A few years ago, we added to the Invitation For Renewal content a new item under the Governance learning session. This guidance on “first steps for Society leaders” has been highly requested as a workshop. Instead of limiting this to a few dozen meeting participants, I present it here instead for everyone to see. Why everyone? Because if you are not a newly elected leader yourself, then you are a follower of one and you certainly want to be helpful. If both you and the leader know the priorities, you can plow through the steps offered below and be confident that the Conference or Council is operating legally and with the infrastructure checked for moving forward.
If you have just been elected to a Presidential term at your Council or Conference, it may feel overwhelming. Where to begin? What needs to be done, and maybe done first? What compliance issues, for example, were left behind from the former President, or maybe not validated for (gulp) years? Instead of assuming that everything is in order and risking all sorts of problems, take the time to check, review and update to start your term on the proper footing. Please remember that a leader’s job is not to do stuff, but to get stuff done. Use your fellow members to divide and conquer the tasks below and speed up this process to focus more quickly and securely on serving others.
Here then, in no order, are the 14 first things you need to do as a Society leader pending any hanging-fire, emergency operational decisions. After each item, I suggest how often the information needs to be reviewed thereafter.
- Have your Articles of Incorporation been filed and located? (ONCE) Review this critical state document to be sure that you are still are “who you say you are” and in compliance. It may have been filed decades ago! This may only apply to your Council.
- Are your Bylaws current and adequate for your existing structure? (3-5 Years) Do your bylaws match your operations, including new Special Works or your board membership? Are you using the approved national sample bylaws appropriate for type of organization?
- Is your tax-exempt status current for every part of your organization? (Annual) Since 2017, most Councils have changed their federal status to be apart from the Church. Have the Conferences been included appropriately, or separated out by design? What about your stores and other Special Works? Who is responsible for filing the annual IRS Form 990 or 990EZ?
- Do you have current Liability insurance and Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance coverage? (Annual) Does your carrier have the board roster? Who has been paying these bills? Do Conferences need their own insurance, or are they under the Council’s coverage?
- Are the bank account signatories up to date? (Annual and after Elections) Are deceased leaders still on your bank accounts? Who should be allowed to sign the checks?
- Are officers keeping to proper terms of office and proper elections? (Annual) This needs to be monitored and held to, as it can quickly slip into improper over-staying as a President.
- Who will follow us? Succession planning begins now! (Always) A Vice President is not assumed as the “heir apparent” in the Society. A good leader is always cultivating future leaders. Don’t wait for the next election to get started!
- Are regular meetings being held, with Agendas? (Always) Does each meeting include the Society’s three Essential Elements? Are meetings held in compliance with the Rule’s minimum number?
- Are we following the Rule? (Always) Leaders must know and review this critical document to be sure we are operating properly as Vincentians and SVDP members. Consider reviewing Rule sections at your meetings.
- Do we have current annual and strategic plans? (Annual) These should be active documents for your organization to chart the future. Do we all agree on where we are going?
- Are we following an approved budget? (Annual) A budget is the annual plan in numbers. Has the leadership and membership approved your direction, and know the finances needed to get there?
- Do we have current job descriptions for our leaders? (Annual) Not just for staff, but also for volunteers? What can we change based on recent experiences?
- Do we have the appropriate governance policies for the Board, staff relationships, CEO Limitations? (Annual) Is the Board and staff on the same leadership page? How can this be improved? Check all the various policies you may need for your operations, including Safeguarding.
- Are we monitoring the financial health of the organization? (Monthly) Don’t let small problems become big ones due to neglect or indifference. Even small Conferences can have huge financial swings, so stay on top of the numbers together.
If you can work as a team to feel confident about the status of each of these important items, your Council and Conference is poised for Vincentian action. This pause during a new election cycle is prevention against the entire organization stopping in its tracks when a bigger problem arises. Don’t assume anything, or wait until you are caught in expensive noncompliance; get it right, right from the start!
Yours in Christ,