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Governance — Retaining Your Members

Governance — Retaining Your Members 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

We have noted several times in this Manual that progress takes time and patience. Gaining new members, increasing contributions, attaining spiritual maturity, and developing a network of relationships happen only slowly, over time. Once you have made that commitment in effort and prayer, would it not be a shame to lose what you worked so hard to build?

You retain people by helping them do things that warm their hearts and enrich their souls. Then they will make the personal commitment to continue.

An important point to remember is that a happy, dedicated member is one who knows what is expected and also knows how and why what he/she does is important to the Society and those in need. The heart of retention is the long-range feeling that the Society and its works are individually fulfilling.


Gaining a new member is like finding a diamond in the slag at the Kimberly mines. You have no idea of its real value until you chip away the exterior to reveal its inner composition (get to know her/him), and spend time polishing its surface (provide training, motivation and direction). A hesitant retired accountant could become your most dynamic home visit team member, engaging even the most cynical of guests in fervent prayer. A quiet young parishioner may have the potential to be your successor as Conference president.

How do you retain these diamonds in the rough?

  1. Assign them a mentor. Assign them someone who will work with them for a while — at least four to six months. Preferably an experienced Vincentian of the same sex. To be considered for the role of mentor, a member should be well experienced in the Society (it would be wrong here to define a number of years of experience), have participated in sufficient number of home visits to have experienced a wide variety of circumstances, and has attended the Ozanam Orientation.
  2. Assign them something to do right away, even if it appears trivial, like organizing the shelves in your pantry. Explain how it is important to your overall work (you must meet the health code or risk the loss of your pantry) and that you will be moving them to other, more important work soon.
  3. Assign them a meaningful responsibility quickly. Don’t break your promise from the above item. Give them something important to do, preferably Home Visits with an experienced Vincentian.
  4. Provide them with training (local) as soon as possible for specialized positions (answering the phone, packing food boxes, picking up bread). Team them up with an experienced Vincentian for home visits or food delivery. People learn best from observing others.
  5. Get them into Ozanam Orientation training within three months. Never send them alone; send them with someone they know. Anxiety and confusion runs high among new members; having a friend with you helps clear away those bottlenecks to participation and development.
  6. Help them feel they are members of a big family. Invite, but don’t force, them to interesting District Council and/or Diocesan Council. Offer to pick them up and drive them to the first couple functions; encourage the creation of car pools to take groups of members to functions. Mix new members with old-timers whenever possible. It gives confidence to the newcomers and new vitality to older Vincentians.
  7. Don’t exclude non-Catholics. We are an organization which is “Catholic in character.” Anyone who shares the objectives of the Society is eligible to join. A real measure of your effectiveness is when non-Catholics join, perceiving that SVdP is not only an effective organization serving the poor, but a means of living out the tenets of their Christian (or monotheistic) faith. Recent Popes have all stressed our obligation to practice ecumenism; let’s not drop the ball in the field.

Next, consider the suggestions, below, for existing members.


Yes, new members are essential for growth, vitality and the future. But existing members are your backbone, source of experience, the people who will guide and mentor the newcomers. They need your attention too.

