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05-02-2024 Questions & Answers

05-02-2024 Questions & Answers 1200 628 Kristen Blacksher

Q: What are the guidelines for an internal Conference audit?

A: The Rule and Bylaws emphasize the need for an annual Conference audit. An SVdP audit should cover more than just the Treasurer’s financial portion of Conference operations. It should include a basic review of the overall operations of the Conference. Audit guidelines and forms are on the national website under the Growth and Revitalization officers training page. Click here to learn more.

Q: Our Conference reached out to the Council for financial assistance to help someone in need and the Council advised they could not help because the person in need contacted the Conference for assistance and NOT the Council. What is the purpose for having a Council?

A: A Council primarily exists to support its member Conferences. This consists of many resources which may or may not include financial help. If the Council has available funds, financial assistance to Conferences in need may be considered.

En Español

P: ¿Cuáles son las directrices para una auditoría interna de la Conferencia?

R: La Regla y los Estatutos enfatizan la necesidad de una auditoría anual de la Conferencia. Una auditoría de SVdP debe cubrir más que solo la parte financiera del Tesorero sobre las operaciones de la Conferencia. Debería incluir un análisis básico del funcionamiento general de la Conferencia. Directrices y formularios de auditoría en el sitio de la red nacional en la página de Capacitación de Oficiales, Crecimiento – Revitalización, aquí está el enlace: https://members.ssvpusa.org/growth-revitalization/conference-officer-training/.

 P: Nuestra Conferencia se dirigió al Consejo en busca de asistencia financiera para servir a alguien en necesidad y el Consejo informó que no podían ayudar porque la persona en necesidad se comunicó con la Conferencia para obtener asistencia y NO con el Consejo. ¿Cuál es el propósito de tener un Consejo?

R: El propósito principal de la existencia de un Consejo es apoyar a las Conferencias que lo componen. Esto consiste en muchos recursos que pueden o no incluir ayuda financiera. Si el Consejo dispone de fondos, se podría considerar la posibilidad de prestar asistencia financiera a las Conferencias que lo necesiten.

A Council’s Job One: Serve The Conferences

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

(Excerpted From Vincentian Life: Council)

VOICE/VOTE IN THE COUNCIL

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

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

UP-TO-DATE

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

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

HELP IN COUNCIL EFFORTS

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

FORMATION/TRAINING

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

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

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

CONFERENCE/COUNCIL VISITATION

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

YOUTH INVOLVEMENT

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

DIVERSITY

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

Governance Update: Councils And Their Conferences

Governance Update: Councils And Their Conferences 1198 1198 Kristen Blacksher

Councils And Their Conferences

(Excerpted From Vincentian Life: Council)

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

CONFERENCE PARTICIPATION IN THE COUNCIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STRONG CONFERENCES

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

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

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

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

3. Provide training materials for Conference leadership;

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

5. Promote and assist in establishing new Conferences;

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

7. Mediate Conference concerns where needed.

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

MONITOR SPECIAL CONDITIONS

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

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

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

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

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

Good governance: What does it mean anyway?

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

By Joe Riley 

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Meant by “Hoarding” in a St. Vincent de Paul Context? 1200 628 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.

Conference Considerations

A. Types of Funding Held by Conferences

The first consideration before answering the question “What is Hoarding” is to understand the different types of funds that Conferences may hold.

  1. General Donations: These funds are received from the parishes, members, benefactors, other SVdP entities, bequests made to a Conference that do not designate a specific purpose, other organizations, and fundraising efforts. 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 better serve those in need. These funds should generally be held in the Conference checking account or other liquid financial accounts.
    These funds are 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 Conference 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 a Conference accepts the check, it accepts the responsibility to track those funds and only use those funds for utility payments. A Conference has 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.  When not used for the purpose intended, these funds may also be considered as hoarding.
    However, sometimes, but rarely, grant funds are issued for general use by a Conference.  In this case the funds are treated the same as general donations.
    These funds are susceptible to 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: Sometimes Conferences place their funds in financial instruments that gain interest.
    1. If the donor requires it, the interest earned 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 to be restricted for any purpose and may be used as the Conference determines. It may create an unnecessary burden to try to allocate the interest to specific funds.

