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Society of St. Vincent de Paul Bylaws: What They Are and Why They Matter

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Bylaws: What They Are and Why They Matter 1200 628 Jill Pioter

The original Bylaws presentation was developed and presented by John Berry.
This article was written by Mike Syslo.

The Boring Stuff

What are Bylaws? Bylaws are a nonprofit’s operating manual. Bylaws (or Bylaws and Articles of Organization) are the main governing document for a nonprofit organization. They are the main official documents of an organization, nonprofit or for-profit. One of the important things to remember about Bylaws is that the operations of your organization must be in line with what you say they are in the Bylaws and Articles.

The purpose of the Bylaws is to guide the nonprofit Board’s actions and decisions. They are helpful in preventing or resolving conflicts and disagreements. They can protect the organization from potential problems by clearly outlining rules on authority levels, rights and expectations.

If the Board of Directors fails to follow the Bylaws, it can be held liable for breaching its duty to the organization. Breach of duty can cause a significant liability for the Board of Directors. Breach of duty can also result in the organization losing its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. The loss of nonprofit status would mean a loss of tax deductibility for donors and the need for the organization to pay taxes on their income.

“Bylaws determine how an organization is structured. For example, most Bylaws specify whether an organization has members, define the duties of officers and Board members, and identify standing Board committees. An important function of Bylaws (if this matter is not covered in the Articles) is to specify how Board members are selected.” (BoardSource)

What About the Rule?

All groups require rules for effective operation. Our Rule is drawn from the lives and experience of all Vincentians throughout the world. It describes the elements that are needed to maintain the unity of the Society. There is no group or organization that exists without some set of rules.

In 1835, two years after its founding, the Society formulated its Rule, a series of Articles based upon the practical experiences of the first Vincentians. The Rule of the Society has continued as the guide and blueprint for the Society for the past 191 years. This, alone, is a tribute to its efficacy and to the Holy Spirit who inspired it. The Rule has gone through a few modifications over those many years, but the essential spirit of the Society that is reflected in the Articles and Statutes is the same as in the first Rule.

Bylaws and the Rule: The Relationship

Bylaws are significant written rules by which an organization is governed. They determine how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is structured and, along with state law, determine the rights of participants in the structure.

Membership in the National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inc. requires that every organizational unit (Conference and Council) have Bylaws. Prior to 2003, the Rule included both the philosophy of the Society and its structure and responsibilities. Since 2003, philosophy has been in the Rule and the structure and responsibilities have been in the Bylaws. Having the original format of the Rule split into two separate documents has caused the need for all Conferences and Councils to adopt a set of Bylaws and operate in accord with both Rule and Bylaws.

Conferences and Councils must maintain their Bylaws (including any and all amended Articles) in updated and amended form. The Conference or Council must keep a copy of their Bylaws together with the Rule document (The Manual 1.3). In addition, the next higher Council should have a copy of the Bylaws. For example, a District Council should have a copy of the Bylaws of each of its Conferences. The Diocesan Council should have a copy of the Bylaws of each of its District Councils.

The Rule is the paramount authority of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Should any bylaw, rule or regulation adopted by a Conference or Council conflict with the Rule and statutes of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as now promulgated or hereafter adopted by the Council General International or the National Council of the United States, such bylaw, rule or regulation shall be void and of no effect (The Manual 1.3). This needs to be very clear in everybody’s mind. You cannot put anything into the Bylaws that in any way conflicts with the Rule or Nationally Approved Bylaws. If a conflict exists, the Bylaws will be rejected by the next higher Council and you may not proceed with them.

BUT – Bylaws have been created to be used by SVdP entities across the country and as such do not include language that may be required by your state and local law (see listing of multiple versions of Bylaws on page three). It is strongly advised that legal advice be sought from a local attorney concerning matters such as the following: non-discrimination policy language, tax-exemption requirements, and any other areas of the Bylaws in which modification of the language is necessary in order to be in alignment with applicable state and local law. As of this date, we have not found anything of substance in the Nationally Approved Bylaws that conflict with state and local law.

Since the Bylaws have been developed to be in conformity with the Rule of the Society, Bylaws should be modified only to address alignment to state and local law (Bylaws Introduction, SVdP USA).

Where Did Our Bylaws Come From?

 In 2003, the Council General International approved an updated version of the Rule of the Society. Each separate Superior/National Council was invited to draft their own Part III of the Rule to define the items of the Rule that are unique to each country. This new version of Part III of the Rule for the United States was different from the former Rule in that details of structure and governance were removed. Those details were then placed in Bylaws which varied with each type of SVdP structure within the United States. Placing the structure and governance concerns of the Society into a separate document has forced Conferences and Councils to adopt an appropriate set of Bylaws for their use.

The Bylaws documents were approved by the National Council Members at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s 2005 Annual Meeting and have been revised as needed (last in 2021) so that good governance policies are in place and are in compliance with:

  • The Rule of the Society,
  • The Charter of the Society (a.k.a. Articles of Incorporation),
  • Bylaws of the National Council while leaving flexibility for compliance with national and state laws that govern charities.

 How Many Kinds of Bylaws Are There for Councils and Conferences?

 Because of the possible structures that exist for unincorporated and incorporated Conferences and Councils, multiple versions had to be created. There is one set of Bylaws for the National Council and three sets of Bylaws to choose from for each Conference, District Council and Diocesan Council.

  • BYLAWS for Conferences without a Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for Conferences with a Separate Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for District Councils with a Separate Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for Archdiocesan/Diocesan Councils with a Separate Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for the National Council
  • BYLAWS for District Councils with an Integrated Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for Archdiocesan/Diocesan Councils with an Integrated Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for District Councils without a Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for Archdiocesan/Diocesan Councils without a Board of Directors
  • BYLAWS for Conferences with an Integrated Board of Directors

 Why Do We Need These? Let’s Just Follow the Rule.

Because Bylaws may be cumbersome, they are frequently neglected or even disregarded as a tool for governance. They are, however, essential to maintaining order and propriety within the organization.