  • Keep your members busy. More members drop out because they don’t think they’re needed than because they’re overworked. Keep them busy. Get them involved in the whole picture. Let them know what’s going on, locally, at the District Council/Diocesan Council level, even nationally. Get someone to handle the “telephone tree” and make sure everyone gets a call when help is needed. Even if someone says “sorry” again and again, don’t give up on getting them involved – keep calling.
  • Form committees and ask everyone to serve on at least one and, hopefully, two. Good ones are:
    • Information and Referral — Keep the material in your Information and Referral Manual (Sources of Assistance) complete and up-to-date.
    • Food Procurement — Track what food is available at food bank and at alternate food sources; how and when your monthly allotment and other food supplies will be picked up, unloaded, and shelved.
    • Food Processing — Arrange for vouchers for milk, bread, fresh fruits, and produce; repackage laundry detergent, and odd items the Conference receives in bulk.
    • Furniture Registry — Establish and maintain a list of donated, used furniture available from parishioners for guests when needed. Try to arrange for temporary storage. Match up with requests from guests.
    • Food Pantry — Keep the pantry clean and the shelves stocked. Some Conferences pre-pack food boxes by size of family.
    • Social events — Arrange pot luck dinners, outings, parties, etc., for all members spaced throughout the year.
    • Spirituality — Make a calendar for the year with plans for the religious days related to our Society. Coordinate activities with neighboring Conferences.
    • Communications— make sure the parish bulletin has an item about SVdP every week, or the bulletin board has a display, or the newsletter is properly prepared for bulk-rate mailing.
    • Correspondence — handle the correspondence of the Conference, communicating with other parish groups, sending get well and condolence cards, thank you notes to contributors, etc.
    • Projects or Events committees — Back to School, Postal Food Drive, Roses for Life, Boy Scout Food Drive, Christmas Gift and Food Basket, etc.
  • Encourage continuing education. A person never stops learning. The Diocesan Council can provide you with many ideas and resources for spiritual growth and Vincentian development for your members. Included are:
    • The Ozanam Orientation provides basic orientation and essential background and is obligatory for new members and those serving as officers. This one day workshop includes SVdP history, spirituality, philosophy, organization, activities, Home Visits, etc. Even experienced members have found this program very beneficial.
    • Serving in Hope has seven modules with multiple lessons in each. Modules include: Our Vincentian Vocation, Our Vincentian Spirituality, Our Vincentian Heritage, Our Vincentian Mission, Our Vincentian Rule, Our Vincentian Conference and the Home Visit. Each lesson contains study, reflection, and small group discussion. The formation guides and videos can be ordered from the National Council office.
    • Voice of the Poor. This educational guide on advocacy is available through the National Council office.
    • Diversity. “A Vincentian Guide to Diversity/Multicultural Issues” is available through the National Council office.
    • Attend Home Visit Training, Spiritual Advisor Training
    • Attend Retreats, Region Meetings

Be cautious about discouraging members from moving away from being actively involved. People’s lives change, sometimes often and at inconvenient times. Women get pregnant and have babies and their lives take difficult turns. Adults find a parent has Alzheimer’s or a child has ALS. Members who are actively involved who must ‘withdraw’ or ‘take time off’ should never be made to feel ‘guilty’ about the change.

Vincentians who leave active service on a positive note are more likely to return when their lives change again and/or to continue to help out in other ways (financially, volunteering for special projects, etc.).

Build the role of Associate Membership. Continued participation of the Vincentian, in any role, is the key to eventually getting the person back into an active role.

  • Involve your regular donors.  Regular donors are equal partners in the Society. We are a union of willing hands (Active Members), caring hearts and helping hands (Associate Members) and generous almsgivers (regular donors). Each is separate but equal.

Many people are afraid to participate, afraid to meet the poor. They choose to discharge their responsibility to help the poor by writing you a check. While you may need their check to help the poor, your objective should be to tactfully get them involved in person-to-person contact with those in need. Let them find out it’s not stressful when working with another, experienced parishioner. Help them find how it gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling.

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

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

Conference Guidelines

Conference Guidelines 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

*Information for this week’s Governance article came from Vincentian Life: Conference

New members have a real challenge before them when they join a Conference. There is a tremendous amount of “stuff” that they have to learn: who the other members are, principles and history of the Society, spirituality, how to do Home Visits, where everything is, what and when to do something, and what and when not to. It can all be very confusing. Actually, it can all be confusing to members who have been around for a while, as well. That is why it is important to have a set of Conference guidelines.


Have you ever heard the expressions: that’s the way we do things, we’ve always done it this way, we can’t do that, or it’s just not done that way. That is one of the most frustrating things about being a member – especially a new one. Not knowing what to do and/or being criticized for doing something the wrong way can be very humiliating. It would all be much simpler if all those ways and things were written down somewhere.

They can be.  They should be. And, the most organized and well run Conferences have a set of written guidelines that are available to all members. They are not just a set of rules that have been accumulated over the years, they are a formal set of guidelines that have been defined, organized and presented in a form that is convenient to use, easy to understand and readily accessible to all members.

Without the written guidelines, the statements above will continue to flow and new members will continue to scratch their heads – some even leaving the Conference. Without the written guidelines, people will give their own interpretation of what is the proper way because that’s the way they remember being taught.


Before preparing a set of guidelines, the Conference members should attend an Ozanam Orientation. This is important since it gives members an understanding of what is important and what should be stressed in our ministry. Without this basic understanding, guidelines may be developed simply because they sound good or logical. The guidelines we develop for a Conference should be reflective of our call to ministry.