                 All interest that is for general use is susceptible to hoarding. All interest designated and used for a specific purpose is not susceptible to hoarding.

  1.  Conference-Designated Funds: There are times when the Conference 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 Conference decides to use them for another purpose. These Conference-designated funds may be changed from one purpose to another as often as the Conference decides. An example of this is a Conference budget which designates a specific amount of funds to be spent on maintenance of equipment. The budget designations may be realigned at any time by the Conference. These funds, if originated in the general fund, are susceptible to hoarding.
  2. Conference Reserve Accounts: A consideration for Conference reserve accounts must be included with the above. There is only one mention in the Manual related to reserves for Conferences and it does not use the word “reserves.” Donations to Conferences — whether they come from church collections, from the members themselves, from benefactors or from fundraising efforts — are meant to address today’s needs. It is wrong for a Conference to seek financial security by building up a large balance for the needs of the future. Conference balances 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.
    It addresses the fact that donations are “meant to address today’s needs” and that “surplus funds should be shared generously.”  This applies to most Conferences.  So, unless a Conference has some fixed expenses, there is no need for a reserve account.  The “balance for the future” and/or the reserve account, if originated in the general fund, are susceptible to hoarding.
  3. Special Works Reserve Accounts: Stores and other Special Works that may be operated by a Conference may legitimately have fixed expenses. Although the Manual attributes Stores and Special Works to Councils, the recommendation is to maintain a balance for the future of up to six months of expenses. This balance for the future or Special Works reserve account should be maintained at such a reasonable and necessary level as the Conference 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. The “balance for the future” and/or the Special Works reserve account may be susceptible to hoarding.

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

  1. All funds held for general use, typically these are in the checking account, but they may be in other financial instruments;
  2. Grant funds that are designated for general use;
  3. Interest earned on funds designated for general use; and
  4. Conference-designated Funds.
B. Reflections on Hoarding Related to Conferences

Members must accept the fact that our donors have given the Conference resources to use to help those in need. The reality is that the funds we have belong to the suffering, the deprived, the forgotten, the poor and those in need. We are stewards of these resources and are accountable for how they are used. There are two primary considerations about the funds our Conferences receive:

  • Are the funds we received designated by the donors for a particular purpose? If so, then it is our obligation both legally and morally as stewards of those resources to ensure they are used for the purposes for which they were given.
  • Where there is no specific donor designation, then the funds are to be used to relieve the needs of those who come to us for help (with a reasonable amount dedicated to Society approved Conference expenses).

Hoarding occurs when a Conference decides to keep funds in its financial instrument rather than helping an individual or family that it is capable of helping.

The fact is that once the Conference decides that the request is legitimate and it has the resources to fulfill the request, then deciding to keep the money in the bank is the wrong decision and constitutes hoarding.

As Vincentians, we are asked to love those in need in the best way we can. The only way to do that is to treat each case on its own merit. While establishing general guidelines for assistance has some benefit, Vincentians are called upon to assess each Home Visit as a unique encounter and should not set predefined limitations on the amount of help to be given or the type of help to be given or the number of times to help someone.  To love someone in the best way possible is the keep all of our resources available for our Lord’s use.  All of our resources include our hearts, our time, our funds and other things we use to help people.

C. Steps to Be Taken Where a Conference Has Accumulated Excess Funds

Conferences are encouraged to seriously read the Manual, Section 2.1 Conference, 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.”

A review of fund balances should occur towards the end of each fiscal year with Conference members entering into a discussion and consideration of “twinning” to more needy Conferences within their District and/or Council, to SVdP National programs providing direct assistance, to Disaster Services Corporation, or to some SVdP International Conferences.

 Council Considerations

 A. Types of Funding Held by Councils

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.
B. Reflections on Hoarding Related to Councils

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 principles 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.

C. Steps to be Taken Where a Council Has Accumulated Excess Funds

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.

 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 a legitimate reserve for future operations and which constitute hoarding.
  • Failing to enact Bylaws that are in compliance with those approved by the 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.

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.

BE TOLERANT AND UNDERSTANDING

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.

Simplicity

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.

Persistency

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.

Diversity

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.

Visibility

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.

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