Dave Barringer

06-13-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-13-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

I’m told rather often how some of our Servant Leader columns become agenda items for discussion at Conference meetings. Outside of our ongoing VisionSVdP process, this may be the most important column you could ever use to stimulate not just conversation, but crucial activity to benefit your Conference’s future.

At our Midyear Business Meeting, I previewed an idea under development for a national membership marketing campaign. The response to the theme and potential products has been overwhelming! This column will give a little more detail in advance of the official launch on July 1.

Why now? First and foremost, it is always a great time to invite more friends, family, and fellow parishioners to join us as we strive to increase our Holiness. That’s our primary mission, and we should constantly share it. We also know that the pandemic and declining Church membership has taken a toll on our Society membership — down about 15 percent, according to annual reporting. We need to replenish and grow our ranks to continue to faithfully serve our neighbors in need today and tomorrow.

Here is what we are planning to conduct a national (opt in per Council and Conference) recruiting campaign this September and October:

  • More than an Invitation to Serve. A new booklet called “A Culture of Welcome” enhances the present Invitation to Serve document, including ideas on how to prepare before and after an invitation for new arrivals to the Society. It also includes two dynamic pulpit talks, an Information Night PowerPoint, and a two-sided informational flyer template you can customize. You need not re-invent what already works!
  • National social media. We will focus on social media advertising during the months of September and October, when so many parishes have ministry fairs and when families are getting organized for new school years and family schedules. We will use two outside firms to post National Council-produced/overseen content to support membership interest. You can add any locally produced media posts as you like.
  • Custom print materials. You will be able to order print materials such as yard signs, posters and pamphlets using our campaign theme (see below) that you can take to local printers for identifier customization, and/or hand-print meeting times and dates, etc. We have done the brand and design work for you!
  • Logo and theme wearables etc. You can order shirts, jackets, vests, hats, bags and other items with the national SVdP logo and some with our campaign theme! There are no minimum orders, and the pricing is pre-set based on total expected orders, so everyone wins with discounted prices, custom sizes and order numbers, and shipping to your door!
  • Campaign videos.  Three new videos, featuring interviews with current members, will be included on the campaign’s website landing page. You can also use them locally. They include:  Why am I a Vincentian, Encountering Our Neighbor, and The Home Visit.
  • Campaign theme. Our marketing thrust is to anyone looking to put their faith into action and to grow in Holiness. Based on comments we have heard so often over the years from our members, we chose a theme that should resonate no matter where your Council and Conference serves our neighbors in need. The short version is “See the Face of Christ. Be the Face of Christ.” A longer version for some materials is “See the Face of Christ as we grow in Holiness through service. Be the Face of Christ to those in need we serve.”

Our goal with this campaign is to support you in attracting more than 10,000 new Society members! That may look like a lot, but it is only 2 – 3 per existing Conference. Some Conferences attract dozens of potential members with a good Invitation to Serve process, so plan for — and don’t be afraid of — such success! For example, how will you engage each member as part of a Home Visit team or special work right away? Will they receive a Member Handbook and other local materials about meetings? In short, how will they not simply be recruited, but truly welcomed into the friendship of the Society where you live?

Please reflect on how much fun and fulfillment you have serving others. Think about the friends you have made among members of our Society. Think about how tired you get sometimes after a long day of service, wishing there was someone to help.

Please consider how many family members and friends could benefit from growing in their own faith journey. We have room for many new faces, and we will never have too many members, when you consider our Society mission and goals. Please start thinking, and planning, now to organize for this campaign’s success. Watch for the official launch on July 1.

Imagine what we can do with 10,000 more friends to serve and grow with us? Heck, why not 20,000!?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

05-09-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-09-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By Dave Barringer, CEO

Most of the time, this column is written just for you. This one, however, is written at least as much for the leaders who will come after you, and even the generation that will come after them.

When we don’t take care of something, weird and bad things can happen. Don’t mow your lawn and nature takes over at the first opportunity. Ignore your bills and you can be out on the street. Forget about your spouse’s birthday and, well, let’s not go there!

About once a month I hear of a new situation where a store or other special work was initiated, funded and actively run by the Society for years, but because of inattention to good governance or benign neglect, the “business” slowly changed. The operational purpose may be exactly the same, but now it’s a parish ministry rather than a Society special work. Worse, over time even the parish isn’t involved; it has fallen into the hands of well-meaning but often overwhelmed volunteers who may not even belong to a formal organization. They just wanted to help and now they are running it and feel they own it.

This third-generation operation carries some significant issues. For example, it may still formally be a Society property, thus liable for legal, financial, tax and other obligations. It may still carry the Society’s name and logo on the door even though our local group doesn’t have a leadership or operational role any longer, or even knows of its existence. We can also imagine other scenarios, few of them good, when people give to what they believe is a nonprofit such as the Society but the group isn’t really in the picture. That’s often known as fraud.

