barringer

03-21-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-21-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In my mid-20s, I joined a recreational volleyball group that resulted in some lifelong friends (and even in meeting my wife). It was a group of mostly singles that played every Wednesday night, and then everyone went out for pizza and beer at the local pub. Newly arriving women were invited to the pub part right away; for us men, it might take a few weeks before new dating competition was asked to join in!

My first interest in the group was from reading about it in the local newspaper. I didn’t know anyone there, so it was a risky move for me to step outside my comfort zone to meet new people. For two or three weeks, I heard the side chatter about getting together afterward, but I didn’t speak up. I played and then went home.  Eventually a friendly guy asked me to join everyone and, despite my initial shyness, I accepted. Looking back decades later, that personal invitation changed my life.

Sound familiar? Despite our own examples of such invitations, some Vincentians still believe that prospective members will read about the Society in the parish bulletin and just show up. That does happen, albeit rarely — but is that our recruitment strategy? While we aren’t asking fellow parishioners to join us, we instead sit in the Conference meeting and complain that we don’t have enough help!

Perhaps even worse is when we take part in the parish ministry fair or have a table in the back of the church. We operate like a trade show booth, advertising our product and maybe even posting a sign about when we meet. We keep that table between us and our prospects, and the activity is a drive-by interaction. It’s no wonder that we see few (if any) new members from this form of recruiting.

Picture a huge funnel. At the tip (or bottom), there is a new member. At the widest part of the top, we can list advertising, posters, and other mass marketing tools and activities. The next level down is where we find the parish booth, and then the Invitation to Serve pulpit talks. (Check it out on our website!) The most crucial level is next, what we call the “close” — the personal invitation to join. In marketing lingo, we go from a broadcast approach to a targeted, specific call to action. That’s how it works. In fact, it’s almost the only way it works!

Ah, but there is also a hidden, second funnel. It goes in the opposite direction from the new member’s arrival. You see, the process should not stop when they walk in the door.

At the tip of this second funnel is the welcoming at the new member’s first meeting. Are they welcomed by name? Are they encouraged to participate? Do they receive a Member Handbook and/or other materials that explain who we are and what we do? Do we treat them like new friends?

The next part of the funnel is the Onboarding process. Granted, this can be different for each Conference, but it should involve getting the new member out with a team for a Home Visit. You might assign a mentor to answer all those initial questions. Please don’t forget to include all three of our Essential Elements of Friendship, Spirituality and Service in these orientation weeks. We want them to have a welcoming exposure to every part of our mission.

Notice that I did not include an Ozanam Orientation thus far in this funnel. This deserves specific attention. Some Councils only offer Orientations at set times throughout the year, so you may be held hostage a bit to the calendar. If you recruit enough new members, add a new Ozanam Orientation to meet demand! Otherwise, look to schedule this for every member, new and old, within a brief, reasonable time.

The widest part of the second funnel is the everyday activity of the Conference (and perhaps your Council). Where do the interests of each new member lie? Are some attracted to filling out paperwork (just kidding, no one ever chooses this one), food pantry work, systemic change classes, prison visits, or maybe, God bless them, do they only want to go on Home Visits? Let’s meet new members halfway, matching initial interests with anything we do, instead of forcing them into where we need them the most.

At the center of the funnels is the personal ask. Weren’t you asked at some point by a friend, priest or fellow parishioner to consider joining the Society? Why should we believe this ask to be unnecessary for others?

It’s always a good time to ask someone to join you for pizza and beer. It is likewise always a good time to ask someone if they would like to meet Jesus and join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

01-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This has always been a somewhat personal column between myself and our members, so I’m using it this week to tell you some personal, and Society, news. I will retire as the National Council CEO at the end of this fiscal year. This is not a sudden decision, but rather one that has been quietly in the works for about two years. I chose a time to end my service that would hopefully be the least challenging for our organization, given the National President election a year ago and the change of our Board a few months ago.

Here are quick answers to the usual questions. Am I sick? Thankfully, No. Am I fighting with the President or the Board? Heck No. Am I leaving for another job? Are you offering one? Seriously, No. Can we change your mind? Thanks, but No.

To be very clear, my decision has nothing to do with my relationships with President John Berry or with any of our Board members, or with our path forward. Actually, I have some regrets leaving during all of this planning excitement! Many months ago, John and other Presidential candidates asked me to stay on for at least their first year if elected. It has been fulfilling to have served as Society staff leadership for 11 years and with nonprofits for more than 40 years. I will be 66 this August, so it’s simply a good time for my family to move on to some rest and to other vocations. My plan is to continue my Vincentian service as a volunteer nationally and locally as our leaders wish me to contribute, and of course, to provide whatever support I can to my successor.