Preparing a set of guidelines is not that difficult. The Conference should establish a committee of about three people who will take on the task of creating the first draft of the guidelines. They will get together a few times and map out the guidelines which will be reviewed, updated and hopefully approved by the Conference for their use. Your Conference may also get a copy of the guidelines of a neighboring Conference. Do NOT simply adopt someone else’s guidelines as your own. You should make sure your guidelines fit the needs of your Conference and those in need in your parish community.

Look to the other chapters in this book and pay close attention to the topics of food, rent, utilities, Home Visits, etc. Then come to a consensus among the committee members as to what a reasonable expectation should be in dealing with those types of service. Members of the Conference may have already dealt with these issues and some unwritten guidelines or rules may already exist.

“Guidelines” should be just what the word means. These are not firm rules that have to have the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. These are possible ways to approach fulfilling the requests for help. The guidelines should provide possible solutions. One thing is extremely important to remember: guidelines are intended to define how people in need can be served, they are not intended to define how people are to be turned away.

When circumstances dictate, the members can vote to override a guideline for a particular case.

Once the draft is compiled, copies should be presented to all members for their review, correction and final approval. This process may take two or three meetings to complete. This review and approval process is a Conference process and should not be left to only a few people. Once consensus has been reached by the Conference as a whole, the document should be formally published and each member should be given a copy. The Secretary will be given the original to keep with the Conference records. All new members should receive a copy of the guidelines when they join the Conference.


At the beginning of the fiscal year (October or November), the Conference guidelines should be reviewed by the members of the Conference. They should be evaluated to see if they are still appropriate for the conditions that currently exist. The same process that was followed to review and approve the initial set of guidelines should also be used to review, update and approve the new guidelines. Once again, all members should be given copies of the guidelines.


Conference guidelines are one of the keys to having an organized and well-run Conference. None of the guidelines should contradict the Rule, Manual or Bylaws or any local, state, or federal tax laws. None of the guidelines should in any way indicate who to serve or how not to serve someone in need. If they are properly prepared, the guidelines will help Conference members serve those in need in the best way possible.

Governance Resources

Governance Resources 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

*Information in this article was provided by the National Governance Committee

The National Governance Committee recognizes that good leadership is one of the keys to every successful organization. With this in mind, the following are among the projects and material the committee has developed. It is our hope that these will help everyone become a better servant leader whether as a Conference or Council President, Officer, member of the Board of Directors, or Committee member.

GOVERNANCE TRAINING – We’ve put together a Governance Training program. Although we have presented this live in a few locations, we know this may not be practical for everyone and so we recorded a presentation, had the recording edited and put it on a DVD. It is available along with a guide book through the National Office.

GOVERNANCE WEBPAGE – We’ve grouped much governance-related material into one convenient location. Search this site for information you need. The direct link to the governance web page is https://members.ssvpusa.org/governance/. When you open this site you’ll find a summary of each of the posted categories and a guide suggesting what documents you should review based on whether you are or are not in leadership and if you are in leadership, based on the position you hold.

MENTORING – We continue to place mentors for new Council Presidents and new Executive Directors / CEOs through our National Mentoring Program.

PARTNERSHIPS BETWEEN EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS/CEOs AND COUNCIL PRESIDENTS – We prepared a paper that explores how to develop and maintain an effective relationship for the good of the Society.

SUCCESSION PLANNING – We also produced a paper titled “Who Me? Why In The World Should I Become A Vincentian Leader?” along with talking points and a list of resource materials. There are significant personal benefits to being a Vincentian leader and the Society needs leaders. Another paper titled “Succession Planning – A Brief Primer” offers guidance on this important subject.

RECOMMENDED SAMPLE POLICIES FOR NONPROFITS – All policies that appear here are meant to be examples of how such policies could read. They are not meant to be adopted as is but rather to serve as examples only.

QUESTION & ANSWER MASTER INDEX – If you have a question ranging from the Rule to how best to operate a Conference or Council or the correct way to go about the day-to-day activities of a Vincentian, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been answered in the e-Gazette. For this reason we have a Master Index of questions previously asked and answered posted on the national website Governance page.

We suggest you take a look at the variety of leadership materials on the national website. To take advantage of Leadership Training materials, click here, and Leadership Mentoring, click here. Promote these materials among your fellow members.

We all belong to the Society because of a desire to help people, to live the Gospel message, and to grow in our faith. It should follow then that as we provide assistance it be done in the best possible way, using best practices of our time, following the Society’s Rule, and complying with federal and state laws. In this way we will ensure the good reputation of and the public’s confidence in the Society.

