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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:

Members Portal Upgrade

Members Portal Upgrade 1080 1080 Jill Pioter

We’ve made important changes to the Members Portal, providing a more secure space for member data, bringing us inline with current data security measures, and providing administrators with faster access. At the request of national leadership, the following changes have been made to the Members Portal.

  • Only Administrators shall have login permissions. Members will no longer be able to log in. This change limits the number of logins with access to member information.
  •  Administrators will only see member information for groups they have administrative access over. They will not be able to see member information of other groups. Grouping contact information and leadership remain available to administrators.
  • Password requirements have been changed to meet current minimum standards. All passwords must be 12 characters or more in length and have the following: one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one numeral, and one symbol. In order to ensure all passwords meet this standard, administrators will be required to reset passwords at the first post-upgrade login. This reset will only be required once and applies to administrators at all levels.
  • A ‘Forgot Password’ feature has been added, allowing administrators to reset their password at any time. The function sends the user a link via email to reset the password and requires administrators to have an email in their member record.
  • To emphasize data privacy, a privacy policy has been added. The policy is available for review at any time. Administrators must agree to the policy each time they login.
  • Minimum member data required has changed. The number of required fields to add a member has been reduced. First name, last name, member type and member status are the only fields required to add a member. Administrators have additional required fields (email, username, and password) that are essential for logging in and resetting passwords.
  • When adding new members, administrators must confirm that members are aware that their information is being entered into the Members Portal and that the new members are aware of the privacy policies governing the application. A template policy is available on the Need Help? page within the Members Portal for local administrators.

We thank you for your patience during this process. If you have any questions, please email the National Council Information Technology department at techsupport@svdpusa.org.

So You’ve Been Elected President…

So You’ve Been Elected President… 1200 1200 Jill Pioter

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 155 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 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.

The Vital Role of District Council President

The Vital Role of District Council President 1200 628 Jill Pioter

When the first Conference of the Society grew quickly to a membership of more than 100, it became clear that this number was not amenable to the values and goal of our founders. There were concerns about the ability of members to share and develop true friendships in such a large group. Therefore, one Conference evolved into two Conferences. As more Conferences were started, there was a need for an organizational structure to help them understand, embrace and adhere to the Rule of the Society. The idea of creating Councils was born.  As other Conferences opened within a Council there was a further need to form District Councils. The position of District Council president is a vital one with significant responsibility for the successful functioning of the Society.

The structure of the Society is unique in many ways, including the fact that Conferences are the base unit of the Society. Even though Conferences are somewhat independent, they are connected through a series of higher Councils, the first level of which is District Councils. The Rule clearly defines the function of a higher council:

  • Councils exist to serve all of the Conferences they coordinate. They help Conferences to develop their spiritual life, to intensify their service and to diversify their activities so that they may always be responsive to the needs of those who suffer. (Rule Part I: 3.6)

The organizational structure of the Society in many ways resembles a spider web. Spider webs are amazingly strong because of the very way in which they are constructed. If you think about it, Conferences are at the center of the web and the concentric circles are the supporting higher Councils. The diagonal lines are the lines of communication, friendship, support, and unity that flow between the Councils and the Conferences. Like a spider web, if any Conference or Council is in its beginning phases or is struggling, the structure stands strong and is able to provide resources the Conference or Council might need.

A District Council is comprised of no less than three and up to eight Conferences. Conference presidents represent their Conference at their District level and are responsible for electing the District Council president for a three-year term. As with Conference presidents, a second three-year term may be served consecutively but a new president must be elected after the second three-year term is completed.

District Council presidents represent their District at the (Arch)Diocesan Council level. They are responsible for bringing information from the (Arch)Diocesan Council back to the District and sharing that information with the Conference presidents, as well as bringing information from the District to the attention of the (Arch)Diocesan Council.

So what exactly are the duties of a District Council president?  Effective District Council presidents attend the meetings of their Conferences at least once a year. Conference members need to know their District Council president. When a Conference holds a special event the District Council president should make every effort to attend. In most cases financial and service reports required by the (Arch)Diocesan Council should be forwarded to the District Council president for submission to the upper Council. District Council presidents should then review those reports for accuracy and, if something seems amiss, questions should be asked and, if necessary, changes should be made before final submission.