SVdP governing entities must pay careful attention to Bylaws. They can take on added importance during governance disputes centering on the way an organization is carrying out its mission. These disputes can take many forms:

  • A non-conforming entity needs dissolution.
  • A Board member who is voted out of office seeks reinstatement.
  • A dissident group within the organization attempts to gain control or a faction mounts a legal challenge to a Board decision.

In these difficult situations, carefully-crafted Bylaws, and adherence to them, can help ensure the fairness of governance decisions and provide protection against legal challenges.

Bylaws determine how SVdP is structured. Bylaws specify whether an organization has members, define the duties of officers and Board members, and identify standing Board committees.

An important function of Bylaws (if this matter is not covered in the Articles of Incorporation) is to specify how Board members are selected. This, along with the specification of the maximum number of Board members, determines how workable as a team the governing body is.

Bylaws, along with state law, determine the rights of participants in the structure, such as the rights of members to be notified of meetings, the rights of Board members or officers whom others may want to remove from office and the rights of Board members to indemnification.

Bylaws determine many procedures by which rights can be exercised. For example, Bylaws may require a certain form of notice for meetings, or they may specify whether Board meetings can be held by telephone or whether elections can be conducted by mail. Other procedures defined in Bylaws pertain to the election/selection of officers.

 The Fun Stuff – Some Real Situations

1. The Board of the Diocesan Council, in putting together its slate of officers for the next year has asked Christi to serve as Vice President. Christi has been on the Board for the last three years and they all think she’d be a good fit for the VP job. Christi started volunteering with SVdP when her Church, United Methodist, partnered with the Council on their Food Pantry.

Bylaws issue or Rule issue?

This is both a Bylaws issue and a Rule issue. Christi is non-Catholic and cannot serve as an officer. The President of the Diocesan Council appoints the officers after consultation with the District Presidents – not the Board.

2. Christopher was just elected as President of the Council. He has never gotten along with Gracie, the ED; so right after he is installed as President, he fires her and puts Jake in the job.

Bylaws issue or Rule issue?

This is a Bylaws issue. It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors (not the President) to hire and fire the ED/CEO.

3. The new President of the St. Frederic Ozanam Conference presents his new officers to the Conference at his first meeting. Tom raises an objection to the new Treasurer and Secretary and says he will not support them. Others in the room agree.

Bylaws issue or Rule issue?
Bonus issue!

This is a Bylaws issue, a Rule issue and an Aggregation issue. The President appoints the officers after consultation with the Conference. “Consultation with” does not mean “approval by.” The President may decide that the objections are not sufficient for a change in choice. The Conference must work as a team and refusing to support the officers is not an option. Also, it may have been overlooked, but Frederic Ozanam has not yet been canonized — he is Blessed Frederic. In addition, unless the parish in which the Conference resides is named for Frederic Ozanam, Conferences are prohibited from having his name. The same holds true for “St. Vincent de Paul.”

4. At the regular second meeting of the month, Katie, a member of the St. Mary’s Conference and a member of the parish staff, tells the Conference members that the Church’s A/C system has broken and it’s going to cost the parish $60,000 for a replacement system. The Conference President suggests that the Conference use $10,000 from its bank account to “help the parish defray the cost.”

Bylaws issue or Rule issue?

This is a Rule issue. Conferences and Councils are prohibited from giving donations to (and this includes raising funds for) outside organizations no matter how worthy the cause may be. The parish is an outside organization. The funds of the Society must be used for the purposes of the Society.

In Summary

 Because your Conference or Council uses the National Council’s trademarked name “Society of St. Vincent de Paul” with the express permission of and a limited license issued by the National Council, the Bylaws adopted by your Conference or Council must be formally approved.

Conferences must have their Bylaws approved by their District Council. The District Council Bylaws must be approved by the Archdiocesan/Diocesan Council. Archdiocesan/Diocesan Council Bylaws must be approved by the National Vice President for the Region.

 Helping Others Serve the Poor

 Helping Others Serve the Poor 1200 628 Jill Pioter

(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)

When someone considers reaching out to help the poor and calls the parish office for a contact person or organization, the name given is usually someone involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Conference. Why? It is because they are active, visible, and available. They are the ones to contact who will channel the desire to serve or volunteer in the right direction. For it is by our visibility within the parish community, not our anonymity, that we help others come to serve the poor.

At the Conference Level

Being Active

Active Members of the Society are actively involved in the works of the Conference, and at least knowledgeable if not involved in the work of the District and Diocesan Councils. We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” That busy person may not be able to help, but he or she usually will know where to send someone to get help.

Being Visible

Each of us, regardless of the talents God has given us, can be a leader. We lead by example. Even the most introverted among us can lead by doing — doing the Conference food and clothing drives, bundle Sundays, Christmas programs, and all the other activities that the parish Conference is involved with.

Through the parish bulletin let your fellow parishioners know what you are doing and how you are serving the poor. This gives others ideas on how they can help. Monthly news items in the parish bulletin about Conference activities are recommended. Monthly news items, consistently appearing over several years, begin to make a lasting impression.

Give the people in your parish a name (a person to contact) or a telephone number (office or Conference number – not a member’s personal number) and repeat that often. If you have a good thing going (and we do), tell the world. People like to join an organization that is active, with lots of things happening.

You also need to make known the needs of the Society as well as the Conference, along with the opportunity to help the poor. We have a message of hope for the poor. We also have a way to help, for those who aren’t poor.

Being Available

To be available is to make a great gift — the gift of your time. The work of the Society is, according to the Rule, subordinate to your commitments within your family and job. So your “available” time comes out of your recreation or “fun” time, and that’s the sacrifice.

Many Conference members are available to the poor but aren’t willing to talk about what they do for others. Some of us aren’t instinctively saleswomen and salesmen, but we must all become communicators. There are people in the parish and outside world who want to know the what, why, where and how of what we do. We need to tell them. Everything we do requires volunteers to make it work and enthusiasm to make it happen. Once others hear about these things, they too can be a part of it.

