Dave Barringer

02-08-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-08-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

There are several topics which immediately start arguments among Vincentians when written about in this space. I wish I could tell you some of them but, you know, it would start the process! However, I will broach one topic because there is an immediate need for some guidance: our logo.

Specifically, I have received recent questions about changing the national Society logo by replacing “USA” in the outer ring with a local identifier, usually a city name. So, let’s dive into some of the rules around this that protect the Society and help us to know who’s who.

First, please recognize that the logo (or “mark” in legal terms) is intellectual property owned by the National Council as a trademark. We have spent literally several hundred thousand dollars to protect its value from outside groups that want to use our name or logo image for their businesses or products. Usually this is a parish, a former Conference that is now a parish group serving the poor, or another Catholic organization that wants to use St. Vincent’s name. We own the rights to use both St. Vincent’s and Frédéric Ozanam’s name for specific business categories such as shelters, food pantries, thrift stores, and generally services for the poor. Another group can use these names in unprotected properties such as hospitals, schools, or even used car lots if they so desire.

If we allow for our logo, the circle with the SVdP letters and an outer ring with “USA” in it, to be changed even by our own members, then legally it becomes more open to changes by outside groups. Considering the economic value our logo has to identify the Society nationally and locally for our goods and services, we need to protect it any way we must to preserve our rights.

If a Council or Conference wishes to make any changes to the national logo, they must have written permission from the National CEO. This helps us to maintain the relevant legal records and places some accountability to preserve the mark as noted above. This is a fairly simple process of exchanging emails with me, including a sample of the desired changes.

What can be authorized? First, I won’t approve any new logo that isn’t a version of our current standard national logo. While we indeed have some of these already in certain cities/dioceses, I truly wish we didn’t in order to maintain a common look and identity for the Society across the country. We could argue the effects, but my position is that alternative logos weaken our brand. Let’s be One Society.

Second, I normally don’t approve a change to our logo for a Conference or a special work. We reserve the city identifiers in the outer ring to Councils, usually with a city/diocese name replacing the USA in the lower part of the outer ring. Separate Conference logos within a Council confuse the public, who may think they are separate legal entities, and often don’t adequately identify the service area anyway. Conferences, stores, and other businesses/service can use a separate name to help identify themselves in text alongside the logo, but not through changes in the approved national logo itself. The exception to this policy may occur when a Conference is separately incorporated, which is uncommon but useful for some liability and other business reasons. The general rule I follow is that altered logos must flow from an incorporated entity, which is usually the Council.

There are also practical reasons for limiting changes. We presently have the event where several parishes, and then Conferences, are merged. There are rules for renaming the new Conference that I won’t go into here, but in some cases the new entity combines the names of the merging Conferences. These longer names won’t fit in the national logo’s available space!

Our Vincentians are certainly creative, so I am also asked for permission to create an event-based logo, such as for a Friends for the Poor Walk. This involves another basic rule for trademark protection, involving legal definitions of an alteration. Basically, no new element is allowed to touch the current logo image such as an added ring, placing the logo on the front of another image like a house, or adding a new element like a hat, angel wings, or whatever. The logo can be placed within such an image, but it can’t touch anywhere, as this is the same legally as an entirely new logo. Before you ask, I don’t approve an outer ring that floats around the current circle, as this is still considered one image.

You may wonder why the CEO needs to be bothered with these details among many other priorities. Ask yourself how you feel when someone calls you by a different name, even if it’s Bobby instead of Robert, or Big Jim instead of simply Jim. Imagine how it would then feel if someone else stole your name and then your appearance! Our Society’s name is important to the understanding of our identity, and in the case of any nonprofit’s logo, our ability to attract volunteers and funds. It all starts with a common identity, including the logo. What’s in a name? Only everything.

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

11-09-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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A recent airline announcement at the boarding gate caught my attention. Passengers are no longer permitted to carry previously purchased alcohol on board to consume. Of course, the airline is still pleased to sell you some in your seat. A pilot seated next to me said that “too many passenger fights showing up on the Internet” was the driving force behind this new federal regulation. In that case, it might have been easier to ban cellphone videos rather than alcohol!