District Council presidents should also review Conference guidelines to make sure they are consistent with the Rule and all applicable Bylaws. If a Conference has violated any part of the Rule or Bylaws of the Society, the District Council president should work with the Conference to move it into compliance. District Council presidents should ensure that Statute 12 in Part III of the Rule is strictly observed to safeguard the good reputation of the Society. That means Conferences must have a full slate of officers and that no officers are related to the president.

District Council presidents function as the thread that connects and ties things together. They are the conduit for communications. They are the promoters of our Essential Elements and the monitors of compliance. They serve as mentors to new Conference presidents and officers.  They are the gateway to establishing new Conferences and rejuvenating those Conferences that need to be revitalized.

Above all, the District Council president should be a servant leader as Jesus was a servant leader:  “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Mk 10:45).

How to Avoid Confusion With Clear Communication

How to Avoid Confusion With Clear Communication 1200 628 Jill Pioter

By Michael S. Hyatt

Under-communication is a consistent problem in nearly every business. You can solve that by taking ownership of the communication happening around you.

I’ve worked with more than my share of poor communicators over the years. One was a boss who rarely shared information and never in a timely way. My office happened to be in a different building than his, so getting to our weekly one-on-one meeting took a little effort. Each week, I prepared a status report on my major projects, developed a list of answers I needed to make progress, and drove to the office in time for the meeting.

I can’t tell you how many times I was greeted by his assistant with a pained expression. “I’m so sorry,” she’d say. “He had to step out.” Not only did he cancel most of our meetings, but he did so without notice.

When we did meet, he provided little or no clarity. And he dodged most of my questions with “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” It was maddening!

Most under-communication is inadvertent. People are simply unaware of the gap between what’s in their mind and what’s in yours, and you suffer from that same lack of awareness. In fact, a team of researchers writing in the Journal of Political Economy labeled this phenomenon “the curse of knowledge.” It means that when you know something, it’s very hard to remember that other people don’t.

Fortunately, the solution is remarkably simple. All you have to do is step up and take responsibility for all the communication that comes from you or to you. Here’s how:

Determine to Be the Solution

Most of us are not fully aware of our own part in the communication quagmire. We may expect others to do all the work of conveying information. The first step in communicating clearly is to determine to be the solution, not the problem. Are you ready to champion clear communication in your workplace?

Externalize Your Thinking

The curse of knowledge affects everyone, including you. As a result, we don’t communicate or don’t communicate enough. Be aware of the gap between your understanding and that of your team. Stop assuming that people know what’s important or what needs to be done. Get your thoughts out of your head where others can read or hear them.

Push for Clarity

Before you compose your message (or say it out loud), ask yourself, “How can I set the other person up for success?” Before you hit send, reread the communication to be sure it’s clear. Would you know exactly what you meant? Clarity is vital for communication. Sometimes that will mean pushing others for clarity. Remember, they also suffer from the curse of knowledge and may have a tendency to omit information or use ambiguous language. Gently ask them to make their meaning clear.

Confirm Understanding

Communication hasn’t really happened until the other person not only receives your words but also understands them. You can request a “read receipt” when you send a message, but you also need to get an “understand receipt.”  You can do that with questions like “Is anything unclear about that?” or “What do you understand based on what I’ve said?”


Actually, you can’t over-communicate. Or at least it is pretty hard to do. People are busy and distracted. They forget things they should remember — things they want to remember. Communication is not a one-and-done event. Communicate again. And again.

What would it be like to come to work in a place where you never had to go on a deep dive for the information you need to do your job? How would it change the culture of your office if everyone was clear, direct and intentional in their communication?  Why not take responsibility for making that happen and find out?

Am I A Vincentian?