At the Upper Council Level

The work of the Society often meshes with the objectives of other groups, even commercial organizations. Mutually-beneficial activities can be scheduled that serve the needs of these groups and the poor at the same time. Even activities which appear self-serving (e.g., the professional athlete showing up to serve in a charity dining room) can have many beneficial effects. The poor can thrill to see the star, and the athlete can have his heart touched by what he sees and begin to take a deeper interest in the poor and the work of the Society.

Other community groups, such as those dealing with domestic violence, can find their efforts flower when they join with the Society to serve those who are suffering. In a synergistic effect, Vincentians are able to do their work better and more productively while the other groups can extend their assistance into more troubled homes.

Contacts with CEOs or large business interests are probably out of the reach of the average Conference. However, if that CEO or business executive is a member of your parish community or a personal friend, who knows what can be achieved?

Who knows what initial contact got Eddie Basha (owner of a food store chain), Bill Keane (popular cartoonist), Joe Garagiola (baseball player and commentator) or Mohammed Ali (champion boxer) involved with the Society? Perhaps it was simply a Vincentian enthusiastically talking about our work with someone they knew only as a friend or neighbor.

Leadership by example. Active. Visible. Available. You can do all four.

Communications – Part Two

Communications – Part Two 1200 628 Jill Pioter

(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)

B. Person-to-Person Activities

  • Schedule Conference meetings on different days and at different hours to ensure that everyone, regardless of their work schedule, has an opportunity to attend Conference functions (for example, one meeting on a Wednesday evening, Saturday morning, or another on a Sunday after Mass).
  • Mail the agenda of upcoming meetings to members who have been missing meetings. It’s a good reminder. To encourage better attendance, publish an annual calendar showing all meeting and other activity dates so people can plan in advance to attend and participate.
  • Mail the minutes after the meeting to members who did not attend. For those who missed the meeting, that’s also a good reminder not to miss the next one.
  • Parish Ministry Fairs. Almost every parish has one, so don’t pass on this opportunity to tell your story. Print simple sign-up forms (get new folks to sign up and come to a meeting; worry about getting detailed personal data later). Also print a short list of the work your Conference does and where it needs help.
  • Parish Festival (are you a part of your parish?). Take part in the festival as a Conference. Distribute information on the work of the Society and your Conference. Provide sign-up forms.
  • Personal Talks. This gives you the opportunity to recruit by letting the workers in other parish ministries understand what the Conference really does. Talk to the Sodality, Knights of Columbus, peace and justice council, Catholic Daughters of America, Right-to-Life Committee, etc. Cooperate with these groups on joint projects – distributing Rosaries, scheduling people for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, helping build a Habitat for Humanity home.
    You don’t have to be a great speaker. Just tell them what you and your fellow Vincentians do. How many parishioners want to answer Christ’s call to serve the poor, but have never been asked? They may be embarrassed to come forward or maybe they just don’t know where to go to become involved. You can be their gateway to the Society.
  • Recruit, recruit, recruit! The strength of a Conference is in its members, so it must constantly be recruiting new members. Recruitment can usually be accomplished in four ways:
    1) An Invitation to Serve This is a very successful program first introduced in Phoenix in the 1990’s and supported by the bishop and most pastors. After many successful recruitment campaigns, it was promoted and distributed as a nationwide program through the National Council.
    2) Word of mouth – friend asking friend
    3) Written material – passing out brochures, mailing newsletters
    4) Presentations to groups of non-members
    Ask people to join: If you don’t ask, you can’t get. The best recruiting is done by people who are currently active and enthusiastic. They give the best testimony of the benefits they receive from serving the poor.
    Ask people again and again. Many will eventually join. Some may simply change their mind. Others’ lives and interests may change and they are finally ‘ready.’ A few may just be impressed by your sincerity and persistence.
  • Address the Congregation. Many Conference presidents have been addressing the congregation at the end of all Masses once a year with their pastor’s permission. An Invitation To Serve utilizes this arrangement and your bishop may be an active supporter of this approach. It gets your message to those who won’t read what you print and distribute, and satisfies those who want to “put a face” on an organization.
  •  Use sign-up tables on special Sundays, placed outside the church doors. Have literature, photographs, newsletters, sign-up forms, and a card preprinted with the day, time and place of your next two meetings. Good days for this technique include:
    … the Sunday with the ‘Widow’s Mite’ Gospel
    … the last Sunday in April (Ozanam Sunday) – Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s birthday and the anniversary of the founding of the Society is April 23
    … the Sunday closest to Sept. 9 – Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s feast day
    … the Sunday closest to Sept. 27 – St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day
  • Have a special Mass to celebrate these feast days. If there are Conferences in neighboring parishes consider joining together for the Mass. Schedule it at a time convenient for Father, and follow the Mass with coffee and refreshments or a simple pot luck supper afterwards. Invite all the clergy from the parishes involved to join the Conferences members for a short time afterwards.

C. Communicating Through Attitude
(Making people feel welcome)

We have all heard that “actions speak louder than words.” Truer words were never said. If you want your Conference to grow, your actions must match your words.

  • Be a totally open organization. Exclude no one. Invite everyone. There are no closed meetings. There are no subcommittees that make all the decisions; however, only Active Members participate in the decision-making. We are totally democratic.
  • Tell the parish what you want. The parish must know that you want new members. Say it verbally and in posters, fliers, newsletters and brochures. Too many groups (including church groups) are viewed as cliques or closed societies.
  • Publicize your meetings well in advance. People live busy lives and have full calendars. Then provide last-minute reminder calls.
  • Make it easy to join. Don’t make it complex – no applications, no forms – just a willingness to serve.
  • Make people feel welcome at any meeting. When someone new shows up, welcome the person. Introduce all new people at each meeting and continue to introduce them for two or three meetings thereafter.