Mary Ellen and I plan to relocate to Phoenix to be nearer to our son, the high school science teacher and football coach. I hear that there’s a SVdP Council in Phoenix…

President John and a search committee are beginning the recruitment process for the next CEO. Look for details in upcoming issues of the e-Gazette. Our plan is to have the new CEO formally installed at a Mass during the National Assembly. We chose this time to make the retirement announcement so that the process will have the time necessary for a thorough national CEO search. I certainly will not “name my successor” and have asked not to be on the search committee; however, I will assist in providing experience-based input to the committee as requested and to any inquiring candidates.

Meanwhile, between now and October I will still be here, doing whatever I can along with my staff to serve you and all our members. There is certainly lots to do, so this is not Goodbye quite yet!  See you soon.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

12-14-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-14-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

As prominent Catholic theologian Kenny Rogers (just kidding) used to sing, “You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” That’s the lesson for all of us in our government — and some foundation — relationships.  While some good examples certainly exist, many so-called funding partnerships result in exploitation, even if designed at first for the common good. We need to take another look at this relationship.

Government (local or federal) needs, or believes it needs, some service it is unwilling or unable to do by itself. Perhaps it is restricted from doing it by law or regulation. Maybe it doesn’t have the proper distribution resources, such as the reach into specific populations or communities. Lacking this startup money, talent or knowledge, it outsources work to the private sector including nonprofit organizations.  And here is where it gets interesting and dangerous.

The for-profits say “Sure, we can do that for you. But to get it done right, we need some money for infrastructure and overhead, so much for marketing, and because we are a business, we need to make a little money, too.” In the contracting game, even the lowest bidder makes a profit, sometimes at the outset or later under “contract modifications” which invariably appear later.

Nonprofits, however, usually take a different approach. They humbly respond with “We really want to help the same people you do, so we will do what it takes to provide the service. We will prove how good we are by asking for little or even no overhead costs. We will give away some of our resources that we already paid for, and whenever possible, we’ll even use volunteers so you don’t need to pay us too much! Just pay us for our direct costs, even though we probably don’t know what they are.”

With this contracting approach, it’s no wonder why they are nonprofits. They don’t even try to make ends meet.

Government may not listen when the organization hits a snag that may cost more to provide the service. “That’s your problem,” they say, “just be more efficient.” Which sounds kind of funny, coming from the government.

To make matters worse, government may then try to run the nonprofit’s business. Beyond contract specifications which are fairly included up front, sometimes government will add that “if you take our money, you need to abide by these other rules, too.” The rules may be outside of our Catholic beliefs, or what employee benefits need to be provided. There may be added costs in the hiring process or in the audit reporting that aren’t covered in the contract language but are “understood” as a condition of doing the government’s work.

The for-profits do a better job of knowing know when to ask for more or when to quit. Many nonprofits simply accept whatever terms are thrown at them because they feel so vested in the program. They then raise money to support the contract work and its “extra costs” — in effect subsidizing the government!

Lockheed Martin doesn’t run bake sales. And neither should we.

There is a growing awareness of all this by the nonprofit sector. A first step is knowing when you’re the sucker. Yet many nonprofits haven’t yet gotten to a next step of demanding change, or ultimately walking away from a bad relationship. However, there is both hope and precedent. Years ago, some local United Way application requirements and performance measures got so out of hand — combined with fewer dollars promised in return — that many established member nonprofits walked away. We need to remember this lesson of self-respect.

As the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we have some unique strengths when it comes to potential government/funder relationships. We have boots on the ground in the neighborhoods they want served. We have a distribution network of hundreds or thousands of Vincentians, other volunteers and staff as trusted friends with neighbors in need. We can leverage resources, not the least of which is knowledge regarding the poor, to bring to the table. We have effective relationships with landlords, utilities, food and other resources that will save the other party time and money to utilize.

As Vincentians we are humble in our work and values. We aren’t asking government or foundations to help us; we ask for others who have little or no voice. It’s not the time to be humble, but to be strong in our values and abilities to be compensated fairly for the work we are asked to perform.  Otherwise, it’s time to walk away from bad contracts and bad funder relationships.  We can do so respectfully, as is our nature, standing up for ourselves and our need for sustainability to benefit the poor.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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