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Society of St. Vincent de Paul

06-30-2022 Questions and Answers

06-30-2022 Questions and Answers 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Q: How much information on those we serve are we permitted to share with other organizations? Can we share our Home Visit reports?

A:  Confidentiality is extremely important in the Society. It is a violation to share information of those whom we serve with other organizations unless a written and signed waiver authorization is received from those served.

Q:  Is it against the Rule to give someone in need a ride? If not, are Conference members who do so liable if an injury occurs?

A:  It is not against the Rule; however, two Vincentians must be present and the Vincentian (driver) giving the ride should be licensed and insured. This needs to be written into your Council/Conference Safeguarding policy. If this service is an official SVDP program, it needs to be addressed one way or another in the Society’s insurance coverage. Don’t wait for an incident to ask about it!

Spanish Translation

P: ¿Cuánta información sobre aquellos a quienes servimos se nos permite compartir con otras organizaciones? ¿Podemos compartir nuestros informes de visitas domiciliarias?

R: La confidencialidad es extremadamente importante en la Sociedad. Es una violación compartir información de aquellos a quienes servimos con otras organizaciones a menos que se reciba una autorización de renuncia por escrito y firmada de aquellos a quienes servimos. Haga clic aquí para ver el formulario de liberación de confidencialidad de SVdP.

P: ¿Va en contra de la Regla llevar a alguien que lo necesita? Si no, ¿los miembros de la Conferencia que lo hacen son responsables si se produce una herida?

R:  No va en contra de la Regla; sin embargo, dos vicentinos deben estar presentes y el vicentino (conductor) que realiza el viaje debe tener licencia y seguro. Esto debe estar escrito en la política de salvaguardia de su Consejo/Conferencia. Si este servicio es un programa oficial de SVDP, debe abordarse de una forma u otra en la cobertura de seguro de la Sociedad. ¡No esperes a que ocurra un incidente para preguntar por ello!

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.

06-23-2022 Questions and Answers

06-23-2022 Questions and Answers 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Q: Are volunteers allowed to take food from the pantry where they serve?

A: Volunteers should not take food from the pantry! Volunteers are not entitled to Conference resources unless specifically approved by the Conference in the same manner as providing assistance to a neighbor in need. Give more instead to those in need.

Q: Resolution 169 states that if there are three or more Conferences located within a reasonable geographic distance of each other those Conferences shall join together to form a District Council. Can you tell me what is a reasonable geographic distance to require an isolated Conference to join a District Council? 

A: In the past, the gauge for this used to be about two hours of driving time since it was to gather for District meetings. But since the pandemic, District meetings can be held in-person or virtual or a combination. So, this limitation is no longer a concern. If there are at least three Conferences, Isolated or not, within a Diocese we strongly encourage all Isolated Conferences to create and/or join a Council.

Spanish Translation

P: ¿Se les permite a los voluntarios tomar alimentos de la despensa donde sirven?

R: ¡Los voluntarios no deben tomar comida de la despensa! Los voluntarios no tienen derecho a los recursos de la Conferencia a menos que la Conferencia lo apruebe específicamente de la misma manera que se brinda asistencia a un vecino con necesidades. En lugar de eso, da más a los necesitados.

P: La Resolución 169 establece que, si hay tres o más Conferencias ubicadas dentro de una distancia geográfica razonable entre sí, esas Conferencias se unirán para formar un Consejo de Distrito. ¿Puede decirme cuál es una distancia geográfica razonable para requerir una Conferencia aislada a unirse a un Consejo de Distrito? 

R: En el pasado, el indicador para esto solía ser de unas dos horas de tiempo de conducción, ya que era para reunirse para las reuniones del Distrito. Pero desde la pandemia, las reuniones del distrito se pueden realizar en persona, de manera virtual o en una combinación. Entonces, esta limitación ya no es una preocupación. Si hay al menos tres Conferencias, Aisladas o no, dentro de una Diócesis, animamos enfáticamente a todas las Conferencias Aisladas a crear y/o unirse a un Consejo.

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.

06-16-2022 Questions and Answers

06-16-2022 Questions and Answers 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Q: Our newly elected president has resigned. I was the former president. Since I was elected to the diocesan president position before I completed my term, can I assume the position again? We do not have anyone interested in being president at this time. Our vice president is willing to take over until we find another person to be president. Can I take over as president or do we have to have a formal election?