D. Focus Your Communications
(Protecting the future of your Conference)

Often your communications will focus on a specific target audience. You must modify your language, tactics and even media to appeal to different groups. One example is communicating with youth groups.                                                                                                                             

  • The Society has no future if you do not bring in young people. Problem Conferences are usually those which have made no effort to bring in new members. Old members resist change. They don’t trust the judgment of newcomers, claiming they have no experience. Yet without a continuing flow of new blood, a Conference will become stagnant and die (or become ineffective).
  • Expand your efforts through contacts with:
    * Boy and Girl Scouts and similar youth organizations. Talk with their adult leaders about talking to the troops and packs. Devise activities where young people can be involved and make a contribution. One Conference even offers the St. Vincent Youth Service medal, borrowed from the New Orleans Diocesan Council.
    * Teen, college, young adult and RCIA groups in the parish. Again, talk to the heads of these parish ministries. Talk to the groups separately, adjusting your talk to the interests, resources and age of each group.
    * Teachers, nurses and counselors at your parish grammar school and regional Catholic high school. Ask to visit the classroom to give a 15-minute talk about St. Vincent or Blessed Frederic. Get the kids to take on a project, designing posters and fliers in their own graphics showing how Jesus expects us to treat the poor. Publicize the best in each age group. When the project is over, write thank you letters to the kids (not the teacher) in their own language. Consider, for example, sending first graders a letter from a poor child written with crayon.         

E. Adapt to Changing Circumstances

  • Prospects for membership are always changing. People die or move out of your parish while others move in; kids grow up and become adult members of the parish; parents finally get their kids out of the house or retire and now have time to volunteer; after a period of grieving, widows and widowers have time on their hands, a need for social interaction, and a desire to contribute and be involved.
    This requires constant repetition of your message, often to people you might feel have heard it before. But at earlier times in their lives, their minds weren’t receptive and they failed to hear. For many, it’s a new message: working in the Conference provides an outlet for one’s energy, stability in one’s life, new friendships, and involvement with people who share their values and faith.
  • Recognize that lifestyles have changed. You can no longer expect to find members who fit the membership mold of 50 years ago. People’s lives and jobs have changed, their time and family are more fragmented. You must accept what people can contribute, even if it is less than what the Conference used to request or expect. There are no longer any “minimums” attached to membership.
    If you want young mothers as members, you must accept less from them (in terms of time commitments) than from the retired individuals the Society traditionally recruited. Many people can’t give you two hours a week; they are lucky to give you two hours a month.
  • Don’t give up on former members. Send out a “come home” letter to every past member. You don’t know why they left, what or who offended them, what has changed in their lives. Now may be the moment when they are ready to come back. They may be just waiting to be asked.

F. Understand Efficacy
(Accomplishing your objective)

Efficacy is neither efficiency nor economy. Efficacy is attaining a desired result. Money is only a minor consideration in our ministry. You want people to do what’s right, not what’s the most economic or efficient. People are happier when they can ‘feel’ the result of their work – relate to the poor and their condition. Then you are more likely to accomplish your objective – gaining and keeping new members.

A mother who spends $3.79 to buy and donate a 32-oz. jar of peanut butter knows kids like peanut butter. She knows it’s a healthy, high-protein food. She knows that jar will make 17 sandwiches for hungry kids. She can now relate to how the mother of several poor children will feel when she receives it – even though she will never meet that poor mother or see her children. Even though you may be able to get a whole case of peanut butter from a food bank for just $3.50, don’t even think about asking her to give you the $3.79 instead. It would take the joy out of her gift. It would “de-personalize” her act. It would steal away her connection with that poor mother. Her gift of peanut butter enables her to “identify” with the needs of another woman. That’s efficacy.

Substituting the writing of a check for the personal service shown above would be efficient, cold and impersonal. The Society leans toward efficacious service.


Our church, our Society and undoubtedly our own Conferences are full of liberals, conservatives, radicals and Neanderthals. If we are to successfully work together to serve the poor, we must focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us.

You don’t have to change your party registration to join the Society, and no one can make you vote for someone or something you disagree with. You probably already have friends you disagree with on major topics, yet you go out to eat or drink together.

Love, respect, and tolerate each other. Rejoice in the fact that, despite our seeming differences, we are united in service to the poor.

Despite our own personal preferences, we must acknowledge that we never know what act or prayer or touch or liturgy helps turn a soul back to God. Bishop Fulton Sheen said there is a light bulb in every human being, waiting for the moment when Christ provides the energy, however small at first, to light the filament.

Do the work of the Society. Help light those filaments.

Communications – Part One

Communications – Part One 1200 628 Jill Pioter

(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)

Successful recruiting of new members is easier when an organization has a positive image from using good communications. Successful fundraising results when good communication techniques are applied in telling the story of existing needs that are met by the organization. Successful refocusing of the lives of those we serve can occur when information, opportunities and encouragement are communicated in a sensitive and useful way.

“Poor communications” usually ranks near the top in any appraisal of why something failed — be it a business, a church or a marriage. So let’s dedicate ourselves to having good communications. This is not really hard to do, unless you try to do it alone. Get each of your Conference members to work on it, and it’s easy!

The Principles of Communication

Communications is like a chair with four legs. You must have all four or it will fail to perform its function and fall over. And if each leg of the chair does not get the same attention (if all the legs are not the same length), you may not fall over, but the wobble will distract and keep you from your goal (building the membership of your Conference, for example).

There are four elements (legs) of a good communications program (your chair): Simplicity, Persistency, Diversity and Visibility.


If your message is important and you desire understanding without confusion, then “keep it short and simple” (KISS). The billboard industry knows to limit its messages to no more than seven words (four is the ideal, if you can do it). Research has shown that most people will listen to, understand and remember three points in a message, no more. For those of us in SVdP, serving the poor, our message is important and can be expressed simply:

  1. There are lots of people in need in our community. Every community has individuals and families who are unemployed, under-employed, ill, poor, shut-in, afraid or abused. Even “wealthy” communities have poor: the emotionally poor in spirit — lonely, withdrawn, bereaved or anxious. You must find these people if you are to serve them.
  2. We are doing lots of good things.Most people have no idea how your Conference helps. When informed, they approve and are supportive. You must not be afraid to talk about the many and varied good works of the Society and your Conference.
  3. We could use lots more help.People want to be needed. Their time is valuable and they do not want it wasted. And they are more likely to volunteer to help if they can be a part of a vibrant organization that is doing good works in their own community but acknowledges it needs more help to continue.