Am I A Vincentian? 1200 628 Jill Pioter

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

Chair, National Governance Committee

What Is Meant by “Hoarding” in a St. Vincent de Paul Context? Part Two

What Is Meant by “Hoarding” in a St. Vincent de Paul Context? Part Two 150 150 Jill Pioter

Within the documents of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, there are found a number of instances where hoarding is prohibited. Please look at the Appendix to this document to see those specific references. Unfortunately, there is no specific place in the SVdP documents where the word hoarding is actually defined. There have been many times over the years that the National Office has been called to give a definition so our members can have a better understanding of the prohibition. The explanation was given a number of times in the Q&A section of the National Council’s Frederic’s e-Gazette.  However, it has been deemed appropriate by the National Governance Committee to give a formal definition.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines hoarding as “to collect and lay-up, amass and conceal.” The considerations related to hoarding within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, however, are slightly different when looking at this from a Conference perspective and a Council perspective.  We have treated each separately.

(For Frederic’s e-Gazette readers:  Part One addressed Conference considerations.  Part Two deals with Council considerations.)

Council Considerations


The first thing to keep in mind is that Councils do not do direct assistance. The primary purpose of the Council is to support the work of the Conferences. On the Council Annual Report, there is no designation for direct assistance. So, typically, the funds raised by the Council are for something other than direct assistance. The primary concern for hoarding is the decision to bank funds rather than give assistance to those in need.

Not all Councils have Special Works that provide direct assistance. Usually when they do, they have designated fundraising to support those Special Works. If a Council receives donations intended for direct assistance and they have no Special Works, then they should be distributing those funds in one fashion or another to the Conferences; if they do not, then that is hoarding. The next consideration before answering the question “What is Hoarding?” is to understand the different types of funds that Councils may hold.