People who want to get drunk on an airplane will find a way to do so. They might have several drinks at that bar just a few steps from the gate. They might mix alcohol with that Coke or Sprite they just bought in the post-security gift shop. So long as they don’t appear too intoxicated when boarding, they can manage around the regulation. Therefore it’s the law-abiding good person, as so often happens with regs and legislation, who is the real disadvantaged patron of the rule, intentional or not.

Before we cry about this unfairness, let’s first look in our Vincentian mirror. Chances are, we have our own rules for serving people in need that were created because of one or two bad experiences. Remember that guy who came to us every month for rent assistance? That’s why we limit our help to (number) of times annually. Remember that family who asked for rent, then utilities, then food, then anything else not bolted down? That’s why we now have a financial limit on how much we can spend per family. The exception has sometimes driven our policy for everyone. In some Conferences, the people who needed the most help ultimately restricted the help we can give anyone.

In the interest of “fairness,” have we made life harder for some whom we seek to serve? In a quest to standardize operations and financial decisions for our volunteers, have we bypassed or totally cut out conversations about support around the Conference table? Have we forsaken the opportunity for personalized service, and even sound judgement calls? Do our policies not only demonstrate that we don’t trust those we serve, but also that we don’t trust our own members?

Any two Vincentians might disagree on how much or how often to help someone in need. The personal encounters we have in our Home Visits provide us with more information, and context, than can be provided in an application form or initial phone call. I hear all the time how someone came to a Conference for help, and we gave them more than what they requested, because they didn’t know the scope of our resources. Or perhaps they were embarrassed to ask, but our visiting team saw the need and asked if the Society could please help.

Please take time at an upcoming Conference or Council visit to review your giving and other policies. Perhaps dollar limits were set when your group had a different level of available resources. An annual assessment based on the past year’s experiences and economy might be a good idea. Do your rigid policies need to be only softer guidelines, subject to what we see and in individual cases and subsequent discernment?

Can policy be replaced in part with member training, so that everyone understands the need for some restraint but operates at a judgement level informed by experience and observations?

Can part of every Conference meeting be devoted to discussing those we serve, their needs and requests, and recommendations from our visitors for the Conference to decide together?

As a parent, would you ever limit your child to asking for help only once every year, or every quarter? Of course not. We might instead have to say No to some of their requests. The difference between the policy restriction and the individual response is in the formation and strength of our relationships. Help desks and nameless bureaucrats limit requests. Real people, especially Vincentians, listen whenever possible and seek solutions together even if money isn’t always available. We are the Face of Christ to those we serve. Would Christ ever tell us to come back and pray again for help in 6 or 12 months?

Resources are always limited. God’s love, however, is infinite. How can we as Society members do better to take both in consideration as we serve our neighbors?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

7-20-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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My wife and I spread our charitable giving over the year, giving to a different charity or two each month. We annually add one here and there, and sometimes we subtract a charity too — usually because of how they have listened to us, or increasingly, changed their mission or activities away from our reasons for supporting them. How much we give is personal, of course, but this year more than most we feel, well, challenged.

A recent report from Giving USA shows that Americans gave less than last year — a lot less. We have not seen such a decrease since the Depression years. Rising inflation reported in conflicting but always high amounts, and consumer prices up nearly 16% last year, created insecurity and less disposable income for everyone. Families are pulling back to give only to what they feel is most important.

Meanwhile, charities have rising costs, too, so many U.S. nonprofits are feeling more than a little squeezed. Some now focus more on megadonor gifts, ignoring the perennial fact that most American giving is through the smaller gifts that add up. Sure, million-dollar gifts get media attention and feel like a good result, but the reality is that these gifts are difficult to maintain annually, often come with significant strings attached, and create feelings of have- or have-not inequity among supporters, often leading to small donor defection.

