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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.

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.

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