  1. General Donations: These funds are received from the Conferences, the public, other SVdP entities, general fundraising efforts of the Council, benefactors, general bequests, memorials, and organizations. There is no specific intent associated with these funds other than the assumption that the funds will be used for the purposes of the Society to support the work of the Conferences and better serve those in need. These funds are held in checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, CDs, and other financial instruments that are essentially considered to be liquid (easily accessible). A few comments must be made related to the fundraising efforts by Councils. Special care must be given to the way fundraising appeals are made. Sometimes, a Council will create an appeal that looks to the donor as if the donation will be used for direct assistance to those in need when the actual intent of the Council was for the funds collected to be used for other purposes. If the implication from the appeal is different from the actual intent of the Council, then the appeal must be clarified.
    These funds can be susceptible to hoarding.             
  2.  Donor-Designated Funds: These funds are received from a donor (individual or organization) that identifies a specific purpose for the use of those funds. For example, an individual gives a check to a Council and on the line preceded by the word “for” the donor has specified “utility payments.” Another example is a check from a donor that is accompanied by a note or letter that designates the donation for a particular purpose. If the Council accepts the check, it accepts the responsibility to track those funds and only use those funds for utility payments. The funds cannot be used for any other purpose. In this case, if the Council has a Special Work that provides utility payments for those in need, then the Council must use the funds in that Special Work. If it does not, the funds can also be distributed to the Conferences to help make utility payments. Another example would be a Council receiving a check from ABC Organization for $10,000 to be used for rental assistance. If the check is accepted, the Council must hold those funds in reserve and only use those funds for rental assistance. The Council would do so in a similar way to that described for utility payments. The Council can also distribute the funds to the Conferences and the Conferences have a legal obligation to ensure the funds are not used for any other purpose.
    These funds must be used for the purpose given. When not used for the purpose intended, these funds may also be considered as hoarding.
  3. Funds from Grants: These funds, for the most part, are similar to Donor-designated Funds. They are usually given for a specific purpose and that purpose must be honored.
    These funds must be used for the purpose given and are not susceptible to hoarding.
    However, sometimes, but rarely, grant funds are issued for general use by the Council. In this case the funds are treated the same as general donations.
    These funds must be used for the purpose given. When not used for the purpose intended, these funds may also be considered as hoarding.
  4. Capital Campaigns/Endowments/Disaster Relief: Capital campaigns are normally established to purchase land, buildings, special equipment, or fund special programs. Endowments may be established to provide special programs or services with ongoing income. Disaster relief funds are normally established to provide relief to people suffering from a recent disaster in the area. The key thing about these funds is that donors contribute to them for their specific purpose. These funds are collected for a specific purpose and can only be used for that purpose. These are treated the same as Donor-designated Funds.
    These funds must be used for the purpose given. When not used for the purpose intended, these funds may also be considered as hoarding.
  5. Interest Earned/Investment Income: If funds are placed in financial instruments that gain interest or in an investment account that generates income, there are two options available:
    1. If the donor requires it, the interest earned/investment income on his/her donation must be used for the purpose of the fund for which it was originally designated.
    2. Otherwise, if the allocation of interest creates an unnecessary burden there is no legal requirement for the interest earned/investment income to be restricted for any purpose and may be used as the Council determines. It may create an unnecessary burden to try to allocate the interest to specific funds.
      All interest earned/investment income that is for general use is not susceptible to hoarding (see #1 – General Donations, under Council Considerations). All interest earned/investment income designated for direct assistance to those in need is susceptible to hoarding, if not used for the purpose intended. 
  6. Council-Designated Funds: There are times when the Council takes a certain amount out of the general fund and sets it aside for a particular purpose. Those funds will remain in the designated area until the Council decides to use them for another purpose. These Council-designated funds may be changed from one purpose to another as often as the Council decides. An example of this is a Council budget, where funds are designated to be spent for a fundraising dinner. The budget designations may be realigned at any time by the Council.
    These funds, having originated in the general fund, are not susceptible to hoarding.
  7. Council Reserve Accounts: Councils sometimes have fixed expenses. For these, the Manual’s recommendation is to maintain a balance for the future of up to six months of expenses. Councils, like Conferences should not seek financial security by building up excessive balances for future needs. There may be needs for capital campaigns, endowments, and disaster relief, but those are addressed in number 4 above. So, unless a Council has some fixed expenses, there is no need for a reserve account. Surplus funds should be shared generously with needy Conferences or Special Works of other Councils. The “balance for the future” and/or the reserve account may be susceptible to hoarding.
  8.  Special Works Reserve Accounts: Stores and other Special Works that may be operated by a Council may legitimately have fixed expenses. The recommendation from the Manual is to maintain a balance for the future of up to six months of expenses. This balance for the future or reserve account should be maintained at such a reasonable and necessary level as the Council or the Board of Directors determines is needed to assure the financial stability of the Special Work. Surplus funds should be shared generously with more needy Conferences or Special Works of the Councils. There may be needs for capital campaigns and endowments but those are addressed in number 4 above. The “balance for the future” and/or the reserve account may be susceptible to hoarding.

So, it boils down to two types of funds that are held by the Council: those that are susceptible to hoarding and those that are not.  Those funds that are designated for a particular purpose must be honored (by law) for that purpose. Our concern in this document is to define hoarding, so let us recap which funds are susceptible to hoarding:

  1. All funds designated for direct assistance to those in need (normally in Special Works);
  2. Grant funds designated for general use for direct assistance to those in need;
  3. Council Funds designated for direct assistance to those in need.

Regardless of the source of its income, a Council needs to start by asking if and why it is amassing funds. The following are guidelines and principals that should govern the use and accumulation of funds by Councils:

  • If the Council operates a Special Work, then it should consider having a reserve to operate that Special Work based on the expenses normally incurred over a period of time designated by the Council Board.
  • If the Council has employees or fixed expenses such as rent and utilities, then it should consider having a reserve to cover the expenses normally incurred over a period of time designated by the Council Board.
  • The Council should, as part of its annual budgeting process, set aside funds to share with those Conferences that have inadequate funds to meet the needs which they face to help people in need.

Hoarding occurs when a Council decides to keep funds in its financial instrument instead of using the funds as they were originally defined or to advance the purposes of the Society.

The fact is that once the Council in its Special Works decides that the request for direct assistance is legitimate and it has the resources to fulfill the request, then deciding to keep the money in the bank is the wrong decision.

