Dear Vincentian Friends,
I have spoken and written frequently this year about the need to build our capacity to serve. The first focus area of our Strategic Plan is to “Expand and Strengthen our Network of Friends,” with an underlying goal to “Strengthen organizational capacity at Council and Conference levels.” Our service to people in need depends on our organizational strength and capacity.
One of the objectives of this goal in our Strategic Plan is to reintroduce the Standards of Excellence, which were created about 15 years ago as a tool for councils and conferences to evaluate themselves. Those standards included the requirements necessary for our Councils and Conferences to be in compliance with the Rule and their bylaws and also offers best practices that are in place in our most successful locations. Our Governance Committee, with input from our Board of Directors, has dusted them off our Standards of Excellence and has updated them. We are asking every level of our organization to use them to evaluate their structure and operations.
“No work of charity is foreign to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul” is a slogan of our founders that is captured in the Rule. If we are faithful to the basic structures our Rule provides, we have unlimited opportunities to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit and use our time and talent to meet the challenges we encounter in our communities as we serve those in need. The Standards of Excellence process will help us address those challenges while allowing us to remain faithful to the foundational wisdom of our organization. Referring to the Rule of the Congregation of the Mission, St. Vincent de Paul said, “If you take care of the Rule, the Rule will take care of you.” His counsel certainly also applies to the Rule of the Society that bears his name.
Most of us bristle a bit at the suggestion of compliance, but St. Vincent suggests that we should see following our structure and the guidance contained in our Rule as liberating. It may be why those who came before us used the title of “excellence” as the goal of this process. It is a blessing that the structure of the Society has been laid out for us, and our time and talent don’t need to be spent in changing that.
After being your president for five years, I can tell you that the best Councils in our country have practices we can all learn from. They all will score high on the questions offered in the Standards of Excellence. Part of my duties include working with Councils and Conferences experiencing problems. From what I have seen, those problems are always rooted in issues that would have been identified if these Standards of Excellence had been applied and led to plans for change.
I suggest you go to the National Council website and review the Standards of Excellence documents for Councils and Conferences (click here). For each level there is a Questionnaire, a Reporting Document to be shared with the next higher Council, and a Notes Document that provides background for each of the questions.
You will notice each questionnaire is organized into three sections – with questions about required practices, standard operating procedures and practices, and recommended best practices. Special attention needs to be paid to anything that is not in keeping with the required practices, and a plan for improvement should be made. The other two sections will give you an opportunity to consider recommended best practices for future planning.
I hope this Standards of Excellence exercise will be embraced by your Conference and Council. Keeping our house in order and planning for the future are important for the well-being of our organization. We know many changes are happening in our parishes and communities. Let’s be prepared as a well-organized network of friends to meet the challenges we know are coming.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President