We all learned something this past pandemic year. Individuals learned how much they can stand their family members in the house for long periods of time. They memorized the pizza carryout phone number. And they realized how much we miss airplanes, meetings with real, live people and the concept of breaking bread together – without a mask, closer than six feet apart.
Businesses and organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are learning from the past year, too. Was it a better idea to have cubicles or private offices? Can workers be as effective, efficient, and even trusted when they aren’t in the office looking at each other every day? And we all learned new tech tools to bring us together — from a distance of course.
A painful lesson for some, including a few groups in the Society, is diversification of income streams. We learned the hard way. If all of our Conference revenues come from parishioners in the pews, and suddenly the parish is closed for public Mass, that income largely disappears. If a Council invested all their resources into thrift stores at the expense of fundraising and other incomes, and again, suddenly those stores can’t be open for business, that’s a serious scenario.
Costs don’t end when the income stops, unless you make intentional, serious decisions. This may involve staff layoffs, cutting programs, and otherwise reducing the footprint of the organization. Rent and utility bills, just as we see for those we serve, continue whether or not you have income. You may be a local restaurant or a multinational corporation, but having all of your income eggs in one basket was a painful place to be this past year.
The National Council has been blessed to be funded by member solidarity dues, and even more so this year when Councils continued to pay these funds amid their own uncertain incomes. Fortunately, the solidarity covers 30-40 percent of our operating budget, not all of it. Other income streams include traditional fundraising, bequests, member purchases of publications, event fees, and shared partnerships with vendors. That might seem an unwieldly combination of many inputs into an annual budget. The reality, though, is that this revenue diversification allows us to do much more on members’ behalf than permitted through only dues. Also, if the operating environment changes as drastically as it did this past year, some streams will fare better or worse, but we can manage through the challenging period.
As we all develop strategic plans and related financial conversations among friends, we should consider how this past year challenged our risk assumptions. Did we do well financially, but only because a major grant came out of nowhere? Many stores roared back to profits after the shutdown, in part due to federal stimulus payments and newly-cleaned closets full of material donations, but what if they hadn’t? How did our fundraising change, and perform, this past year? Overall, did we have a plan that worked, or were we simply lucky? In which ways did God bless our work and finances?
Looking at the present pandemic situation, we suddenly have millions of federal dollars available for rent and utility assistance due to COVID. By helping our friends in need to apply for these funds, we preserve our locally-raised dollars for other services, or we can help each person coming to us a bit more. Even though the Society does not receive these funds directly, this is revenue diversification to extend and expand our mission works.
We pray for God’s providence, and we trust Him to give us what we need. The first thing He gives us, though, is an ability to learn and adapt. What did we learn this year about our capacity to serve? What did we learn about our corporate, foundation, government, and other partners and collaborators? How much did our reputation grow, or get harmed, by our physical presence in our neighborhoods? How then did our reputation, mixed with prayer and respectful solicitation, help us raise the funds we needed to serve?
These questions could be ignored if we choose to try and forget the past year. Or, in response to God’s blessings and challenges to grow, we can assess, learn, and change. As with most Vincentian activity, this will be even better if we do it as friends serving in hope together.
Yours in Christ,