05-09-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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

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