Servant Leaders

05-23-24 Servant Leader: The Most Political Thing We Can Do as Vincentians

05-23-24 Servant Leader: The Most Political Thing We Can Do as Vincentians 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Former National CEO and beloved friend and mentor to many, Roger Playwin passed away on May 10. Ever the servant leader, he submitted the letter below shortly before his death.  May we continue to draw inspiration from a man who taught us all so much.

Recently I read an article by Steven P. Millies, a professor of public theology and director of The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and professor at DePaul University in the same city.

He asks his students to consider that the truest meaning of the word “politics” does not convey a sense of partisanship or division, corruption or competition. He suggests that in its first and best and most useful sense, politics means “our shared life,” the life of the community. “When conflicts arise, politics means addressing them through discussion and law rather than division and violence. Politics means valuing our shared life together more than we value winning any argument-and bearing witness to that value in our commitment to dialogue with one another.”

Millies suggests that our homes, classroom, churches, place of work, and in our case, as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, our Conferences are a place for discerning together. He identifies accurately that these are places where we can dialogue come to discernment and understanding because none of us comes to understanding alone, and because we value coming to a better understanding together, we also come to value our community of relationship.

In this sense, our Conferences are our ecclesia, the conference community that is called together to bear witness together to what we claim we believe. This may a seem strange and unfamiliar way to think about politics, but it just might hold some answers for us.

We need to find a way to recover the word “politics” from the ways that we as humans abuse it. The word really should mean something greater than division. It should be a word that has special meaning in our private and public lives. A word that calls us to hold each other in special reverence. It’s clear that the way we use the word today is not helpful and does not seem to be helping to improve our shared community’s. Time to try something different together so that as friends, we make the circle wider and more inclusive and more like the community He calls us to be.

Roger T. Playwin
2024

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

On Monday of this week, I spent the day in meetings at the Vatican in Rome. Working alongside Juan Manuel Gomez, the President General International of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and CGI Board Member Sebastian Gramajo from Argentina, we had three meetings: first with Monsignor Luis Marin de San Martin, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, then with Maria Lia Zervino, Institutional Director of World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and lastly with The Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, and Fr. Patrio Salgat of that office.

Each of these meetings was vitally important to the work of the Society, both here in the United States as well as globally. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established by Pope Francis in August 2016. The work of the Dicastery, as directed by Pope Francis, is to express the Holy See’s concern for issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health, charitable works, and the care of creation.

The Dicastery promotes integral human development in the light of the Gospel and in the tradition of the Church’s social teachings. The Dicastery also expresses the Holy Father’s care for suffering humanity, including the needy, the sick and the excluded, and pays special attention to the needs and issues of those who are forced to flee their homeland, the stateless, the marginalized, victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the imprisoned, the unemployed, victims of contemporary forms of slavery and torture, and others whose dignity is endangered.

That mission certainly sounds a lot like what we do as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, doesn’t it?

This meeting was important in helping us understand how we can work more closely with the Church and the Bishops in supporting the work of the Holy See in areas such as Integral Human Development.

Similarly, our meeting with the Office of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations was very informative, as we learned about the work of the Church in helping to empower and lift women out of poverty across the world. SVdP USA does an incredible amount of Twinning and project support overseas, and it was good to hear about project work being done through the Vatican. Additionally, the Vatican is looking for our support in some of the work they want to do in the United States, especially around poverty, women, single mothers, and other areas. We will be honored to help!

The meeting with the General Secretariat of the Synod was very interesting and enlightening. We had a wonderful discussion about VisionSVdP, and team at the Vatican were thrilled to hear about what we are doing! They had a lot of questions about our reasons for launching the effort, and were excited that we were modeling our efforts on the theme of Adapting to a Changing World.

One of the things that Msgr. San Martin kept emphasizing was the changing technology of the modern world and how we must adapt not only our processes and procedures, but also our approaches, to ensure we do not lose the spiritual closeness in the drive to technical efficiency and the electronic world. He was speaking my language! He was saying what I have been saying since I first put myself forward as a candidate for National President.

While we can, should, and will change and adapt our systems and our technology to make ourselves more effective and efficient as an operating organization, we cannot, must not, and will not ever lose the human-to-human, Christ-centered Encounter that is the foundational basis of who and what we are. At our core, at our spiritual center, at our faith grounding, we are people serving people through a process of encounter: Encounter in a Home Visit, a food pantry, a thrift store, a pharmacy, a housing program, a shelter, a prison visit, any of the many special works we provide.

