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Communications – Part One

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 Even “wealthy” communities have poor: the emotionally poor in spirit — lonely, withdrawn, bereaved or anxious.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.


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