor ours. For example, potential collaborative partners need to understand early on we cannot share funds with them or any project that our members are not involved in through person-to person contact with the poor.

When Frederic Ozanam helped to establish the Society, he envisioned a network of charity that would encompass the world. Vincentians are only part of that network. Our vocation calls us to reach out and serve beside other people of goodwill to help relieve poverty and injustice. By reaching out to them we can enhance the work of our Conferences and provide opportunities for them to join us in service to the least among us.

Such collaboration can make a huge difference. Ask yourself, “How can our Conference build relationships with other groups and churches?” With the help of others, we can do more and experience the love of Christ in those whom we serve and in those whom we serve beside.

Do People Trust You? Advice for Building Trust and Inspiring Confidence

Do People Trust You? Advice for Building Trust and Inspiring Confidence 1198 1198 Kristen Blacksher

By John R. Stoker
President of DialogueWORKS, Inc.

One afternoon as I was passing through the airport on my way home, I ran into a colleague of mine, Stephen M. R. Covey, the author of the book “The Speed of Trust.”  We stopped and exchanged a few pleasantries.  I could tell that he needed to get through security, so I bid him safe travels.

As he was hurrying away, I yelled after him, “I know something faster than the speed of trust.”  He yelled back, “What’s that?”  I responded, “Distrust.”  He laughed as he hurried away and responded, “You’re probably right.”

Think about it for a minute.  Some people will trust you from the beginning of your relationship without having any experience with you.  Others won’t trust you no matter what you do; you really have to work to earn their trust.  Still others begin their relationship with you in a neutral position.  They will wait to see what you say and do before they trust you.

No matter where the trust in any relationship begins, what we know for sure is that it doesn’t take much negative behavior to diminish the trust that people have in you.

Here are a few tips to help you assess your trustworthiness and to increase the confidence people have in you.

  1. Do you walk the talk?

There is probably nothing that erodes trust quicker than saying one thing and then doing another.  The first time this happens, people will take a closer look at your behavior.  But if it happens repeatedly, people will come to distrust you and not believe anything that you say.  You will appear as if you just say what you think people want to hear.  This seeming lack of credibility will cause people to question your intentions and can cause lasting damage to your relationships.

What to do?  Stop and think about what you are about to say, or what purpose your message needs to convey, and then say what you truly mean.  Being deliberate and intentional about your message will increase alignment between your message and your behavior.

  1. Do you keep your commitments?

This is closely associated with the previous question.  Sometimes we make commitments and things change.  When this happens, it is important to acknowledge your commitment and make necessary adjustments.  If you let another commitment take priority over a previous commitment and don’t manage that dynamic, then people will learn to not take you seriously and may not keep their commitments to you.

What to do?  Keep a calendar of your commitments and manage them.  If something changes, then be sure to communicate those changes and make new arrangements as soon as you can.  Don’t blow people off or forget to keep your commitments.  Using some kind of planning or calendaring software will help you to keep your commitments while strengthening the trust that others give you.

  1. Is your behavior consistent?

If you have wild mood swings and are unpredictable, your erratic behavior will lead people to distrust you.  In one of my first corporate positions, I had a manager who had broad swings in behavior and mood.  You never knew if your performance would be celebrated or trashed in front of others.  The first person to arrive in the morning would test the waters and then alert everyone at the coffee machine if we could engage with our manager or should make ourselves scarce that day.  Consequently, few people felt that they could fully trust him.

What to do?  Notice if people approach you and ask for your input or support on their work.  If you are not approached by others, perhaps you could find a respected colleague and ask for feedback about how you come across.  If someone will be honest with you, listen to what they have to say.  Ask for examples and thank them when they finish.  If you find that people are unsure about how to approach you, strategize some ways to manage your behavior and mood so it is more predictable and consistent.