My visits to the Vatican helped to define further areas and opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between SVdP and the Holy See to support people in need in the United States and internationally. Those visits also helped to reinforce to me the outstanding work of the Councils and Conferences across the country in support of our neighbors in need and in alignment with Catholic Social Teaching.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

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

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In the South, where I live, the beginning of May signals the beginning of the end of the school year for students. My granddaughter in South Carolina has already had her Prom (yes, she was beautiful) and her Graduation from high school is in a few weeks. For most students in the northern parts of the country, the school year will continue on until at least Memorial Day. But in either case, come early June, most students will be off for the summer and free of the classroom, homework, and getting up early for school.

Some of you may remember the song written in 1932 by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Its most famous line, oft repeated, is “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”

How often do we think about children and summertime — no school, just having fun, no cares in the world — and think they’re “livin’ easy”?

For many, that’s likely true. But for too many others, their summertime is anything but easy living — because for too many children in America today, no school means no breakfast, no lunch, maybe no meal at all for the day. And for too many families in America today, no school means no childcare, no one to watch the kids while a single Mom or Dad tries to work so they can pay the rent or put food on the table or clothes on their children’s backs.

No, the reality in America today is that when school ends many, many families don’t celebrate, take vacations to Disneyland, or cook out in the backyard. They despair, and suffer, and try to hold on.

And that’s why we, the SVdP Councils and Conferences, must exert special effort and energy in the summer to support families in need. And for us that can often be a very big challenge, because our children are out of school, we are traveling, our Church attendance and collection amounts are lower due to vacations. Our need is highest when our human and financial resources are lowest.

Think for a minute about the counterintuitive nature of our work and our effort. I would venture to guess that we devote the largest number of volunteer hours, food drives, and organized Conference activities to two times of the year — Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when you think about it, so is every other charity, church, civic organization, and just about any other organized group you can think of.

What if we tweaked the narrative a little? By devoting a larger effort in the summer, when need is huge, and people aren’t as focused on helping, we could really make an impact on helping people desperate for help.

Think about it. Talk about it. Make a difference.

Maybe you can help make someone’s “summertime livin’” a little easier.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

03-28-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-28-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Challenges of a Vincentian

In my 40 years as a Vincentian, I have made many mistakes. From my mistakes, hopefully, I will become a better person. My hope is you will learn from my mistakes. Here is my list of My Challenges:

  1. It’s about me. I call this the Santa Claus effect. When I first became a became a Vincentian, giving something to somebody made me feel good. I got to “help” someone, but it cost me nothing. Then I learned it was not about me, but the person I was helping. This was a very valuable lesson for me to learn as a Vincentian.
  2. Poverty is a lack of money. I thought this way in the beginning. As you help people, you realize poverty is a mindset. Improving the situation of a neighbor in need takes education, hope, culture, time, work, acceptance, and, yes, some money.
  3. Learning from fellow Vincentians. I had the idea that I could do this by myself. I did not need the support and encouragement of my fellow Vincentians. There is a reason we visit and talk to the poor in pairs. There is a reason we have Conferences with a group of Vincentians.
  4. Cynicism. I was cynical. The poor are only interested in money. I was lied to, used, and taken advantage of. These events were few and far between, but it does instill a cynical view. A Vincentian needs to take each person and interview as a fresh start for the person you are meeting and for you. I needed to get past the cynicism and realize Christ did not judge. We need to do the same.
  5. Why am I doing this? As a Vincentian working week after week, sometimes hearing from the same people week after week, a bit of “why am I doing this?” may set in. This is the most dangerous of all my mistakes. I am never going to solve all the social issues. I am never going “to fix it.”  Not me, not on my own. With prayer and help from my fellow Vincentians I may be able to help one person or one family at a time.
  6. Arrogance. Sometimes I would miss an opportunity to really meet someone. I would think the encounter with the poor is just a business transaction. I did not learn about the person, their situation or background. I would just take care of the monetary problem, but not see the person for who they are.
  7. Acceptance. This was very difficult for me. Sometimes a lack of funds — or a lack of a solution — makes the work very frustrating. This is one of the greatest challenges to a Vincentian. I must accept that I cannot solve everything. I may have some setbacks as a Vincentian, but with God’s Grace, I must acknowledge it is not defeat.
  8. Don’t lead, just follow. This mistake is one with its own limitation. I would not have experienced the next level of being a Vincentian if I never accepted a leadership position. MY positions of leadership have been extremely fulfilling. There are many opportunities in the Vincentian life — Conference President, VP, District President, Treasurer, Committee person.
  9. Evangelization. One of the things I did not do for many years was tell non-Vincentians about SVdP (Vincentian Friendship, Service, and Spirituality). Please go out and spread the word about our great organization. There are a lot of people looking for an organization like SVdP.

