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DignityUSA’s Board of Directors Convene National Leadership Summit

Mark MatsonBy Mark Matson, President, DignityUSA

DignityUSA’s Board of Directors has issued an invitation to all Chapters and Affiliates to send a leadership representative to a rare summit of national and local leaders to discern future strategy. The Leadership Summit will be held Friday and Saturday, Oct 1-2, 2010, in St. Louis, MO at the Millennium Hotel. The event begins early Friday evening.

The purpose of the meeting is to gather “key stakeholders” in one place to secure alignment on longer-term strategic direction for Dignity at the local and national level. The Board has invested significant time at each of the last four meetings thinking about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats (SWOT) in the environment around us. We plan to review these at the Leadership Summit to verify agreement and listen to more perspectives. The Summit will provide time for leaders of local chapters and affiliates to meet without the Board to compare notes and discuss their own SWOT, and for the national and local leaders to engage in discussion and debate. The desired outcome is to get us aligned in how we lead our organization at the national and local levels into the future.

Why St. Louis? Because it is in the center of the country and because there is no chapter there any longer. It represents a place of challenge for the national leadership. How do we connect with and serve LGBT Catholics in areas where there is no Chapter? It represents a place where a Chapter once thrived. What happened there? What can we learn from that experience. Is it possible to start again with a new wineskin? For leaders at the local level, it is “neutral territory.” It is also the home of our most recent past President, Sam Sinnett, who has been helping us with arrangements.

The Summit will be facilitated by Chris Pett of Dignity/Chicago. Chris is a trained business meeting facilitator. You may well recall his work at the last two national convention membership meetings.

During my President’s address at the San Francisco convention in 2009, I stated my conviction that DignityUSA and its local expressions need one another. I was on the Board when we passed the “no minimum dues” policy as a strategy for rebuilding membership. That strategy failed and we unwittingly severed some long standing ties with chapters through the processing of national and local dues. We learned from that error. For the past three years the Board has moved its meetings around the country in order to meet local members and give them the opportunity to see the Board in action. We have met in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, Twin Cities, and Columbus. In all those interactions I have learned quite a bit about the community called Dignity. It really has been the highlight of serving in the office of president. I remain convinced that our futures are significantly tied together.

DignityUSA does something no local community can do — namely, to be our “Voice” of balance to the Roman Catholic Bishops’ crazy teachings regarding sexuality. I think of DignityUSA being similar to a radio station that has been transmitting a message of hope, dignity, and challenge for almost 40 years now. I for one do not want that station to stop broadcasting. Do you?

Our greatest asset is the rapport we have built with the media over the years. They are conditioned to call upon us whenever they want a counterbalancing position every time the bishops put us down. This has become increasingly important the more issues are placed on ballots or before legislatures regarding our civil rights. The bishops of the United States have funded significant opposition in many states working to defeat our civil rights. We need WDIG or KDIG broadcasting strongly! To assure that, the national organization needs predictable resources (financial and talent) that have traditionally come from Dignity Chapters and affiliates such as The Defenders. Our health depends upon their health. We have lost many Dignity Chapters over the past 10 years. Most still operating have seen their numbers decline and the average age of their mem- bers increase. If this trend is not stopped, the future is predictable. That is why we must collectively put our heads together. We are in the same boat, folks.

Local chapters provide something no national organization can—namely, a Eucharistic community where people can experience the Sacraments, develop friendships, be loved and love others, and witness to the goodness of our lives. These communities give substance to the message DignityUSA broadcasts.

Presently, the national organization is in sound shape. We have a great mix of talent on the National Board. We have sound talent guiding us, such as our new national IT Director, Logan Bear (Columbus), our national Media Director, Jeff Stone (New York), and our creative Fundraising Committee led by Jack Frielingsdorf (Metro NJ). We have a very talented and committed staff—Marianne Duddy Burke, Executive Director and Peggy Burns, Operations Manager. We have a brand new Young Adult Caucus with over 50 members and growing! I see this vigor as evidence that the Spirit has work for us to do. But what is that work? And how do we ensure future vitality to do it?

If your chapter or affiliate has not yet informed DignityUSA of your plan to attend DignityUSA’s Leadership Summit, please contact our national secretary, Lewis Tanner at Secretary@dignityusa.org immediately. Financial assistance is available for chapters that need it. Only one representative from each chapter will be seated as a representative to ensure balance and to keep the group small enough to function. But other members are welcome to attend, observe, and influence proceedings. If not attending, please keep us all in your prayers that weekend. We’ll inform you of the results in the November Dateline.

One final word: it is not too early to make reservations for DignityUSA Conven- tion 2011 scheduled for July 1-4 in Washington DC. The convention committee has been working hard on an innovative program you won’t want to miss. Stay tuned and watch for Convention 2011 information on our website http://www.dignityusa.org! (Also see article “Lots to Celebrate”.)