Three Major Areas of Board Responsibility

Three Major Areas of Board Responsibility 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

*The information for this week’s article was provided by the National Governance Committee

Looking ahead, the beginning of a new fiscal year is typically a good time for Boards to discuss, or at least review, their responsibilities as a nonprofit’s governing body to ensure that all members understand their individual duties. Most Board members recognize that their basic duties include, but are not limited to, defining and approving policies, selecting and supervising an executive director, ensuring programs are consistent with the organization’s mission and monitoring program effectiveness, as well as protecting the organization’s assets whether it is financial and/or social capital.[1] From a broader and legal perspective, Boards have three major areas of responsibility: Duty of care, duty of loyalty and duty of obedience.

Duty of Care:

A Board member is expected to act as any ordinary, prudent person in similar circumstances. This requires diligent, attentive, informed participation; i.e., reasonable care when making decisions in stewardship of the organization.

The duty of care is evident in the following activities:

  • The Board holds regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Board members have received and read the bylaws and policies.
  • Information is provided to the Board in a timely manner and in advance of meetings.
  • Board members arrive at meetings prepared, having read the minutes and advance material.
  • Financial reports are furnished on a regular schedule and are reviewed by the Board.
  • The Board makes informed decisions based on information provided.
  • Minutes accurately reflect Board votes and decisions, including dissent.

Duty of Loyalty:

Board members are expected to act in good faith, giving undivided allegiance to the organization, when making decisions that affect it. They should not operate for personal gain against the best interests of the organization.

When a conflict arises between the interests of a Board member and the well-being of the organization, the Board member should immediately disclose the matter and recuse from both the discussion and the decision-making. If the matter proceeds, the terms of any transaction with a Board member must be at least as favorable to the organization as that which could be obtained from a party with no ties to it.

Board members should observe confidentiality regarding the Board’s deliberations and decision-making, and respect and adhere to all Board decisions, regardless of whether they voted in favor of the motion. Only designated spokespersons (usually the President) may speak publicly on behalf of the organization.

Duty of Obedience:

A Board member is expected to act in a manner that ensures the organization operates in keeping with its mission and bylaws and in accordance with the laws and regulations governing its formation and status.

In order to maintain the public’s trust as a nonprofit organization, Board members must be fully conversant and compliant with the organization’s mission, bylaws and policies, and ensure that the policies, goals and activities (including competent management of its funds and other resources) are executed in accordance with the mission.

Source: Anne Dalton, “Three Major Areas of Board Responsibility,” The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., 2014

[1] Boards should not involve themselves in the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit as this is the primary responsibility of the executive director.

Conflict in Conference Meetings

Conflict in Conference Meetings 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

*Original Content in the article below was provided by the Governance Committee.

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

To prevent Conference meeting conflicts:

  • Send out a detailed, specific agenda ahead of time so that members know how the meeting will proceed. Make it clear that the meeting will unfold in an organized, respectful manner.
  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of the members in your Conference, and tailor the discussion style to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.
  • Encourage frequent communication among Conference members outside of meetings so that members feel informed and are not taken by surprise.
  • Ensure that minutes are kept of Conference meetings, including specifics about decisions made and timeframes. Distribute minutes in advance to all Conference members to reduce inconsistencies in memory.

During a Conference meeting:

  • Make sure all Conference members have the chance to speak and be listened to respectfully.
  • For significant topics, give members a few moments to process the question at hand and perhaps write down a few notes before starting the discussion.
  • Present things in such a way that indicates the Conference is working through issues together.
  • Try to anticipate conflict and address the issue before it happens. Be aware of members’ nonverbal communication and apparent discomfort.
  • Encourage the Conference to be specific in its decisions to avoid ambiguity about when or how something will be done (i.e., “Jesse will contact Father Mike by noon on Friday,” not “Jesse will contact Father Mike soon”).

Should a conflict arise:

  • Pause briefly to allow the Conference and its members a chance to temper emotions and think of how to say things in a thoughtful, respectful fashion.
  • Repeat/summarize what you have heard Conference members say so they know you heard them.
  • Neutralize personally-directed comments by restating them in terms of objective qualities, issues or actions, not people themselves (i.e., “Maria tries to avoid us all of the time and refuses to answer our phone calls” to “You feel that Maria is not making herself available to the needs of the Conference,” or perhaps even better, “You feel that our current system of reporting home visits is not working”).
  • Redirect tangents back to the agenda item under discussion.
  • Restate and reframe the larger context of the situation to keep the topic in perspective.
  • Identify and outline the points of agreement that exist between disagreeing parties.
  • Find a “grain of truth” in an opposing viewpoint and use that to begin to build consensus.
  • Strive to arrive at group consensus; avoid voting on a divisive topic if possible.
  • Place the discussion on hold and ask the Conference spiritual advisor to lead the Conference in a prayer before continuing.