There are Councils that do not have Special Works who use their funds to support the Conferences: training materials, running Ozanam Orientations or other workshops, holding days of recollection for spiritual growth, sending members to regional and national meetings, etc.   This spending fulfills the purpose of the Council and is not susceptible to hoarding unless the Council simply sits on the money.

It is wrong for a Council to decide to NOT use funds for the purpose for which they were donated. There are certain circumstances that may occur that would prevent a Council from using funds accumulated for a specific purpose. An example of this is the case of a Council collecting funds for a particular disaster in its area. If, after a period of time, funds are no longer needed to address the effects of the disaster, but the Council still has funds on hand, there are three ways to resolve the unused designated funds:

  1. The remaining funds may be returned to donors;
  2. The donors may be contacted to redesignate the use of those funds; or
  3. If it is not practical to contact donors, State laws vary and local legal counsel should be sought before taking action; but generally, UPMIFA (Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act) requires the nonprofit to provide written notice to the Attorney General of the State and wait 60 – 90 days, and then only if the restriction is deemed:
    1. Unlawful, impractical, impossible to achieve, wasteful,
    2. The amount is less than the amount defined by the State,
    3. The fund is more than 20 years old, and
    4. The charity uses the fund in a way that is consistent with the charitable purpose of the donor restriction.

Other releases of restrictions will require a Court Petition.


Here are some examples of things Councils may do if they have accumulated excess funds:

  • The Council should set aside funds to share with those Conferences that have inadequate funds to meet the needs which they face to help people in need.
  • A Council can reflect and discern on whether they ought to direct additional funding, towards achieving various goals set forth in Standards of Excellence Questions for Diocesan Councils.
  • If a Council has additional funds, then it should look for ways to help the Society and its members through the Disaster Services Corporation, international twinning, domestic twinning with Councils in need of financial help.
  • Reviewing its programs and considering the need for starting new non-income producing Special Works such as through an evening or lunch meal program, a Coming Together to Getting Ahead program, or the like.

Special Note:  The National Governance Committee invites you to a webinar titled “Hoarding – What It Means” to be presented by Committee chair Mike Syslo on Monday, July 10, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time. The presentation centers on the content of the definitive Governance document on Hoarding published this week and last in Frederic’s e-Gazette. The various concerns related to types of funding received by Conferences and Councils will be addressed. Discussion and Q&A will be included. We think this informative session on a very important topic will be well worth your time.

Appendix: Hoarding in SVdP Documents

In the Rule, Part I, Article 3.14:

  • Nevertheless, the Society uses money and property to help relieve the suffering of those in need. The Society’s funds must be handled with the utmost care, prudence, and generosity. Money must not be hoarded. Decisions regarding the use of money and property are to be made after reflection in the light of the Gospel and Vincentian principles. Accurate records must be kept of all money received or spent. The Society may not allot funds to other organisations, except occasionally for other branches of the Vincentian Family, save under exceptional circumstances.

In the Rule, Part III, Statute 24:

  • Councils and Conferences zealously manage and maintain the Society’s assets. The authority to manage the Society’s assets remains exclusively with Councils that may delegate this authority in accordance with the Rule of the Society and the Bylaws and Resolutions of the National Council.
    Faithful to the spirit of non-accumulation of wealth, the next higher Council may determine annually the percentage of the funds of each Council or Conference within their area that may be made available to them. The next higher Council will work with the Council or Conference to determine an appropriate reserve for unanticipated events and direct the allocation of funds which exceed the anticipated demands, which may not be hoarded as a capital sum, to the service of the poor in their own area or abroad in the poorest areas of the world.