Subway (or Macy’s or Ford) doesn’t run one commercial a year, or a month, or a week, or even a day. The average person requires up to 16 exposures to a message before there is both real mental awareness, understanding, retention and a commitment to some action – buy a burger, an appliance or a car.

After all, communication is successful only when it produces a desired action — when someone volunteers or contributes or makes the commitment to change their life. However, action must be preceded by three other stages: awareness, understanding and empathy (a sense of duty). Progressing through each stage takes work, time and patience. You must master one before going on to the next.

There is no “magic brochure” that will so attract and motivate people that they’ll sign up in droves. Communication is a long, slow, process which must be undertaken patiently. You will see results over time — usually measured in months and years, not days and weeks. But every trip starts with a single step.


People join an organization because it offers them the opportunity to do things that warm their hearts and enrich their souls.

If your Conference is perceived as an organization that only distributes food, it will only attract people who are interested in distributing food. If its ministry is a broad-based one, serving many different guests with many different needs — hungry, ill, ragged, lonely, abused, homeless, etc. — it will attract people interested in each of those situations.

Your programming must provide for and your communications must focus on the diversity of the work of the Society and your Conference.


The best message in the world is useless if you don’t get it out or if those who hear can’t understand. The communicator has the obligation to ensure that understanding results … NOT the listener. This is perhaps the hardest rule for a communicator to understand and accept.

Not everyone reads the church bulletin, so you must also use the parish website and social media, bulletin boards and newsletters and fliers in the pews. Not everyone likes to read, so you may also have to make a verbal presentation at the end of Mass, to other parish ministries, and at tables set up outside the church. Not even everyone can read, so you may have to use movies, photographs and the example of others actually doing the work.

In some communities, this also means you must recognize the need for bilingual written and spoken communications wherever possible, and for an understanding of the culture of the people with whom you are trying to communicate. In some communities, this may require communications in several languages.

Array of Tools

You have many opportunities to tell your story and many media to utilize. You should take advantage of as many of them as possible.

Printed Materials

  • Church bulletins. First, ask your pastor to include “St. Vincent de Paul” among the list of parish functions and ministries printed on the cover of the church bulletin (are you part of your parish?). This increases the visibility of the Conference with parishioners, with the poor whom you want to serve, and with potential contributors.
    An example can best explain one result of this.
    A woman traveled from out of state to a local church for the purpose of fulfilling her grandmother’s wishes regarding the distribution of her estate after her death. She brought with her a check for $35,000, which her grandmother wanted the parish to use for scholarships for local youngsters. Her grandmother had visited the community years before and remembered the poverty she had seen there.
    While talking with the parish secretary about her grandmother’s wishes, she noticed the parish bulletin which listed St. Vincent de Paul. “Does the parish have a St. Vincent de Paul Society,” she asked. “Yes,” said the parish secretary. “Well, grandmother would certainly want to help them too,” she said, taking out her checkbook and writing out a check on the spot for $15,000 to the parish Conference!
    Edison once said that genius was “ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.” That Conference undoubtedly would attribute ninety-nine percent of their good fortune to the Holy Spirit and only one percent to their communication skills. But remember another axiom: the Lord helps those who help themselves.
  • A weekly news item inside your church bulletin should be your goal. In the crowded bulletin of a busy parish, you may have to settle for occasional news items — but try for at least one item every three weeks. Use the SVdP logo whenever possible (it promotes the visibility of the Society), putting it by the news item. Learn the deadlines to submit your material to the parish secretary and length rules, and faithfully observe them. Style, grammar and punctuation are less important than the simple facts, presented briefly. Avoid using the identical message several times in succession. Try to approach the same subject matter with different words each time.
    The National Council provides bulletin announcements that can be used every week during the year. These are located on the National Council website.
  • Fliers inserted into the church bulletin are an excellent communications tool. Yet some Vincentians reported a “problem” with this communications method in their parish. It seems they were printing and dropping off their fliers, expecting someone else (usually parish staff) to insert them. When you ask your pastor for permission to include a flier in the church bulletin, assure him that Vincentians will stuff it. Then honor that commitment.
  • Reports to the Parish. Provide your parish with a summary of your Conference activity and works at least semi-annually. Look at the type of information in your annual report to the Society as a guide. Some Conferences meet it by providing a report to the pastor and parish council, but there is much to be gained by giving it out to the entire parish. Provide the number of calls for help received, number of families helped, and hours spent in service to those in need, amount of money received from donations and amount spent. Consider using a flier (one page report) as the vehicle for your annual report.
    Of course, thank parishioners for their support (monthly financial and supply donations) and perhaps set out your goals for the coming year. The more parishioners know about the work the Conference does, the more they will support those efforts with their time and money.
    Experience has shown that Conferences that issue this type of bulletin announcement (after not reporting regularly in prior years) notice a marked increase in both new members and financial contributions. Besides, it is simply a good stewardship practice.
    The best time for your annual report is shortly after you complete your fiscal year (Sept 30).
  • Brochures.Place brochures and pamphlets around the church explaining what the Society is, what your Conference does, and what kind of help you need. These can be ordered from National for a nominal fee. Put copies of the free National Vehicle Donation Program brochures in the church lobby.
  • Bulletin boards. 11″ x 17″ posters and notices about upcoming events should be placed on all church bulletin boards. Keep the information current and change the material constantly. After about four weeks, if it hasn’t been read, it won’t be. Laminate an index card with the SVdP logo and phone number. Staple it permanently in the lower corner of every bulletin board.
    Ask if you can put up a full display on the bulletin boards a couple times a year. Include 8×10 photos of Vincentians at work: packing food boxes, conducting the annual food drive, attending a day of reflection, volunteering at the food reclamation center or a thrift store, visiting a home visit family (get their written permission before you take pictures in their home).
  • THANK YOUs. Send these out at every possible opportunity to anyone who helps the Conference. You can never say “thank you too often. At the end of each year, one big “thank you” to the entire parish should be a ‘must’ — and will reap the Conference dividends the next year.
  • Newsletters. (Combines communications with fundraising!) Half of all American families now have computers and the group acquiring them fastest today is retirees. Many people fancy themselves as writers. Cheap and simple software programs are available to help put together a newsletter. Find a member or two who are willing to do this. Start with an issue quarterly then work to six issues a year. Mail (or email it at lower cost) to your Active Members, Associate Members, regular donors, community and parish leaders, clergy, etc.
  • Electronic Material. Remember electronic media. Increasingly, people think organizations don’t exist in real life if they don’t exist online. Many parishes have websites that list ministries and organizations. The parish may have an email newsletter. When submitting items for your church bulletin, send the material also for inclusion in the parish website or online newsletter.
    Your city or township may have a website or email newsletter. Local television and radio stations and newspapers usually have online community calendars. These can be good places to promote your upcoming meetings and events. It is free to list events and it takes only a few minutes.
    If your Conference doesn’t have a website, consider a Facebook or Twitter page. This can be a good way to reach out to the world. The National Council has “how-to” documents for creating a social media page for your Conference.
    It can be helpful to prepare an electronic one-page summary/overview of your Conference’s work and contact information to quickly and easily send to prospective members or supporters.