  1. Do you misrepresent the truth?

This happens more frequently than people would like to admit.  People are often afraid to speak up and tell it like it is, fearing the perceived negative consequences that could occur.  This perception will have a negative impact on behavior.  When people don’t keep their commitments or meet expectations of performance, then they feel forced to cover their mistakes to justify their behavior.  This leads others to avoid interacting with those individuals and to distrust the stories they offer as excuses for their behavior.

What to do?  If you find yourself misrepresenting or exaggerating situations, then you are at risk to not be taken seriously and are setting yourself up to be distrusted.  Stretching the truth and making excuses can become a habitual response.  If this is often your first reaction, recognizing your tendency to do it, determining your motivation behind this response and correcting it will go a long way toward building trust.

  1. Do you withhold information from others?

This is usually a power play of sorts where people make themselves the gatekeeper of what others need to know to do their work.  Such behavior leads to frustration on the part of others and also can lead to people not sharing information that you may need.  Withholding information also leads people to figure out how to work around you so they have as little interaction as possible.

Sometimes, for legal reasons, you may not be able to tell others what you know.  When this is the case and others press you for information, you simply need to tell people that you can’t tell them about a certain situation because of legal ramifications to you and your company.

What to do?   Ask people what information they need and, specifically, identify deadlines.  Look to offer support and address others’ needs and concerns to increase the success of those that rely on you in some way.  When people ask you for information that you can’t share, simply manage the situation and tell them that.  They will understand.

  1. Do you gossip about others?

Nothing will erode trust quicker than talking about others behind their back.  Unfortunately, people often talk about others rather than to others.  When you gossip, your behavior tells your listener that if you would talk about someone else, then you would also talk about them.  Although they may listen to you and engage in the gossip, they won’t trust you.  This kind of behavior ruins relationships, destroys company culture and creates emotional drama that everyone would rather avoid.

What to do?  Stop it.  If you have an issue with someone, talk to the person you need to talk to and avoid the rumor mill that puts people on negative alert but never solves the problem.  Otherwise you will just get more of the same – poor results and no trust.

  1. Do you throw others under the bus?

This behavior usually takes place when someone is trying to avoid responsibility or accountability for the results that were created.  Sometimes, when others have not kept their commitments to you, their behavior has a direct negative effect on your results.  When this is the case, ask yourself, “Did I manage the situation in such a way that kept them from being successful?  Did I do my part to help them to be successful and to achieve the desired results?”  Sometimes we become so busy and have so many things to do that we fail to manage a person or a situation in an optimal fashion.

What to do?  Be responsible and take accountability for managing others, facilitating activities that will produce the desired results.  When things don’t go as planned, examine your part in the process and accept ownership.  Doing so will go a long way to creating and strengthening trust.

  1. Do you keep confidences?

Someone once told me that there is no such thing as a secret until the person you told it to is dead.  If someone shares something sensitive and important with you in confidence, unless there is a specific and legal reason not to, you should keep those things confidential.  If you are going to share something important with another person, you should assume that sometime or somewhere what you share will be shared with someone else.

  1. Are you supportive of others?

Nothing increases trust like being sincerely interested in and supportive of others and their efforts.  If you are a leader and you frequently ask people what they need from you and how you can help and support them, they will feel the satisfaction that comes in knowing someone cares about them and their success.  That care and concern will translate into increased trust.

What to do?  Check in frequently and offer support.  This will afford you the opportunity to get to know them, how they are doing and what you can help them with.  Making interpersonal connections such as these will improve their work and their performance.

Our interactions with others serve either to build trust within our relationships or call it into question.  Recognize that what you do and say is the first step in building and strengthening trust.  As you consciously work to increase others’ confidence in you, your interactions will improve and you will achieve greater results.  And, you’ll never have to worry about the speed of distrust.

Connect with John R. Stoker on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. 

A Council’s Job One: Serve The Conferences

A Council’s Job One: Serve The Conferences 1198 1198 Kristen Blacksher

(Excerpted From Vincentian Life: Council)


Conferences should have a voice in every major decision.  No Voice, no Vote, no Vincentian will be at the meeting or activity.  It is important that every Conference is represented at the District Council and that the Conference President (or his/her designated representative) is there to speak for them.