I am sure there are more, but we are limited in our space for these articles.

Yours in Christ,
Ed McCarthy
National Treasurer

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

 

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This is the last in a series of three Servant Leader columns before next week’s Midyear Meeting that address VisionSVdP.  Today I’d like to explain a little more about how the process will work over the next year, and talk a bit about how you can get involved.

We will formally ‘kick off’ VisionSVdP at the Midyear Meeting in St. Louis with five Listening Sessions. All Midyear attendees will be randomly assigned to one of five groups and will meet for approximately 1 ½ hours. This will occur following a session by me on the process, and after a Keynote Address by the National Council President of Australia, who will speak about the process there, and a Spiritual Retreat by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, CM, our National Episcopal Advisor.

At the Listening Sessions, Midyear attendees will have a free-flowing discussion about the Society. They will all begin with the same question: What does the Rule, Part 1, 1.6: “Adaptation to a Changing World” mean to you?

From there, they will discuss anything and everything that they want to. Someone at each table will capture everyone’s comments — because every voice matters. Two moderators per room (typically Regional VPs) will then attempt to capture the essence of the discussions; when the entire group reconvenes, we’ll have a conversation about the process. The goal is not to highlight any comments as more important than any other, but to debrief how people felt. Were their voices heard? Did they learn anything? Did anything ‘click’ from the conversation?

This process will repeat itself at the Regional meetings.

So, you ask: What about me? I’m not going to Midyear or the Regional Meeting. How do I get involved??

GOOD QUESTION!  You get involved because we want every Conference and every Council and every Special Work to do this as well. AND WE WILL HELP YOU!

Now, let’s be very open and very, very honest here. We will face many naysayers and people who just want to keep on doing things the way we always have, either because it’s easier, or because they fear change. Then we’ll have the inevitable organizational inertia that will never find the time to schedule the sessions — we’re too busy, we’re too important doing other “real Vincentian work,” etc, etc. They will all resist doing these sessions. WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

Engage with the VisionSVdP process at your Conference and in your Council and Region. Become a Champion for the effort! Contact your Regional VP, contact your Council President, contact me. Make sure the process gets to you and is carried out. Because your voice matters.

After all these sessions are held in 2024 (including at the National Assembly in Phoenix), we will start a National Conversation process in 2025 about what we have heard and what it means for how we adapt and change.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 8335 2555 SVDP USA

Last week I announced the kickoff of VisionSVdP in an email to all Vincentians. Today, I’d like to spend a little more time discussing the reasons we’re launching this very important initiative at this time.

Let’s start by looking at why VisionSVdP is so important for us from the standpoint of all the great and positive things going on across the Society — things like these. (And there are a whole lot more!)

  • While we have seen declines in Conference membership as a whole (more on that later), we’ve also seen new Conferences being created, new membership growth in places, and even new Councils being formed. We need to talk about how and why that’s happening so we can capture the best practices; figure out how to support and scale those gains across the country; and help reverse the decline in membership we’re seeing in many places.
  • During COVID, many Councils and Conferences found an incredible surge of innovation and creativity in programs and services. New ways of serving people in need have been implemented and are now part of a better, more effective, and more far-reaching support system for our neighbors in need. We need to talk about those programs and help others implement them locally.
  • Councils and Conferences across the country have developed programs that are providing free medications to people with low income, moving people from the streets to homes, feeding thousands of people a day (yes, a day!) through kitchens, providing food via food pantries, doing so much more. We need to talk about how they’re doing these things, while other Councils and Conferences are struggling to answer the phone calls. What is making the difference?

And we also need to talk about the negative things. Here are just a few to think about.

