Members First: Engaging and Advancing Our Profession

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSWAs president of NASW, I have many opportunities to engage with members from across our association. One way I get to do this is when I chair national board meetings.

These meetings, which are an important part of our association’s governance structure, bring our elected representatives from across the country together to discuss, deliberate and act on issues of significance to the profession, our members, and ultimately our clients.

As a social worker, I know how important it is to be an active listener, and this professional skill is critical in our lively, informative and impactful examination of issues relevant to NASW’s success.

There are times when I sit back in awe of the strength, enthusiasm and vigor of our association, evident in the work of this cadre of remarkable social work leaders. The members of the national board bring diverse views and information to each discussion, and facilitate a democratic and focused approach to ensuring our association’s ability to deliver valuable services to you.

Board members coming together at the national level represent one part of a complex association focused on delivering quality member services. Another essential component of this professional “machinery” is our local chapters. The diversity of the profession is manifest as chapter presidents and executives address a wide variety of local issues affecting the day-to-day practice of social workers.

Social workers are known for their actions and not just their words, and work conducted at the local level by our chapters reflects this energy.

When I receive stories of policy and programmatic successes in the states, I am reminded how much the social work profession makes a difference on so many levels for so many people.

Also essential to NASW’s ability to deliver quality, member-centered services is the staff of the association. The team of professionals who create, monitor and evaluate NASW programs and products work hard to ensure that member interests are served, and that the strength and value of social work is understood.

Whether they are working to assure equity in compensation for social work services or promoting parity for mental health treatment, NASW’s staff is focused on issues that strengthen the social work profession.

It is not by mistake or without design that I have taken this opportunity to share some reflections about a members-first approach to association leadership and service delivery. NASW has many stakeholders and we must work together to advance the association.

In the coming months and years, NASW will address many challenges common to professional associations in the 21st century. These issues include, among others, membership engagement and retention, organizational structure and fiscal accountability.

Some enhancements will require tough discussions and complex processes, and we may not see eye-to-eye on every issue. However, as members of the largest professional social work association in the country we should be able to discuss and deliberate these matters openly. There will be ample opportunities to be heard, to be listened to, and to know that the association is strong and moving forward with purpose and passion.

Improving NASW requires us all to be part of the action and not just onlookers from the sidelines. I ask you to be engaged, to be energized, and to be part of the evolution.

I ask you to be an active part of national and chapter efforts that celebrate and advance our rich history of service development and innovation.

Channeling energies into these coordinated efforts will create an even stronger profession going forward.

I am honored to be working with you and leading the discussion.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at