In Manual, under Council funds:

  • Sources of Council funds may include contributions from Conferences, donations, bequests, Special Works, and grants. Like Conferences, Councils act as custodians of funds given to the Society, understanding that they belong, ultimately, to the poor. While some Councils prefer not to accumulate funds, others make a point of setting something aside for exigencies. Operating an active Council with a reasonable bank balance is good business practice, not hoarding. A bank balance equal to the operational cost of the Council for six months may be reasonable. A balance of less than three months’ operational cost may be unhealthy. Councils with inadequate balances should review the budget for ways to increase their income or reduce their expenditures. Councils with overly large balances should find ways to expend their excess funds on behalf of the poor, such as subsidizing active Conferences in poorer areas or planning needed Special Works.

In Manual, under Funds of the Conference:

  • It is wrong for a conference to seek financial security by building up a large balance for the needs of the future. Conference balances generally should not exceed what they expect to spend during an average quarter. Surplus funds should be shared generously with more needy Conferences or the Special Works of the District Council.

In Bylaws, Document 1 for Conferences Without a Board of Directors, Article 16:

  • Conferences and Councils zealously manage and maintain the Society’s assets. The authority to manage the Society’s assets remains exclusively with Councils that may delegate this authority in accordance with the Rule of the Society. Faithful to the spirit of non-accumulation of wealth the Upper Councils may determine annually the percentage of the funds of each Conference within their area that may be made available to them. The Upper Councils will work with the Conference to determine an appropriate reserve for unanticipated events and direct the allocation of funds which exceed the anticipated demands, which may not be hoarded as a capital sum, to the service of the poor in their own area or abroad in the poorest areas of the world.

In the Conference Audit Manual, under Bank Account:

  • Every Conference is required to maintain its bank account(s) separate from the parish and separate from the personal accounts of any of the members. There shall be no co-mingled funds. The funds of the Conference must be in standalone accounts not tied to the parish or any of the members. The only exception to this is when a Conference has an approved reserve account. To avoid any perception of hoarding, the reserve accounts should be approved by the next upper Council. The funds in the reserve may be combined into a shared investment account as long as the Conference has sole access to its funds.

In Resolution 114:

  • Be it resolved that legal issues which involve one Council or one Conference have the potential for affecting the whole Society and therefore if not addressed will lead to the suspension and removal from the Society of the offending Vincentian, Conference or Council if not corrected in a timely fashion.  Such legal issues include but are not limited to the following:
    • Violation of any state statute, local ordinance, or federal law or any regulations adopted by any state, local government, or federal agency which violation relates to the operation of not-for-profit organizations.
    • Failing to conduct an annual audit.
    • Failing to file a Federal Form 990 or any required state form.
    • Adopting Bylaws that have not been updated to comply with federal requirements
    • Giving funds to non-Vincentian organizations or for non-Vincentian activity.
    • Failing to submit required annual reports
    • Failing to allow women or minorities as Conference members
    • Maintaining large balances that do not constitute legitimate reserve for future operations and which constitute hoarding,
    • Failing to enact Bylaws that are in compliance with those approved by National Council
    • Failing to make home or similar visits in pairs – i.e., allowing only one Vincentian to make such visits
    • Having officers who are not active members of the Society
    • Limiting assistance to certain groups to the exclusion of others
    • Acting in an autonomous manner and as though not answerable to the Society
    • Changing Bylaws to permit activity contrary to The Rule of the Society
    • Removing members without complying with The Rule of the Society
    • Violating confidentiality of those being served
    • The failure of National Council Members to attend National meetings
    • Raising funds across Council boundaries without permission and without adequate disclosure to the public
    • Any other issues having legal implications.


Retaining Your Members (Part 2)

Retaining Your Members (Part 2) 2560 1802 Jill Pioter
  • Involve your regular donors. Regular donors are equal partners in the Society. We are a union of willing hands (Active Members), caring hearts and helping hands (Associate Members) and generous almsgivers (regular donors). Each is separate but equal.Many people are afraid to participate, afraid to meet the poor. They choose to discharge their responsibility to help the poor by writing you a check. While you may need their check to help the poor, your objective should be to tactfully get them involved in person-to-person contact with those in need. Let them find out it’s not stressful when working with another, experienced parishioner. Help them find how it gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling.

    Get them into Home Visits the easy way – with the Back to School program, Thanksgiving or Christmas food box distributions that some Conferences put together.