From another perspective, our donors and volunteers built that store, food pantry or other special work. Was it eventually sold to another party, or did one or more people just take it over? As Vincentian we give away resources all the time, but not usually an entire business or building! We owe it to those who came before to get value from such a transfer so that we may continue to use those resources to help others. And we owe it to ourselves and future Vincentian generations to keep our name and marks within our current true properties and operations.

How can we avoid all this? With many problems, prevention is easier than a cure, but it still needs to be done on a regular basis. First, every new leader should review each property and special work to ensure that it is properly governed and properly recorded within the Society and the state. Second, check on the board. What do the bylaws call for, and does the reality match the intention? Is the board clearly a Vincentian majority? To whom does the business and chair position report, such as to the Conference/Council President or full board? Who approves new staff positions and major expenses? Third, is there a clear and mutually understood accounting of all the funds? Who is responsible if the operation needs more cash? Where do any revenues and profits go? Which accounts are in play, and are they controlled by the Society? Is it responsible for any solidarity payments to the next level up of the Society? Lastly, if the special work is operating on a parish campus, is there a formal letter from the Pastor with understanding that the Society is paying rent or not, and that the control of the operation resides with the Society and not the Pastor or the Parish Council? This is helpful for the next Pastor as well! The same applies to other landlords, too.

Thinking that “everyone already understands all this” simply does not work. Assumptions get made, habits good or bad become traditions and then culture. And of course, leaders change with their own understandings that may or may not match the official records.

It may seem like overkill to review all this every leadership change. Actually, I prefer that it all gets reviewed every year! Leaders, including all on the board, and even all of the membership deserve to know its full inventory of services, properties, and most of all their responsibilities and obligations. We have seen from bitter and expensive examples that it can all slip away rather quickly without frequent review and renewed understanding by all involved parties.

If you came home one day after a vacation to find another family living in your home, you would be understandably upset. If you had little or no record that you are indeed the owner, paying the mortgage and taking care of the home, you’d be a lot more miserable! As Vincentians, we need to apply the same level of ownership diligence to keep Society assets available to the next generation and beyond of our leaders and those they will serve.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

We take ZIP codes for granted as a mechanism to get our mail from one place to another more efficiently. What started as five numbers to remember later became nine for presumably better service. Recently, I learned that a ZIP code can say quite a bit about you, and even predict how long you will live!

Social scientists now use ZIP codes to recognize how where you live predicts and/or influences your education options, income, housing costs, food insecurity, personal and property crime rates and much more. Living in one ZIP code versus the neighboring one in another city means that you are likely to live ten fewer years! Seems to me that this would be good to know before buying a new home.

Some Vincentians tell me that “there isn’t much poverty where I live.” This may be somewhat true, although if you squint you can see poverty everywhere. Maybe it’s not the homeowners but the working poor who serve them as housekeepers and landscapers, as well as the workers in nearby stores and restaurants. You may not see people who are homeless in your neighborhood, but they are there. And because they are homeless, they may not show up in the address-based ZIP code or Census tract analysis.

Most of us know our area fairly well. We know that one area is that part of town where we don’t want to conduct a home visit. We don’t even want to drive through the area! Another part of town is where the “rich people” live because we see large homes, or where the DINKs (double income, no kids) hang out at happy hour.

When considering how our Conference and Council can make a greater community impact, such studies of Census tracts and ZIP codes can show us exactly where the need is greatest, confirming or surprising us with what we thought we knew about where we live. These maps are usually available from local government, the library and United Way. Overlay these maps with where our Conferences operate, and we can see if resources match the neediest areas. This can then help us determine where we most need a new Conference, where local Twinning can increase community impact, and where we need to focus our services delivery.

Where is the best location for a food pantry? For a low-cost pharmacy? For a shelter or other housing options? Where will systemic change solutions attract the most potential users? We can go where the “customers” are, our neighbors in need, or we can continue to operate where it is convenient for ourselves and wonder why we don’t make much of a difference. Yes, people in need will travel where they need to go for urgent help. Thrift store shoppers who have fewer affordable retail choices will go where required to save money, versus donors who give out of convenience as often measured from the distance between their homes and the collection center.

Geography matters. As cities grow, we see retail centers move from downtown to the suburbs where big boxes proliferate. Downtowns often are where we see food deserts with little or no access to fresh produce. High school and church enrollments shift with the moving of families with school-age children. Yet because our parish has been in the same location for many decades, it can be easy to ignore the changing community and operating environment around us. Then one day we look around and exclaim “Hey, where did everyone go?”

The ZIP in ZIP code originally stood not for zippy service, but for a Zone Improvement Plan. Imagine what we can do as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul if we took those words to heart, adapting to our changing local world to create meaningful zone improvements where the ZIP codes point us to the most need.

Yours in Christ,

Dave 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

 

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

11-09-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 720 720 SVDP USA

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

7-20-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

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.

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