Understanding Our Rule

Understanding Our Rule 1200 628 Jill Pioter

Written by Tom Fahl

Before one of the workshops I presented about the Rule, I asked a few Council Executive Directors what trouble the Conferences in their respective Councils had following the Rule and what parts of the Rule generated the most questions. This article will include comments on what came back to me. While the Rule has three parts, this article will only focus on Parts I and III.

Part I of the Rule describes the Society’s philosophy and guiding principles. It is applicable to the Society throughout the world. While it’s important to review and discuss sections of Part I at Conference meetings, it’s also important to give a copy of the Rule to the clergy in your parish and to point out to them our purpose, the scope of our service, and the personal encounters we have with the poor and those in need of help. It’s also important to point out to the clergy our Vincentian Spirituality and vocation. One of the priests I heard comment on the Rule offered the opinion that no priest who understood Vincentian Spirituality would not want the Society to be in his parish. It’s up to us to take our message to the clergy.

All members of the Society should become familiar with Part I and what it says about our members, Conferences and Councils, and about our relationships with Catholic networks of charity, with the Church hierarchy, with civil society and with all groups that include charity and justice in their mission.

Part III of the Rule applies to all Councils, Conferences and members throughout this country. It is comprised of 31 Statutes.

Statutes 1 and 2 lay out our essential elements of Spirituality, Friendship and Service, and our seven Cultural Beliefs. It is important to review these with all members of the Society and then ask if your Council and Conference members embrace them. Statute 3 says the Society has two types of members – Active and Associate. It is important to understand that Associate Members are more than volunteers. Stature 4 discusses commissioning new members and the annual commitment by all members. Often the latter is on Ozanam Sunday, the last Sunday of April.

Statutes 5 through 10 discuss Conferences/Councils and their work. Statute 5 says Conferences meet at least twice a month. The frequency of our meetings helps us develop Vincentian Spirituality and foster Friendship. Statute 6 calls on Conferences to aggregate and Councils to institute. This means they are formally accepted as a part of the International Society. Statutes 7 through 10 show Conferences what a meeting agenda can include, discusses our conduct when visiting those in need, lists our festival meetings, and describes our National, (Arch)Diocesan and District Councils. It is important for every member to know that home visits are always made in pairs. And, by the way, when visiting a woman in need it is always good to have a woman as a member of the home visit team.

Statutes 11 through 21 deal with governance issues and with management. Statutes 11 and 12 refer to Servant Leaders and Servant Leader positions. Servant Leadership has been described as having the 10 following characteristics: Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People and Building Community. For a better insight, read an article printed in Vincentian Heritage, Vol. 9, Number 1, 1998 entitled Servant Leadership in the Manner of Saint Vincent  by J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D.

Statute 13 discusses our regions and their National Vice Presidents. Statute 14 discusses the Society’s employees. Employees can be Active Members. They can only hold office in the Society, however, after their employment by the Society is terminated. Statute 15 describes the Spiritual Advisor. This is an important position in the Society. Every Conference and every Council should have a Spiritual Advisor. The National Council has material available that will help any Conference member to be able to serve in this position.

Statute 16 discusses subsidiarity and democracy and says that decisions are often made by consensus. When a decision is not reached by consensus a matter can be put to a vote. Statute 17 discusses suspension of members, Conferences and Councils. Suspensions can only be made by our National President. An appeal of a suspension can be made to the National Conciliation Committee. Statute 21 discusses this Committee. Statutes 18 and 19 discuss the election and the removal of a President. Any President who is removed can appeal to the National Board of Directors.

Statute 20 deals with Special Works. These can remain a part of a Conference’s or Council’s normal operation or the Special Work can be incorporated. If the latter status is undertaken, the approval of Council or Conference members should be obtained and there should be consultation with the President of the next higher Council. It is important that the Bylaws of an incorporated Special Work provide that the majority of members of the Board of Directors must always be Active Members of the Society.

Statutes 22 through 31 deal with accountability. Statute 22 requires Conferences and Councils to review their services at least once every three years. This helps Conferences decide whether to keep, suspend or add a service. Statute 23 requires every Council and Conference to maintain accurate records and submit an annual report to the next higher Council annually. The National Council submits its annual report to the Council General International. Statute 24 calls on Conferences and Councils to “zealously” manage and maintain the assets of the Society and provides that the next higher Council may annually assess dues from Conferences and lower Councils. This also requires the higher Councils to work with Conferences and Councils to determine an appropriate reserve for unanticipated events.