If the Conference is stuck:

  • Reduce unknown factors and fear by assigning a subgroup to research the topic a bit more and report back at a future meeting.
  • Table the conversation until a future meeting.
  • Discern whether someone perceives a threat to themselves or to their interests. If so, address/discuss the issue in a kindly fashion that preserves their dignity.
  • If the topic is hijacking the meeting, arrange for either the whole group or those members most invested in the topic to hold a separate meeting in the future to discuss it.
  • If only one individual is upset about an issue for a prolonged period of time, ask to meet separately with him/her after the meeting.
  • Consider whether another factor(s) may be contributing to rigidity in mindset or aggression in verbal response.
  • While maintaining confidentiality, seek advice from fellow Conference/Council presidents, National Office staff, committee chairs or other Vincentian peers. Many other Vincentian leaders may have faced similar circumstances and have suggestions based on what worked for them.

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

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



The Conference Meeting Agenda

The Conference Meeting Agenda 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

*This week’s Governance article was provided by the National Governance Committee

There has been much discussion over the last several years related to the frequency of Conference meetings and what constitutes a valid meeting in compliance with the Rule. This brief article addresses this issue, hopefully answering most questions that come up related to it.

David Williams, considered to be the guru of the Rule internationally, noted it requires that Vincentian Conference meetings take place at least twice monthly (ideally weekly). Those meetings should consist of three specific segments which reflect the objectives of the Society:  Growth in holiness, community (friendship/fellowship) and service to those in need. If any of those segments is not present, it is not a valid meeting. We must add that a valid meeting requires a quorum of Active Members.

In the new Part III of the Rule, Statute 7 provides a comprehensive list of components an agenda could include. Here is where reality comes into play:

  • If a Conference has no active committees doing special things for the Conference, then committee reports are not needed. However, if there are active committees, it is appropriate to have someone from that committee report on the work those Vincentians have done. This is one way in which we honor the work of our fellow Vincentians.
  • If there are no Resolutions to come before the Conference, then that portion of the meeting may be skipped.

These are just two examples of how the agenda is flexible.

So let’s look at what is absolutely required. We will address two specifics first and then what David Williams has identified. By virtue of the offices they hold, the Secretary and Treasurer are required to present a report at every meeting. The Secretary presents, at a minimum, the minutes of the last meeting and opens the floor for corrections before final approval of the minutes. The Treasurer reports on the status of all financial accounts of the Conference and answers any questions asked by members. Since all decisions of the Conference are made by the Active Members as a whole, the members must be aware of the current status of all activities and accounts.

And now let’s look at David Williams’ specifications:

  1. Growth in holiness: This is covered by the opening/closing prayers and the spiritual reading and discussion by the members. In some cases Conferences have gathered for a Mass or special liturgy and this will suffice, but the spiritual reading and discussion is the primary way in which this is fulfilled within the meeting.
  2. Community (friendship/fellowship): In the recommended agenda this is fulfilled by the spiritual reading and discussion by the members, and by the discussions which center on the Home Visit reports and other work of the members (committees, special works, etc.). In some cases this is fulfilled by the members planning for and/or actually doing a work of service together at that time.  Sometimes it is fulfilled by a social after the meeting itself. This will satisfy the requirement if it includes everyone present at the meeting and not just one or two people.
  3. Service to those in need: In Statute 7 this is fulfilled by the reports on Home Visits, committee activity and special works. As in #2 above, this is also fulfilled by the members planning for and/or actually doing a work of service together at that time.

As can be seen in the above explanation, the agenda presented in Statute 7 is a reasonable way to plan each Conference meeting; however, it is not the only way. It is highly important that every meeting have an agenda to keep things moving in an orderly fashion and complete the meeting in a reasonable amount of time.

Ground Rules for Visitation

Ground Rules for Visitation 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Today’s Article was Written by Mike Syslo, Chair of the National Governance Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Judgment not judgmental!