Most Council bylaws have a clause that will remove a Conference President from Council membership/voice/vote if the President misses a certain number of meetings.  This removal is a tragedy for the Council, the Conference and the people we serve.


Conferences should be aware of all conditions and circumstances both local and global that will impact them or the Council.  Conferences should be especially aware of any major situation that threatens the well-being of the Council.  Therefore, it is an obligation of the Council to keep the Conferences well-informed and in a timely manner.

The Council should strive to develop a fabric of communication.  One that goes up and down the normal channels but also goes sideways from Conference to Conference and from Vincentian to Vincentian.  A strong fabric of communication will strengthen the Council and avoid the problems of it relying on a few people to make it run.  If those few leave the Council for any reason it can take weeks or months to learn all that needs to be known on how the Council operates.  A fabric of communications creates an informal communications network that helps keep the members informed.


Conferences should be involved on a regular and frequent basis in the operation of the Council.  This can be accomplished by involving them as Council Members, as volunteers, as committee members, on special projects, on fundraising, in special works, in general membership meetings and in every other way that may be appropriate.


The Council should provide formation and training to all members of the Council especially new Vincentians.  The National Formation and Spirituality Committee has developed formation/training programs that are available across the country.  The National website (https://members.ssvpusa.org/)  has many documents, presentations, etc. available that should be used to form and train Vincentians.

By a resolution of the National Council, all new members of the Society have to attend an Ozanam Orientation within their first year as a member.  Also, any member, who is elected to or appointed to be an officer at any level in the Society, must have attended an Ozanam Orientation or must attend one within the first year as an officer. It is highly recommended that all members of the Society attend the Ozanam Orientation at least once.  Attending the Ozanam Orientation every three to four years as a refresher is recommended for all members.

This places a burden on the Council.  The Council must provide the Ozanam Orientation formation program within the Council area as often as is necessary to fulfill the requirements for training prescribed by the National Council.  If the District Council lacks the resources to provide the Ozanam Orientation on an as needed basis, it should seek assistance from the next higher Council to provide this training.


Conference visitation by a District Council (District Council visitation by a Diocesan Council) is an extremely important responsibility of the Council.  The Officers and Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director should each attend one Conference (Council in case of Diocesan Council) meeting each month to facilitate communications and solidarity with them.  That means that five meetings a month could be attended if the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director each participate.  In many District Councils, this would mean that each Conference is visited at least twice a year.  For Diocesan Councils, coverage depends on the frequency of District meetings.  A staff person should come along on some of the visits to explain what that department or special work does and how they can assist the Conference/Council.


A planned program for youth involvement is very important.  Many aids are available for recruitment, involvement and understanding how we can utilize one of our greatest assets.  There are so many aids now available, such as brochures, outlines of how to start a youth conference, Power Point recruitment and many more.   There are Regional Youth chairs you can contact that are eager to offer ideas and assistance.  With no intent to overuse an old cliché, “youth are our future.”


The United States is a melting pot of race, creed, language, and culture.  It is important that our Conferences reflect the diversity of our local community within its membership.  Councils should emphasize awareness of community demographics and assist Conferences to build their membership based on who comprises their community.  Councils should also strive to develop diverse leadership both within the Conferences and Councils themselves.

Governance Update: Councils And Their Conferences

Governance Update: Councils And Their Conferences 1198 1198 Kristen Blacksher

Councils And Their Conferences

(Excerpted From Vincentian Life: Council)

This document is about Councils; yet, the starting point of this document is Conferences. Why is that? As you will see below, Councils don’t exist without Conferences and the Council’s primary role is to support the Conferences.


This is an important principle to keep in mind: Conferences that do not want to participate with the Council have not been convinced they receive anything of value from the Council and its activities. Councils should never be formed simply for the sake of forming a Council. Councils have a particular purpose and the Conferences must understand what that is.