Statute 25 discusses collections to help the poor and maintain the Society’s structure. Stature 26 makes clear that the funds of the Society are to be used only within the Society and not be diverted to any other organization, no matter how worthy they might be. Remember that people chose to give funds to the Society and not to another organization. We need to honor that intent. The Society’s Councils and Conferences have many needs although those are often in other areas. We are, however, One Society.

Statute 27 gives Council Presidents the right to require audits or audit reviews of Conferences and to have access to Conference or Council correspondence sent on behalf of the Society. Statute 28 discusses allowing members to be reimbursed for expenses they have incurred and Statute 29 provides that we not identify with any political party. No member of a political party can hold any mission of representation in the Society during his or her term in a political office. Statute 30 discusses amending any of the 31 Statutes and Statute 31 provides that our Statutes are to be interpreted according to the Rule.

Read the Rule. It’s not all that long and when followed assures that all will be well.

Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership 1200 628 Jill Pioter

(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)

Within the Rule of the Society, Servant Leadership is identified as a scripture-based method of leadership which all Vincentians aspire to practice. The following quotes are from the Rule.

Rule: Part 1, 3.11: Following Christ’s example, the Presidents at all levels of the Society endeavor to be servant leaders. They provide an encouraging atmosphere in which the talents, capacities and spiritual charism of the members are identified, developed and put to the service of the poor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The President of the Conference or Council will have special responsibility for promoting Vincentian spirituality.

Rule: Part 3, Statute 11: Leadership positions in the Society, at any level, are always to be accepted as service to Christ, the members and the poor. Servant leadership is done in imitation of Jesus who said: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

The passage below is an excerpt from the Newsletter of the Australian National Council by Livia Carusi and Jenny Papps. The article is entitled “Vincentian Leadership – Is There Such a Thing?”

“You say you experience great difficulty in the mission. Alas! Monsieur, there is no lot in life where there is nothing to be endured.” (St. Vincent de Paul)

It is believed that Vincent de Paul wrote over 30,000 letters during his life. For Vincentians, his letters provide a small window into his character, his courage, his struggles and achievements over a lifetime of service and leadership which was marked with great personal transformation as well as a steadfast vision for mission, charity, justice, spirituality and servant leadership.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and a young French man, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and his companions, with the guidance of a Daughter of Charity, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, made a conscious and heartfelt decision to name our organization in honor of Vincent de Paul. This decision, we suspect, would not have been taken lightly, and in choosing the name “Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” they too would have understood the very essence of the man, his vision for the world and also the magnitude of his legacy.

Like other community organizations doing “good works,” the St. Vincent de Paul Society has its own unique DNA, of which our leadership model is a large part.

So what makes our DNA unique?

Briefly, it is our founding story, which no other organization can claim.

It is our place within the broader Vincentian family; our model of assisting people; home visitation (which remains authentic to our founder’s vision of assisting people in need and in pairs), and also being part of an international organization; the opportunities that we afford to members, volunteers and staff to connect and engage in our mission, our governance model of subsidiarity as well as our model of leadership.

The Vincentian model of leadership is quite simple – servant leadership.

Servant leadership is not connected to a person’s title, as it is quite different to the function of management. The cornerstone of this model is the belief that all people have within them leadership qualities and that an office, Conference or Special Work should facilitate opportunities for individual and collective leadership qualities to come to the fore.

Servant leadership echoes the message of Christ, Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam and the countless number of Vincentian men and women around the world whose primary mission is to serve another first – so yes, there is such a thing as Vincentian leadership that is very much part of our DNA.

One of the topics that comes up very often related to Conferences (as well as Councils) and the role of the President is focused around a statement that has been made for years in our writings as well as our training sessions. That statement is: the Conference as a whole makes all of the decisions. Some people have a tough time grasping what that means; and that is very understandable since it is not a simple and straightforward statement. There are a few embedded qualifications.

Those two articles from the Rule (shown earlier) make it very clear as to how the Conference should be run. There is no place in the Society for a Conference dominated by one or two individuals. The Society does not support a small group of people making the decisions for the whole. Conference members should be made aware of all aspects of the item to be decided. And, for all practical matters, the decision should be made by the Conference simply through consensus. That means the members are in agreement with what should or should not be done. Formal voting on any topic should occur only when there is reason to believe there is a significant difference of opinion.

The President, as well as all members, needs to be an excellent listener and a good facilitator. This most likely means that some of us have to fine-tune our listening skills. The President must listen to what the Conference wishes to do (not tell them what he/she wishes to be done). Then the President must help (through guidance and facilitated dialogue) the Conference to make it happen. The President must serve the Conference – not the other way around.

There are times, however, that the democratic process is inappropriate. This is because the Conference is not totally autonomous. All members of the Society must be faithful to the Rule and spirit of the Society. No decision can be made at any level of the Society that contradicts the Rule. This holds true also for bylaws, standards of affiliation, or any other standards set by the general membership or by Councils.

The spirit of the Society is determined by the traditions of the Society on a global scale. As it is, the current Rule is very explicit about most things. Our focus in our decision-making should be on ways to enhance the spiritual growth of our fellow Vincentians as well as improve our service to those in need. There are many official writings of the Society, both current and historical, which can help define what is proper for Vincentians if it is not explicitly defined in the Rule.

So in summary, the statement “the Conference as a whole makes all of the decisions” is very true within the constraints described above. Our servant leaders must be geared up to serve the members rather than dictate to them. It’s all part of being Vincentian.

Ground Rules For Visitation

Ground Rules For Visitation 1200 628 Jill Pioter

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.

 2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

 5. Judgment not judgmental!

Every day we are faced with making decisions and every day 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.

6. 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)

 7. 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.

 8. 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.

A Time for Thanks

A Time for Thanks 1080 1080 Jill Pioter

At this special time of the year when our thoughts turn to giving thanks, it is appropriate to reflect on the many reasons Vincentians have to be grateful.