Fortunately, one trend continues. People are more likely to give, and maintain giving, to religious charities. This may be helpful to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but only if we focus on our mission. It is easy to report on people served, meals delivered, rent dollars paid, and the like, but our true mission is the spiritual development of our members. This is more difficult to report. We don’t have meters on Vincentians to measure how holy they are from year to year, though I’m sure someone is working on this app!

We often hear that the Society is the face of the Church, when the Church is asked about its works of mercy and/or neighborhood support. Many Bishops and Pastors also recognize this. Our Vincentian charitable spirit and kindness to others are appreciated! That said, there might be a disconnect between how we operate and how we represent ourselves in our fundraising messaging. We sometimes choose, perhaps unwisely, to compete in the crowded social services space with program numbers and focus, rather than embrace our Catholic identity and to communicate numbers as expressions of our faith.

We often learn more about why people do things only when they stop doing them. So, why do people stop or reduce giving? Personal economy factors, certainly. The lower impact of charitable giving tax incentives? Yes, though more relevant for major gift donors. The rest may come down to branding, in the sense of the personal experience for the donor. Does the donor receive the personal outcomes they “pay for” with their gift, such as feeling they have contributed to a worthy cause? Have they not only been thanked in a timely manner, but told how their gift has been used? Or conversely, have most communications only been about the need to give more, the “critical needs” of the charity, or even a shaming that the donor isn’t doing enough?

Giving to the Society is not just through direct mail and large special events. Much of our support still comes from the pews through poor boxes, special collections, and other vehicles. Our own members provide a good deal of our funds, too. These donors deserve our frequent and kind communications. We need to explain what we are doing with their gifts, how the neighborhood’s families are being served, and how we fulfill our mission daily by growing ourselves in holiness. Among the faithful, this is a powerful reason for giving! The parish bulletin is a good place to start.

The Society is so unique among nonprofits, and our requests can reflect this unique, faith-filled cause. Even if prospective donors don’t attend church services as frequently, there is still an appreciation of what the Catholic faith does and how Vincentians are the Face of Christ in our communities. Our “why you are asked to give” messages, whether asked in person, through the mail or online, have the opportunity not only to attract funds but to advertise and demonstrate our faith.

My wife and I will likely give to fewer charities this year, but with larger gifts that we feel can make an impact in line with our passions and intentions. Many families will face similar charitable giving decisions. People give through their wallets but give from their hearts. How will your Council and Conference appeal to their hearts, and their faith, in your requests for support?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Gathers for Annual Midyear Meeting

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Gathers for Annual Midyear Meeting 2560 1702 SVDP USA

The National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, will host its annual Midyear Business Meeting, March 16 – 18, 2022 at the Hilton at the Ballpark in St. Louis, Missouri.

About 200 Vincentian leaders and volunteers from across the country are expected to attend the event. The agenda is packed with education, spirituality, and best practice information about the Society’s work helping neighbors in need across the country.

Highlights of this year’s meeting include workshops on the Society’s recent work in the areas of safeguarding those we serve; growth & revitalization of the Society; and standards of excellence for local St. Vincent de Paul Conferences and Councils.

On Friday, March 17, Bishop John Quinn, recently retired as bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, will lead a spiritual retreat reflecting on the power of the Sacred Scriptures to transform our everyday and ordinary lives and relationships into moments of grace and encounter with God. That afternoon, attendees will gather at the Old Cathedral in downtown St. Louis for a Recommitment Ceremony and Mass.

“With more than 200 of our leaders from across the country convening in St. Louis,” says National CEO Dave Barringer, “we can focus together on what must be done as our members help so many families in need facing inflationary pressures, higher costs for rent and utilities, and other post-pandemic challenges.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the world’s largest Catholic lay organization, with nearly 90,000 members serving in more than 4,400 parishes across the country. The National Council of the United States is headquartered in Maryland Heights, MO. Originally founded in Paris in 1833, the Society’s roots in the United States trace back to 1845, when the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established at St. Louis’ Old Cathedral.

For more information on the event, or to register, contact Manager of National Events Michele Schurk at (314) 576-3993 or mschurk@svdpusa.org.