In the Rule that was in effect prior to 2003, there was a statement that was a clear definition of the purpose of any Council. This statement was in Part II of the Rule, Article 15:

• Councils are responsible for animating and coordinating the work of SVdP units within their respective jurisdictions.

• They serve the Conferences. All Councils are first and foremost at the service of the Conferences with a view to furthering charitable activities. Because every Council gathers information about human needs and services from a variety of sources – the community at large, as well as the Conferences – it keeps Conferences in touch with changing social problems and new programs for helping people.

• … each year, each Council obtains and compiles a consolidated annual report of all the Conferences and Councils attached to it. The Council’s report is then forwarded with any comments to the next higher Council for the preparation of the annual report of the (National) Council of the United States.

• Councils encourage initiatives and strive to bring about the establishment of Conferences, Councils and new works, and the revival of dormant or defunct Conferences.

• A Council reviews and evaluates applications for aggregation and institution that are submitted by its affiliated SVdP groups. If approved at District and Diocesan Council levels, the application is forwarded to the National Council for transmittal to the Council General (International).

• Councils organize, to the fullest possible extent, training and formation sessions for members and potential members on spiritual themes, the Vincentian vocation, and problems of social action and justice.

• To coordinate Vincentian work, Councils keep in regular contact with their Conferences and Councils and inform them of the activities of the Society.

• The Council represents its constituent units in contacts with religious and public authorities.
• Each Council determines the expected contribution (solidarity) from attached Conferences and Councils in order to meet its necessary expenses and assist needy Conference and Council groupings attached to it.

• Special works of the Society conducted by the Councils must rely on the Conferences for support, personnel and funds.

In the current Rule, these responsibilities have not changed. They are also spelled out but not in so compact a form.

The fact of the matter is that all Conferences should be aware of what the Council is doing for them. Conferences should be receiving benefits from the Council that clearly provide value to them. It is the responsibility of the Council to ensure that Conferences understand this clearly. Ultimately, it is the Conference members themselves who make up the Councils and who make the decisions in support of the Conferences.


Strong Conferences make a strong Council! It is the Council’s responsibility to assist and guide Conferences in fulfilling the mission of the Society. The best way to do this is to ensure that Conference leadership and members understand what the Society is all about, what the role of the Conference is and what is expected of members.

When Conferences get into trouble (begin to decline or get into some other difficulty), it is far better to be proactive rather than reactive. It is recommended that each Council form a Conference Resources and Concerns Committee to:

1. Promote understanding and compliance with the Rule, Bylaws and Manual;

2. Develop resources that will help Conferences to understand and fulfill their roles in the Society;

3. Provide training materials for Conference leadership;

4. Monitor Conference activity and act to assist Conferences who are in trouble;

5. Promote and assist in establishing new Conferences;

6. Assist in revitalizing existing Conferences, where needed; and

7. Mediate Conference concerns where needed.

A well-formed Conference Resources and Concerns Committee can monitor Conference activities and offer many aids to make a Conference more effective.


The following special conditions should be monitored regularly and addressed as necessary:

1. Conference President’s term of office is limited to two consecutive three-year terms. After the two terms, the President must be out of office for at least three years before being elected once again. Technically, as soon as the six years expires, the President is no longer in office and the Conference operates under the leadership of the first Vice President until the election of a new President. In the case of violation of this rule, the Council must ensure that an election is held to replace the outgoing President as soon as possible.

2. Each Conference is to have at least four officers: President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. Each office must be held by a separate person. No one person may hold multiple officer positions. In addition, Statute 12 of Part III of the Rule indicates that a President must not appoint his/her spouse or other closely related individual to an officer position.

3. Service area comes into conflict often within the Society. The District Council should ensure that Conferences provide service only to those people living within the boundaries established for the Conference. These boundaries should be established as a formal agreement between the Conferences in the Council. In some cases, the boundaries will simply be the parish boundaries. In other cases the boundaries may be more extensive, as long as they are agreed upon by the Council. This way, people seeking service cannot simply go from Conference to Conference seeking help. The Conference covering the area where that person or family lives is the one that makes the decision as to help or not help.