  • Since 2016, we have lost almost 1,000 Conferences and nearly 10,000 members. Why? What can we do about it? Is it our structure? Do our meeting schedules make it impossible for working people, young families, and students to attend? Is it something else? Is it a combination of things?  We need to talk about how we make the Society a more welcoming and supportive community for people to serve, grow in spiritually, and grow in friendship and community.
  • The reality — and part of the answer to the question above — is that our Vincentians are getting ‘burned out.’ They are overworked, not fed spiritually, and burdened with necessary (yet still challenging) paperwork and reporting. We need to talk about all of these things. We must determine new ways to make being a Vincentian a joyful experience.
  • Face it, people generally run away when we ask them to consider Leadership roles in the Society. We need to talk about why. And then we need to talk about how we are going to fix it.
  • Our efforts to increase diversity have not kept pace with the growth in the diversity of the Church. While we have moderately increased the number of Hispanic, Latino, and African-American Vincentians, the percentage increases have not tracked with the increases in the Church.

So — that’s a bit of a deeper dive into why we’re launching VisionSVdP.

We need you to be part of it. For one simple reason.

BECAUSE EVERY VOICE MATTERS

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

The 2024 Midyear Meeting is about a month away in St. Louis. Every year as we approach Midyear, Regional Meetings, and the Annual Assembly the same question comes up. “Is it appropriate for Conferences and Councils to use their funds to pay for members to attend these meetings”? Or a variation on the same question. “Does the Rule allow the Conference or Council to use the funds they have raised to pay for members to attend these meetings?”

The answer is a clear, resounding, unequivocal YES! Not only is it appropriate and allowed, but it is a very important — and smart! — way to improve service to your neighbors in need, make your Conference or Council better and more effective, grow your membership, develop deeper spirituality within Conference and Council, and deepen friendship and community within the Society across the country.

The RULE (3.12 Formation of Members) states:

It is essential that the Society continually promote the formation and training of its members and Officers, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Society and their spirituality, improve the sensitivity, quality and efficiency of their service to the poor and help them be aware of the benefits, resources and opportunities that are available for the poor. The Society also offers members higher training in order to better help to raise the cultural and social level of those who request this support.

I have heard people say that spending money on sending people to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly is “taking food out of the mouths of the poor.” Well, with the deepest love and respect to those who say that, let me say that I could not disagree more!

If you want to put more food on the tables of those who are hungry — come to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly and learn how your fellow Vincentians across the country are innovating amazing new methods to collect food, create food pantries, develop partnerships with supermarkets and others, and delivering food to the hungry as we are called to do in Matthew 25.

If you want to help house the homeless and prevent those who are housed from losing their homes — come to the Midyear, Regional, and Annual Assembly and learn from your Vincentian Family across this country how they are developing incredible programs to move people from the street to homes, from extended stay motels to homes, preventing evictions, and working with community partners to address the many and complex issues of homeless prevention.

If your Conference is suffering from burnout and a lack of Vincentians to help the people in need coming to you for support, don’t suffer in isolation and silence – come to the Midyear, Regional, and National Assembly and learn what your Vincentian Family is doing to address the Spiritual needs we all have. We are all called to grow in holiness. See ways in which other Conferences and Councils across the country are innovating and creating exciting spiritual growth opportunities for their members.

If you are struggling to make the checkbook balance last until the end of the month it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to go to a meeting. But how else are you going to learn how to get over that fundraising challenge? Reach out to National and your Council and your Region and get the scholarship support you need (and YES — contact ME for help) and get to the meeting and learn some new development techniques so you can begin to be effective in helping to grow your monthly collection income.

St. Vincent once said, “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”

When the Society was in its early days, Members gathered often for meetings to exchange ideas, learn from each other, grow together in spirituality, and grow in friendship and community (Our Essential Values). But remember that these Men (and they were all Men back in the day) were all wealthy individuals who paid their own way and funded the Society.

Today the Society has members who bridge the socioeconomic spectrum. We proudly have Members who were once people we helped. We have young people, retired people, rich people, and not-so-rich people. We are One Society representing ALL of American Society.

That is why we must use the resources we have been given — diligently, judiciously, and with discernment — to help train and empower our membership to lead us into the future. Our work is NOT just happening locally, in the vacuum of a Conference or Council, but in the community and friendship afforded them by attendance at a Midyear, Regional, and/or Annual Assembly.

Be prudent, be reasonable. Many people can pay their own way. Many, many people do. But many cannot. And do not just send your leadership, but look at the Emerging Leaders, the unsung heroes of the Conference/Council, the spiritual leaders, the new people who will come back and fire up the others. And support as many as you can to attend the Midyear, the next Regional, the Annual Assembly.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

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

 

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