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

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

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

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

6. Who owns the groceries? Let go!

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

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

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

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

7. Work within the guidelines of the Conference.

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

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

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

8. Your decision is the right one.

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

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

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


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

Frederic’s Words

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

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

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

How to Run a Good Meeting

How to Run a Good Meeting 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Many newly-elected presidents will soon take office and put their leadership skills to work. Among the group leadership skills that come into play is knowing how to run a good meeting. Here are a few tips for use whether you are a new or veteran president:

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

We hope these basic suggestions help your meeting run smoothly.

A Duty To Delegate: Guidance For Vincentian Leaders

A Duty To Delegate: Guidance For Vincentian Leaders 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Webster defines the verb “delegate” as “to entrust to another.”  It seems simple enough but isn’t always so when human nature intrudes.

Delegating is a core principle of sound management and our Rule expects Vincentian leaders to practice it.  Yet we frequently hear stories of Conferences and Councils unable to function effectively because presidents want to do everything their way and don’t delegate even basic responsibilities.  We also hear about leaders stepping down because they were “burned out” from placing undue and unwise burdens on themselves. Sadly, fulfilling our mission is often short-circuited by such misguided ideas of how to lead and manage those who share a vocation of service to God and His beloved poor.

Strong collaborative leadership is essential to making our Society a more effective source of help to the needy.  It brings fresh ideas into the operation of Conferences and Councils and moves us forward by promoting our Rule, forming members, and advancing goals and objectives.

Our Rule (3:11) tells us that “Following Christ’s example, the presidents at all levels of the Society endeavor to be servant leaders.  They provide an encouraging atmosphere in which the talents, capacities and spiritual charism of the members are identified, developed and put to the service of the poor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.”  Such a focus on personal development also can provide a significant boost to a Conference’s or Council’s succession planning efforts.

There is abundant evidence that without effective leadership our service to the poor suffers and the viability of individual Conferences and Councils becomes a concern.  It is a time-tested truth that leadership is as important to the service of the poor as any other role in our Society.

Among the concerns expressed for not stepping into leadership by running for Conference or Council president is that it is too time-consuming.  That can be the case if leaders do not depend on others to assist them.  As a first among equals and as a servant leader, presidents should help others grow into leadership roles by appointing officers, board members and committee chairs – and using them – so it becomes a team effort.  Delegating duties to officers and making use of committees shares a Conference’s workload and enables others to become vital parts of the leadership team.  Presidents do not need to attend all committee meetings.  Committee chairs report back to them and to the membership.  Committees also provide an opportunity to identify and develop capable candidates to move into leadership positions.

Some key points to ponder:

  • Leaders are not expected to act alone – leadership is inherently a collaborative effort.
  • Our Rule recognizes that family and job responsibilities come first.
  • Leadership is not a personal mission but a team mission and God’s mission.
  • There is a need to build a leadership team – officers and committee heads.
  • The basic idea is to spread the work around – let others report to the president.
  • Leaders need to put their trust in God and not lose sight of the spirituality of our mission.
  • Leaders must use the God-given talents of others.

Our mission calls us to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the poor and needy in the tradition of our founder, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul.  Serving as the president of a Council or Conference provides an ideal platform from which to enhance one’s own spiritual life.  A great privilege of leadership is the priceless opportunity to nurture the spirituality of fellow Vincentians while inspiring them to be ambassadors of the mission of St. Vincent de Paul in our communities by bringing the love and mercy of Christ to His suffering children.

Since our founding, Vincentians have been bolstered by an unwavering trust in the providence of God who has demonstrated during the past 189 years that He attaches a high priority to the success of our Society.  We have, after all, said “yes” to His call.  He wants us to succeed, whatever role we play in His plan for our personal ministry of love and compassion.

t and officers take office and soon afterwards, they should take advantage of the training programs and resources available to help them understand their roles.  There are many resources in this area that can be found on the National Council website such as Conference President Training, Servant Leadership Workshop and others.

Succession planning is not difficult but it does require effort.  Putting it off is easy but not wise.  You do not want to come to election time and only have one candidate – the one who steps in because no one else will and who may not be the right person for the job.

So, You’ve Been Elected President…

So, You’ve Been Elected President… 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

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

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

Myth #1:  You need to know everything now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This myth could not be further from the truth.  The Society is truly a global network of charity.  Fellow Vincentians in 155 countries are serving those in need, as you are, and desire to do so with love and in an effective manner.  As you attend regional and national gatherings, or reach out to other Vincentian leaders, you will find that many people are more than willing to share their knowledge.  You will only feel all alone if you do not participate in such interactions and relationships.

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

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

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

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