A second excerpt from the “Conferences” section of Vincentian Life: Council will appear next week.

Good governance: What does it mean anyway?

Good governance: What does it mean anyway? 909 565 Kristen Blacksher

By Joe Riley 

Governance means:
• Responsible use of assets and funds.
• Ensuring the group/organization is fulfilling its mission.
• Openly communicating with others and listening to others at all levels of the organization.
• Accurate recordkeeping for the benefit of the organization and those we serve.
• Maintaining good legal standing through compliance with IRS section 501(c)(3) requirements.
• Serving as a good role model: In the Vincentian world this also includes embracing servant leadership.

Governance does NOT mean:
• Leaders cannot share responsibilities. Leadership is inherently a collaborative effort.
• Micromanaging.
• Numbers are more important than people.
• Opinions of others do not matter.
• Turning the organization/group into something distant from its mission.

Basically, good governance means good leadership. It means taking good care of the Society; it means taking good care of those we serve. It means taking care of each other, encouraging the spiritual growth of all members and friendship among members, and person-to-person service. It means serving with integrity, accountability and in a trustworthy manner. Taking advantage of ongoing learning opportunities and identifying helpful collaborations can help Vincentian leaders govern and lead with great effectiveness and joy.

St. Vincent de Paul once said, “There is great charity – but it is badly organized.” Let us be inspired by St. Vincent’s good governance and leadership and allow the generosity of others to be put to good use.

Am I A Vincentian?

Am I A Vincentian? 152 152 Kristen Blacksher

In June 2008, I attended the Western Region Meeting in Boise, Idaho. I was not alone. There were 225 other Vincentians along with me. During the time I spent there, I met with many Vincentians and discussed a wide variety of topics. I also put on a workshop and facilitated two open forums where anything and everything could be discussed. One theme came up over and over again in those discussions. This is also a theme which is continually asked today as well. How do you get the Conferences and the members to adhere to or comply with the Rule?

This is a tough question. And it requires a tough answer. People, in general, have mixed feelings when it comes to rules and regulations. They usually will admit to the value of them. They usually will admit to the need for them. And they normally agree that compliance is necessary; that is, until they want to do something that does not really correspond to the rules. Then it becomes harsh and too restrictive. They did not join the Society to follow the rules. They joined the Society to do some good and do not want to be bogged down with meaningless do’s and don’ts. We hear this stuff all the time! I can go into a long, drawn-out dissertation on why rules and regulations are important, but that will get us nowhere. I can take a military point of view and say that if one soldier steps out of line the war will be lost. Nobody is going to buy that. I can talk about unity of thought and action, but that cup only holds a limited amount of water.

It truly boils down to one thing. Ask yourself one question: Am I a Vincentian? To be a Vincentian you have to make a commitment. Here is where the rub comes in. Commitment! Being a Vincentian calls for a number of things to be accepted and come into play. Being a Vincentian means accepting who we are, what we are about, what we do, and how we do it. Being a Vincentian means more than helping people in need. It means growing in holiness, striving to grow closer to God. It means growing closer to our fellow Vincentians. It means serving God through serving those in need. It means a blend of all of the above.

A number of years ago, when searching for the answer to a question, I was referred to John Simmons, former National President of the Society, the guru. If you wanted to know anything about the Society he was the man to go to. John said that if you call yourself a Vincentian, you want to meet as often as possible with your fellow Vincentians, you want to learn about the Society, you want to understand what this is all about, and you want to help it grow. It is that simple.

If I want to do my own thing, follow my own rules or no rules at all, I can start my own special work or organization. Then all I have to do is get other people who want to join me to follow my rules. I am a Vincentian. I am committed to who we are, what we do and the way we do it. Complying with the Rule not only makes sense, it is something I want to do.

Mike Syslo
Member and Past Chair
National Governance Committee

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