    Include regular donors in as many activities as you can, especially Masses on feast days of St. Vincent and Blessed Frederic, food and clothing drives, etc. Send all major communications and newsletters to them. This can sometimes convert them to Associate and then Active Full Membership.

  • Provide Recognition. In the business workplace, when someone asks the question, “what do you want from your boss in your job,” the two top answers are always security and recognition.
    • Recognize long-time members (at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 year and other anniversaries), those who continue to be active past the age of 80, and all retiring members.
    • Recognize your pastor, priests, deacons, and nuns who provide help and support for your programs and/or your Conference. We sometimes forget who pays the electric bill for our pantry.
    • Conduct a “graduation ceremony” when a member completes the Ozanam Orientation. Recognize them in front of the entire Conference at your next meeting.
    • Use a star or other special character on your Conference membership list to indicate members who have completed the Ozanam Orientation.
    • Prepare and publish a list of Conference officers over past years. List all Vincentians who made the Quarter Century Club.
    • Put up a plaque in your pantry with the names of Vincentians who passed to their eternal reward while serving the poor. Add a new name plate each time a member dies, conducting a short prayer service.
  • Recognize the Need for Recovery and Recuperation. Occasionally a member may become dissatisfied or bored with their present assignment. Others may get tired (especially your oldest members), and a few may experience burnout. Remember that a person’s family and job come first, according to the Society’s own Rule.
    Recognize these folks and thank them for the work they have accomplished, and show them how their involvement has helped the people the Conference served and our Society. Ask them for input on the manner in which you conduct your meetings and make assignments. They may have a different perspective, and help you to improve Conference operations. After positively dealing with the situation they find themselves in, discuss other positions which may be more attractive to them.
    Everyone in your Conference will get tired of the “same old thing,” so keep trying new projects and changing (improving) old programs. The attitude, “but we’ve always done it that way” will only insure that your Conference remains a handful of old men and women, as you drive away new and younger people and burn out older ones.
    A perception that an organization is dying is the number one reason why people leave or fail to join an organization. The vibrant Conference will keep existing members and attract new members.
  • Work on (and Pray over) Personality Conflicts. Personality conflicts are inevitable in any group of humans. Yet, if these are not managed, they will cause you to lose at least one of the two protagonists. The President and Spiritual Advisor should try to help resolve any issues between the warring partners. It may be necessary to separate these people until, over time, they get to better know (and respect) each other in new ways. Change Home Visit teams, schedule the Hatfields in at times when the McCoys aren’t there. Time heals all wounds; give it a chance. And pray that the Peace of Christ descends on both of them.
  • Equip Your people to Do Their Job.
    • Information. Your Conference does more than pass out food and money; you provide information which is often essential for neighbors to get back on their feet. Your members must have that information to do their job.
    • Publish a year’s calendar so Active Members, Associate Members, and regular donors, as well as your clergy, Parish Council, and other church ministries, know what the Conference is planning and when. This helps prevent conflicts, helps people reserve dates when you need their participation, and helps communicate the breadth of your Conference work.
    • Adopt and communicate Conference policies and guidelines. Home Visit teams especially must know what latitude they have when working with a family in trouble. Nothing is more frustrating than having the responsibility for a case without the authority required to act. Home Visit teams should know one of three conditions exist when they visit:
      1. That they cannot help a family financially with rent due to lack of funds, and must help in other ways — referrals, information, counseling, extra food, etc.;
      2. That they cannot help a family with rent without the approval of the Conference which meets sometime down the road;
      3. That they can help a family with rent up to “X” dollars without further approval — beyond that amount, Conference approval is required.
    • Necessary referral forms and vouchers (for clothing, gasoline, groceries, furniture) should be available and members instructed on how to properly complete them. The Conference pays its bills faithfully and promptly so vouchers given to guests are honored by thrift stores and other vendors.
  • Recognize the Value of Fellowship and Friendship. Don’t forget to schedule social events. The Society’s second objective requires a friendship relationship among members. People are social beings, and personal relationships help cement one’s commitment to the common work. Sometimes this can be combined with retraining (below).
  • Retraining. Retraining should occur periodically. We all need to be reminded of basic job duties, of things that have become more important in recent years, and of how to handle new forms, procedures, and program changes. Older members not kept up to date can feel “lost” and out of touch. Get all your folks together for refresher training at least every six months. A good way of handling this is to schedule a social activity and combine the two. A summer barbecue can involve socializing and eating, followed by a 90-minute refresher course, or vice versa.
  • Never Forget Spirituality. People joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — not the American Cancer Society, or the United Way, or the Red Cross. What separates the Society from these very worthwhile organizations is the fact that we are a faith-based organization; we bring spiritual values to the people we serve.
    Burnout is common after a relatively short time in most other volunteer agencies because the members don’t have a belief system to sustain them. We can always fall back on our faith. That is the reason we have members well into their 80s and even 90s who have been serving in the dining rooms, stores, and other special works for more than 50 years.