1-5-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-5-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

The holidays are always a mixed blessing for those of us who value our “alone time.” My wife has to drag me to parties, but then I usually have fun when I attend.  During the pandemic it was a small blessing for us introverts to see these parties go into hibernation. Alas, they have returned this year, often with a vengeance to catch up in their revelry, size, noise and meaningless chatter. It’s not really the parties I don’t enjoy, it’s only some of the people attending!

It appears that I am not, uh, alone. According to the Census Bureau American Time Use Study, which apparently is a real thing we pay the government to do, we have all been spending more time alone since way back in 2014! The pandemic just made it more socially acceptable. In 2019, Americans already spent only four hours a week with friends, a decline of 37 percent in just five years.

We should pause to note that cell phone market penetration crossed 50 percent in 2014. Add some polarization to make us fearful of political discourse, and is it any wonder that we spend less time with others?

This trend includes all age groups (though exacerbated in younger generations), racial, urban/rural, married/unmarried, and parent/non-parent groups.

The trend reversed but just slightly post-pandemic, but we are still behind the 2019 levels. We don’t know yet how much we have each changed permanently due to the pandemic, and a Pew Research Center study found that 35 percent of Americans say that large gatherings, going out and socializing have become less important since COVID. Every day we can see that more of us now have our meals and groceries delivered. We stream movies at home. And most distressing, we don’t go to church as often and maybe not at all. Even putting faith aside, this can’t be a healthy outcome.

Our Society’s Mission Statement, coincidentally revised before the pandemic, starts with the words “A network of friends…” Through attention to these words perhaps we can start to reverse this trend.

Friendship has always been one of our Society’s Essential Elements, along with Spirituality and Service. We know as well that the Society was created by a group of college friends and an adviser. At times, some Conferences gloss over the importance of friends meeting together in their rush to serve and seek holiness. In trying to satisfy our mission, we may be forgetting that making and maintaining friendships, as well as relationships with those we serve, is our mission!

As we come out of the holidays, we hopefully renewed some friendships at all those darn parties we were dragged to, I mean invited to attend. Let’s keep those relationships going and with some Vincentian zeal. Let’s also think of who we didn’t see at those holiday gatherings and seek them out. Maybe they aren’t well, or afraid to gather, or like me, they just may need an extra nudge to be sociable sometimes. You have my blessing, in fact my fervent wish, that you be that nudge!

Good friends are hard to find, so let’s not lose some due to carelessness and unintentional neglect. Just like with customers, it is easier to keep a current friend than to make a new one. We know too that many hands make light work, and that many minds create better solutions to serve people in need. We also recognize that we all benefit from praying and serving as friends more than coming together as acquaintances now and then for a service project. The continuity of friendships was modeled for us by Christ’s Apostles, and we continue this tradition of serving as a faith-based team of friends in deed and spirit.

We speak often about making new friends and inviting them into our beloved Society. Let’s take stock of our Vincentian relationships, and then start 2023 right by adding to our network of friends. You might even find an occasion to throw a party!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

11-17-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-17-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Television watchers are used to mid-season breaks, long gaps between seasons, and mid-season replacements that all make it difficult to get into a viewing routine for their favorite shows. I’m not sure if the DVR was the answer, or part of the cause, for this programming chaos! Add in a pandemic that severely affected production schedules, and it’s no wonder that the Society’s very own TV show got delayed for its second season. But we are back!

When Season Two of “Our Faith In Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul” (or as we lovingly refer to it, OFIA) finally airs this month on the EWTN cable network, it will have been more than three years since our last broadcast. Our Society’s production team of the Orlando Council’s Trace Trylko, independent videographers and hosts, and National staff couldn’t travel during the pandemic, and local services schedules were also thrown out of whack. Fortunately as the show illustrates, the Vincentian services continued during the entire period, even with sometimes significant COVID adaptations.