Perhaps the two most important are the ongoing guidance of Divine Providence, which has been wondrously at work on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul during the past 190 years, and the constant inspiration of the Holy Spirit evidenced so beautifully by the way Vincentians respond every day to the challenges we face in serving Christ’s beloved poor.

We are privileged to participate in the perpetual miracle of our Society: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things which restore hope to those who have none and change their lives for the better. Our countless benefactors, whose generosity makes it possible for us to help so many people in so many ways, deserve our gratitude as well.

On the most personal level, going to the essence of Vincentian spirituality, we should be thankful to those we serve for the blessings they bestow on us which transform our own lives.

Very importantly, we have each other, truly something to cherish. Loving and supporting one another while helping the poor is an integral part of our mission.

Vincentians have been graced by God to be members of one family throughout the world living Blessed Frederic’s divinely inspired vision of a global network of charity and social justice. We should thank God for our Vincentian vocation, a blessing of eternal value.

And, ultimately, how blessed we are with the gift of faith, and in that faith Christ’s greatest gift — the Eucharist. How fitting it is that “eucharist” means “gratitude.”

How to Run a Good Meeting

How to Run a Good Meeting 1200 628 Jill Pioter

Among the group leadership skills that come into play for Conference and Council Presidents is knowing how to run a good meeting.  Here are a few tips for use whether you are a new or veteran President:

  1. Never hold a meeting without an agenda; send a tentative agenda in advance to everyone who is expected to attend.
  2. Make sure that copies of all reports to be discussed are sent out in advance of the meeting.
  3. It does not hurt to have a consent agenda for matters like prior meeting minutes and financial reports with discussion or reporting needed only if there is a question or correction.
  4. Begin every meeting with prayer, a spiritual reflection and brief discussion on the reflection. Business can wait for prayer and spiritual reflection.
  5. At the beginning of your meeting have those in attendance approve the tentative agenda so that it then becomes theirs.
  6. Stick to the agenda and politely keep those who are present on topic. Remember to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and remind them that we discuss matters, not argue about them.
  7. Provide an opportunity at the end of a meeting for new business to be brought up for discussion at that time or at a subsequent meeting.

We hope these basic suggestions help your meeting run smoothly.

Conflict in Conference Meetings

Conflict in Conference Meetings 1200 628 Jill Pioter

Conference meetings are intended to be “mutually fulfilling” gatherings where members joyfully share their experiences, grow in faith and make plans to serve others. Sometimes, however, members do not always agree on how to go about these activities and the meetings are far from mutually fulfilling. Managing meeting conflict is almost never at the top of any Conference president’s list of favorite undertakings, but it doesn’t need to be a negative experience. In fact, sometimes it can be healthy and help your Conference grow. Here we share a few tips to better prevent and manage conflict within your Conference meetings.

 To Prevent Conference Meeting Conflicts

Send out a detailed, specific agenda ahead of time so that members know how the meeting will proceed. Make it clear that the meeting will unfold in an organized, respectful manner.

  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of the members in your Conference, and tailor the discussion style to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.
  • Encourage frequent communication among Conference members outside of meetings so that members feel informed and are not taken by surprise.
  • Ensure that minutes are kept of Conference meetings, including specifics about decisions made and timeframes. Distribute minutes in advance to all Conference members to reduce inconsistencies in memory.
During a Conference Meeting
  • Make sure all Conference members have the chance to speak and be listened to respectfully.
  • For significant topics, give members a few moments to process the question at hand and perhaps write down a few notes before starting the discussion.
  • Present things in such a way that indicates the Conference is working through issues together.
  • Try to anticipate conflict and address the issue before it happens. Be aware of members’ nonverbal communication and apparent discomfort.
  • Encourage the Conference to be specific in its decisions to avoid ambiguity about when or how something will be done (i.e., “Jesse will contact Father Mike by noon on Friday,” not “Jesse will contact Father Mike soon”).
Should a Conflict Arise

Pause briefly to allow the Conference and its members a chance to temper emotions and think of how to say things in a thoughtful, respectful fashion.

  • Repeat/summarize what you have heard Conference members say so they know you heard them.
  • Neutralize personally-directed comments by restating them in terms of objective qualities, issues or actions, not people themselves (i.e., “Maria tries to avoid us all of the time and refuses to answer our phone calls” to “You feel that Maria is not making herself available to the needs of the Conference,” or perhaps even better, “You feel that our current system of reporting home visits is not working”).
  • Redirect tangents back to the agenda item under discussion.
  • Restate and reframe the larger context of the situation to keep the topic in perspective.
  • Identify and outline the points of agreement that exist between disagreeing parties.
  • Find a “grain of truth” in an opposing viewpoint and use that to begin to build consensus.
  • Strive to arrive at group consensus; avoid voting on a divisive topic if possible.
  • Place the discussion on hold and ask the Conference spiritual advisor to lead the Conference in a prayer before continuing.
If the Conference Is Stuck
  • Reduce unknown factors and fear by assigning a subgroup to research the topic a bit more and report back at a future meeting.
  • Table the conversation until a future meeting.
  • Discern whether someone perceives a threat to themselves or to their interests. If so, address/discuss the issue in a kindly fashion that preserves their dignity.
  • If the topic is hijacking the meeting, arrange for either the whole group or those members most invested in the topic to hold a separate meeting in the future to discuss it.
  • If only one individual is upset about an issue for a prolonged period of time, ask to meet separately with him/her after the meeting.
  • Consider whether another factor(s) may be contributing to rigidity in mindset or aggression in verbal response.
  • While maintaining confidentiality, seek advice from fellow Conference/Council presidents, National Office staff, committee chairs or other Vincentian peers. Many other Vincentian leaders may have faced similar circumstances and have suggestions based on what worked for them.

Know that you are not alone in facing difficult Conference situations at times. Facing conflict may not be your favorite part of serving the poor, but your adept handling of it will allow for so much more love, respect, commitment and loyalty to grow among Conference members and toward those in need as a result.

Unoriginal material in the above list was drawn from the following articles. If you would like further information, follow the links below:

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