Foundation Works to Enrich the Profession

Monumental clasped handsLaunched in 2001, the NASW Foundation grew from the association's charitable, educational and research activities. Today, it continues to build upon its distinct identity and serves as the only foundation in the U.S. devoted specifically to advancing social work practice.

"The Foundation fulfills a unique role," said NASW Foundation Director Robert Arnold. "But our programs and activities wouldn't be possible without the support of our donors. We're grateful for their generosity and, in the years ahead, we hope to increase our activities and make an even bigger impact."

The Foundation is committed to enriching the social work profession and encouraging social workers to be leaders in social policy and practice. At the heart of this commitment are local chapter programs and national education, research and awards programs that include doctoral fellowships, graduate school scholarships, chapter research grants, international programs, national awards, lectures and symposiums as well as special projects.

Vicki Hansen is the executive director of the NASW Texas Chapter. She currently serves on the Foundation Board of Directors as secretary/treasurer. She said helping the foundation with donations and her time is a way to promote and protect the profession for the future. One example of the Foundation's important role is funding the National Social Work Public Education Campaign, which informs the public on the variety of ways that social workers help individuals, families, and communities.

"The funding for the campaign comes entirely from voluntary donations, not from membership dues," Hansen said. "The Public Education Campaign provides an opportunity for the profession to be recognized in the mainstream media. It helps us tell the social work story to the public and it is a way to honor those who have devoted their lives to the mission of the profession."

Hansen said the Foundation is a critical source in advancing the way social workers can change lives for the better. "Social work is about helping our numerous client populations to be productive citizens of the U.S.," she said. "The knowledge and skills of social workers are perfectly suited for assisting a variety of people toward these goals of self-sufficiency."

Gail Woods Waller, communications director at NASW, said the Foundation's commitment to support the strategic and creative plans of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign made all the difference in making the effort a success. "By garnering support from the social work community, the Foundation allows us to accomplish goals beyond core operational activities," she said. Another benefit of the Foundation, she pointed out, is that since its inception, it has given NASW invaluable visibility in the philanthropic community.

The Foundation's positive support can also be measured in the way it has helped individuals facing tragic situations. NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark has been president of the Foundation since 2001. She noted that the Foundation distributed hundreds of grants to social workers in the regions affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 so they could get back on their feet in order to help others. "This was one of our most important efforts we've supported as a Foundation," she said.

Educational opportunities

Educating the workforce is also a key element of the Foundation's goals.

It supports educational conferences for members and other learning projects such as NASW's WebEd program. The grant-funded online WebEd courses offer members an opportunity to earn continuing education units at no cost and from anywhere in the world, on a variety of topics related to the profession and special practice areas. More than 84,000 people in 100 countries have taken WebEd courses on the social worker's role in aging, cancer care, HIV/AIDS, end of life and other topics.

Social Work Pioneers

The Foundation supports Legacy and Pioneer programs that honor distinguished social workers who have made a difference over long careers.

This effort allows other social workers and the public an opportunity to better understand the important roles social workers have played in NASW, the profession and to the individuals that social workers serve, Arnold said.

The NASW Social Work Pioneer® program collects and preserves articles, photographs and other documents related to NASW's history as well as the history of the profession and social workers who have made an impact. NASW's national office contains the Pioneer Room, a space that highlights the more than 600 NASW Social Work Pioneers®, one of the highest honors in the field of social work. Each Pioneer has his or her name written on a brass plate in the room. Profiles and pictures of the Pioneers are posted on the NASW Foundation Web site. Arnold noted this allows visitors from around the world the chance to learn about distinguished social workers.

Ken Carpenter, an NASW Social Work Pioneer® and volunteer with the program, said, "The Foundation is very important. The NASW Social Work Pioneer® program wouldn't be able to exist without it."

Carpenter said the Foundation staff helps the Pioneer Committee plan and host its meetings and events.

Honoring social workers who have made significant contributions to the profession is also part of the Foundation's awards program. Some of the most popular are the annual Knee/Wittman Health & Mental Health Achievement Awards, which recognize the values, ethics and approaches exemplified by two dedicated social work pioneers, Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman. The Foundation supports the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award as well. This is given to an individual, group, or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of professional social work. This monetary prize is made possible from an endowment fund established by a contribution in 1996 from Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat.

The Learning Springboard Endowment supports the salaries of professional social workers in the San Francisco school system. The endowment was made possible by an initial contribution from the late Diana Ming Chan and her family.

The Foundation helped plan and organize NASW's 50th Anniversary Gala in 2005 as well.

In addition to these national initiatives, the Foundation assists and advises NASW Chapters with their charitable and educational programs. Arnold said thousands of social workers across the country support their chapters' educational and charitable activities by making tax-deductible donation through the NASW Foundation as local chapter donations do not qualify for a tax deduction. "These donations go on to serve chapter efforts to prepare social workers to help improve the lives of individuals and families in their own communities," he said.

Federal employees can also make tax-free Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) payroll deductions to the Foundation by using the CFC number 12538.

The Foundation has been awarded a third consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, the largest independent rating organization of nonprofit charitable and educational organizations in the U.S. The highest rating indicates an organization excels in successfully managing its finances in an efficient and effective manner.

"This shows we have been very careful and efficient in how we use the funds that are generously donated to the Foundation," Arnold said. "We are pleased that, each year, the Foundation receives donations and grants totaling around $2 million that we use to fund our charitable and educational programs that benefit social workers, the community and the profession."

The Foundation has been a supporter in NASW's efforts to promote social work in other parts of the world as well. The Foundation and NASW have teamed with People to People Ambassador Programs to exchange social work practices in other countries. In 2008, Clark led a delegation of 110 social workers to the Republic of South Africa. Previous social work exchanges occurred in Cambodia in 2007 and China in 2005 and 2000.

The social work exchange offers an opportunity for social workers in both countries to gain better insight of how the profession operates in their respective countries and a chance to examine areas for possible future collaboration.

Giving back

Joanne Cruz Tenery, is a past chair of the Foundation Board of Directors. She said she has been a Foundation donor since she was a social work student in the early 1990s.

"It's important to support the Foundation because of what NASW has given me on a professional level," she said. "By the time I graduated from college, I had seven job offers and four of them came about from my NASW contacts. I wanted to help other students get the same foothold in securing a job that I did."

Tenery, who works as a member relations manager for an insurance company owned by the Parkland Health and Hospital System, said she considers students the lifeblood of the profession and helping them through Foundation efforts can make a difference. "It's important that students know it's not just what you get from the association that's important, it's also what you can give back - it's about asking what I can do to help."

She said she considers her support of the Foundation as a way to help all NASW members. "Membership dues play a small part of how the association runs, so anything members can do to support it so it can stay strong is our responsibility and it's an honor to do that."