Set your DVRs or watch live during the week of November 28, daily Monday through Friday at 5:30 PM Eastern / 4:30 PM Central to see five new episodes of OFIA on EWTN. (With as always, programming subject to change.) Another five episodes will air later; at this time we expect this in February. That’s correct, we will air during the week of Giving Tuesday and for some people, the start of the holiday volunteer and giving season. We thank EWTN for this special opportunity – we can’t ask for funds during the broadcasts, but we really appreciate the exposure of our works nationwide to the EWTN viewers, potential material and financial donors, members, and volunteers!

Each episode features SVdP works in at least three different U.S. cities, told from the perspective of our members, their work and commitment, and how they see the Face of Christ in the people they serve. We will feature Home Visits, food pantries, systemic change classes, health programs, workforce development, and so much more that is testament to the variety of Society work as it is most needed in each local community. We also feature local clergy who extoll the works of the Society in their neighborhoods. We could not get to every community, but while you may not see your Council, you will more than likely see your work! Overall for Season Two we travelled to more than 30 locations.

You might also see a sampler of work that your Council or Conference might consider as a new practice, or best practice, for the future. Being creative unto infinity, our Conferences tweak program elements to fit their local needs, so there is always a different approach we can learn from each other.

Please consider watching the 30-minute shows as a Conference, either “live” or recorded. Have a viewing party! Consider using the shows, or parts of them, in your local promotional efforts. Our National office can help you get the clips you need, and the shows will all be on our website for sharing once EWTN airs them twice. The Society owns all of the content except for the EWTN commercials, so everything you see on the show is available to you!

Please help us to advertise the broadcasts this month. Include OFIA mentions in your parish bulletins and other Church and community communications. The National Council will have a broad social media presence to highlight the shows, but please help us to share the postings where you can. We want this great display of Vincentian services to be in front of as many viewers as possible – we are humble, yet proud of what we do for our friends in need. Also, one can’t help but want to join us when you see the hearts of our Vincentians in their work with neighbors. As the Society rebuilds our membership post-pandemic, the OFIA shows can be a great tool to introduce the Society’s charism and works to potential members in the comfort of their living rooms.

As Thanksgiving approaches just before the OFIA airings, I’m thankful as the show’s executive producer for the opportunity to work with so many in our Society to have this second season finally get on the air. Our Vincentian story is so big and so very beneficial that it deserves this broadcast spotlight. I’m thankful for all the Councils and Conferences that took part in our production for sharing their works and their heartfelt experiences of what it means to be a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. None of what you will see on the shows is scripted. In these days of often fake reality television, the “Our Faith In Action” experiences may be the more genuine human experiences as Vincentians demonstrate God’s love on camera. I pray that you will view these special programs and share them with others.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

07-14-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-14-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

This isn’t a stores column, but let’s use a store as an example. When reviewing a Thrift Store, I always request that the manager and I close our eyes and we suddenly appear in the middle of the store. What do we see, and what is the store trying to tell us?

In a recent overseas stores tour, the request led me to see a lot of signage about sustainability. That’s a fairly new term for what stores used to call “reuse, renew, and recycle” to which all Thrift Stores can contribute. While such sustainability is a great stores benefit and certainly a very Catholic objective, it is not why we operate our stores. Rather it is one of many good business practices we undertake in the course of our work.

Thus a second and most important question, for all our works: Why don’t we tell more people about our actual mission in what we do to meet it?

Our mission is to bring people to holiness, done through the serving of the poor, assisted with the operations and revenues of, in this example, the store. Our members often complain that no one knows enough about the Society. However, we continue to tell them only what we do. What we often fail to tell them is who we are.

It is natural to confuse activity with intentions. Our communities see our food pantries, pharmacies, and other programs, and so assume that these are the Society’s mission. Even worse, for privacy reasons we purposely don’t show the public our core Home Visit service, so they have no evidence that this is any aspect of our Society’s mission. At best they know we “help the poor,” and because that’s often enough to stimulate donations and good will from most people, we leave well enough alone.