A: The vice president assumes the office until a formal election for president of the Conference is held. You can be a candidate only if you are eligible to be elected again, depending on how long since you last served. If you have already served two terms as Conference president, you will have to wait until you’ve been out of office for three years; otherwise, you can be elected again. Serious consideration should also be given about holding two president positions at the same time. It is better for voting matters and to develop others as leaders if they are held by different members.

Q:  Can a husband and wife belong to the same Conference?

A: Husbands and wives can indeed belong to the same Conference. This is not against the Rule. As Vincentians, we are encouraged to increase membership by extending an invitation to our family members to join. It is against the Rule, however, for a husband and wife to both serve as officers together.

Spanish Translation

P: Nuestro nuevo presidente electo ha renunciado. Yo era el presidente anterior. Dado que fui elegido para el cargo de presidente diocesano antes de completar mi mandato, ¿puedo asumir el cargo nuevamente? No tenemos a nadie interesado en ser presidente en este momento. Nuestro vicepresidente está dispuesto a hacerse cargo hasta que encontremos a otra persona para ser presidente. ¿Puedo asumir el cargo de presidente o debemos tener una elección formal?

R: El vicepresidente asume el cargo hasta que se lleve a cabo una elección formal para presidente de la Conferencia. Puede ser candidato solo si es elegible para ser elegido nuevamente, dependiendo de cuánto tiempo haya pasado desde la última vez que sirvió. Si ya ha servido 2 términos como presidente de la Conferencia, tendrá que esperar hasta que haya estado fuera del cargo por 3 años; si no ha servido los 2 términos, puede ser elegido nuevamente. También se debe considerar seriamente la posibilidad de ocupar dos cargos de presidente al mismo tiempo. Es mejor para cuestiones de votación y para desarrollar a otros como líderes si están en manos de diferentes miembros.

P: ¿Pueden un esposo y una esposa pertenecer a la misma Conferencia?

R: Los esposos y las esposas sí pueden pertenecer a la misma Conferencia. Esto no va en contra de la Regla. Como vicentinos, se nos alienta a aumentar la membresía extendiendo una invitación a los miembros de nuestra familia para que se unan. Sin embargo, es contra la regla que un esposo y una esposa sirvan juntos como oficiales.

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.

06-09-2022 Questions and Answers

06-09-2022 Questions and Answers 1200 628 Michelle Boyer

Q:  Can a person who is seeking assistance become an Active Conference member?

A:  A neighbor served can indeed become an active member of a Conference so long as the requirements for an active member are met; is Catholic, attends meetings regularly, and participates in the activities, works and life of the Conference. All three are important to be an Active Member. If #1 or #2 is missing, they are Associate Members. The Rule, Part III, Statute 3 clearly identifies the membership types. However, experience has shown that it is best for them to join after their personal situation is stabilized/satisfied.

Q: Can you help me explain the reason for the 60-day expiration on the release form we have people we serve sign when providing assistance?

A: The reason for the 60-day expiration on the release form is to assist us with gathering information. The form allows us to learn about the neighbor we are serving. We ask them to sign a release form for information gathering. The form is not designed to retain information gathered forever; it is to be used only for the purpose of assessing the request for assistance needed at the time the request is made.

Spanish Translation

P: ¿Puede una persona que busca asistencia convertirse en miembro activo de la Conferencia?

R:  Un vecino atendido puede convertirse en miembro activo de una Conferencia siempre que cumpla con los requisitos para un miembro activo; es católico, asiste regularmente a las reuniones y participa en las actividades, trabajos y vida de la Conferencia. Los tres son importantes para ser un miembro activo. Si falta el #1 o el #2, son Miembros Asociados. La Regla, Parte III, Estatuto 3 identifica claramente los tipos de membresía. Sin embargo, la experiencia ha demostrado que es mejor para ellos unirse después de que su situación personal esté estabilizada/satisfecha.

P: ¿Puede ayudarme a explicar el motivo de la caducidad de 60 días en el formulario de autorización que las personas a las que servimos firman al brindar asistencia?

R: El motivo del vencimiento de 60 días en el formulario de autorización es para ayudarnos a recopilar información. El formulario nos permite conocer al prójimo al que estamos sirviendo. Les pedimos que firmen un formulario de divulgación para la recopilación de información. El formulario no está diseñado para retener la información recopilada para siempre; se utilizará únicamente con el fin de evaluar la solicitud de asistencia necesaria en el momento en que se realiza la solicitud.

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.

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