Whether old or new, your members have a “thirst” for spirituality. They need to be reminded of the spiritual aspects of their work. If you only talk about the “numbers” — boxes delivered, money raised, families visited, hours worked — you will find members losing focus.

Even in the very best Conferences, teams experience discouraging cases. They “get taken” by fraudulent couples. And, after a series of thankless guests, greedy applicants, lazy individuals and indifferent bureaucrats, those without a spiritual foundation will be “lost” to despair and discouragement.

Our spirituality is our anchor. Keep it present at all times. First things first. Never become a Conference of just “numbers.”

10 Reasons To Love High-Performing Nonprofit Boards

10 Reasons To Love High-Performing Nonprofit Boards 1200 628 Jill Pioter

By: Alyce Lee Stansbury/Notes on Nonprofits

This description of nonprofits from the National Council of Nonprofits is one of my favorites: “Nonprofits are not just organizations; they are the face of our communities. They protect, feed, heal, shelter, educate, and nurture our bodies and spirits. Nonprofits give shape to our boldest dreams, highest ideals and noblest causes, and turn our beliefs into action.”

Here are 10 sweet reasons to love high-performing nonprofit Boards:

  1. Take work seriously: They are led by volunteers who take Board service seriously, arrive at meetings on time, and come prepared to discuss important issues. They do not want to listen to reports about things that have already happened, which is a waste of everyone’s time.
  2. Strategic plan: Adopt a strategic plan and use it to guide the Board’s work including meeting agendas, committee structure, and fundraising.
  3. Self-assessment: Regularly evaluate their performance by conducting a Board self-assessment and make it a priority to learn more about effective nonprofit governance.
  4. Recruit with focus: Recruit new Board members with intention and focus, and adopt a list of Board member expectations that includes attendance, committee service, personal giving, strategic planning, participation in fundraising to share with prospective members.
  5. Executive Director evaluation: Conduct an annual evaluation of the Executive Director that includes a documented process for awarding raises or bonuses and investing in their professional growth.
  6. Build relationships: Understand an important part of their job is building and deepening relationships between the nonprofit and donors, sponsors, members, volunteers, elected officials and other key stakeholders.
  7. Donor stewardship: Take donor stewardship seriously and routinely write thank you notes, call donors to say thank you, and personally patronize the businesses who support the mission and fundraising events.
  8. Promote mission: Recognize the importance of advocacy and promote the mission in the community on a year-round basis. This includes introducing new people to the organization, connecting the ED to people within their sphere of influence, and seeking out opportunities to tell more people about the organization and its important work.
  9. Technology: Invest in technology and use data to inform decision-making in all areas including programs, fundraising, finances, facilities, and strategic planning.
  10. Term limits: Adopt and abide by term limits, recognize serving as Board chair requires the highest level of commitment, a unique skill set, and should be carefully selected rather than falling to someone who missed the meeting or has simply been here the longest. High- performing Boards understand you have the Board you cultivate.

Notes on Nonprofits is produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. Please send your comments and questions to notesonnonprofits@gmail.com.

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