This might all be fine if our mission was to attract volunteers and funds to help our neighbors in need. That’s dangerous thinking because many good people don’t need a faith basis to be charitable. As pro football coach, Bill Parcells once said, you are what your (win-loss) record says you are. What does our Society program, signage and advertising “record” say we are? Could we easily be confused with another social services organization, another used goods store, or a parish ministry?

Marketing people look for the “unique offering” that distinguishes you from the competition, and hopefully provides an advantage in attaining organizational goals.  A unique offering of the Society in a few words is that we offer our members the chance to see the face of Christ. That’s one heck of an offering, right?

We are not embarrassed by our Catholic faith, nor by our members being driven by it to serve the poor. We can be much more intentional about this in our materials messaging, signage, and especially in our language. When asked what the Society does, the proper response might be different for a parishioner than someone else, and that’s fine. Whether the response is, “We help our members grow in holiness through serving the poor,” or “We are Catholics and others who put our faith into action by serving the poor,” at least both point to the same north star of our mission. Yes, we accomplish lots of other good outcomes! We provide sustainable solutions for clothing and household goods. We make efficient use of medications and food supplies to help the most needy. We pay rent and utility bills. We teach neighbors how to be more self-sufficient. We advocate. We do all this and so much more, which, again, is fantastic.

Let’s not confuse what we do, though, with who we are. Others, perhaps many others in our community, can do what we do. No one else is who we are, the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are not simply good people doing good works, we are disciples.  And we pray that others will join us and share in our vocation.

I invite you to close your eyes during your Vincentian service, and then re-open them. With this fresh view, what do you see?  Do others see it too?

Yours in Christ (see, isn’t that easy?),
Dave Barringer
CEO

3-24-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

3-24-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

More than 200 Society leaders attended the first live Midyear meeting since 2019 last week in St. Louis. It was great to see so many of us in one place!  A few National Council Members (usually the Council Presidents) attended only the Business Meeting by Zoom, and this was good as well to participate. Here are a few highlights from our time together.

President Ralph Middlecamp opened the gathering with a discussion on Capacity. He specifically discussed the situation in Ukraine and surrounding countries, and how the global Society of St. Vincent de Paul is structured to help refugees and other impacted by the current violence. (Please see a separate article in this eGazette on how your Council/Conference can participate beyond what has already been collected in our annual Disaster appeal.) This process is also used for natural and manmade disasters that occur anytime during a year.

National Formation Director Tim Williams provided the spiritual retreat, engaging the audience to see the various faces of Christ in our work. This is recorded for your viewing and sharing!

Father Patrick McDevitt, C.M., the Provincial Superior for the Vincentians Western Province, gave an insightful keynote address on Vincentian Synodality. This address is also available as a video.

Much of the Midyear time was spent in National Committee meetings, National Region meetings, and National Subsidiary meetings that produce so many products and services to our members through out the year. The Business Meeting featured reports/presentations from many of these groups, which are all available to you as individual videos (see accompanying article on Midyear videos).

The Business Meeting was unique in that there was no new business to vote on this time! However, it was full of information from the committees, included a recognition of new National Council Members, reviewed our very positive National Council financials, and provided the process and schedule for the election of the next National President. The Call for Nominations opens on April 1!

We closed the Midyear with a Vincentian Mass led by Father Jim Cormack and a Recommitment Ceremony, both at the Old Cathedral where our first U.S. meeting of the Society was held in 1845.

We are thankful for the many sponsors and partners who help make a Midyear possible with their meal sponsorships, and their exhibits that are so helpful to our leaders in finding resources for Council operations.

Perhaps the greatest value of a Midyear meeting is not in the activities outlined above but what happens between these activities. Vincentians take full advantage to learn and share in the hallways, meals and free time. Coming out of a challenging pandemic environment, and with so few live meetings in the past two years, this opportunity to be with each other and express our Essential Element of Friendship together is worth the trip!

We are already deep into planning our next big meeting, the National Assembly to be held in Baltimore on August 31 – September 3, 2022. We expect more than 800 members to be with us at the Marriott Inner Harbor – will you please join us?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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