Chapter leaders find support and more in COCE

It’s nice to see what Mississippi is doing, and to have conversations with California. That is, from an NASW chapter standpoint, says NASW-Missouri Executive Director Tamitha Overly.

Overly is chairwoman-elect of the steering committee of the NASW Council of Chapter Executives, or COCE, the collaborative group of NASW chapter executive directors.

The COCE provides a support group for the directors within the association where they can talk about issues, ask questions and check in with one another, Overly says.

“The COCE offers support to new and seasoned EDs, and gives them the opportunity to build off of each other’s ideas and projects and keep everyone informed on what’s going on in each state,” she says.

NASW members may not be aware that the COCE exists, Overly says, but they should know that the council prompts effective communication — which in turn can lead to brainstorming and resolutions — about issues that affect members and enhance the practice of social work nationwide.

“The COCE helps the EDs to communicate the issues that we need to focus on for the association and profession,” she says. “If social workers are losing jobs, phones will ring. The executives will hear about it. The council may talk about what we need to do to save these jobs — are all the chapters hearing the same thing, and what can we do to be responsive?”

The executive directors meet once a month by teleconference in four separate meetings by size of their chapters. For example, medium-size chapters meet every third Wednesday of the month and small chapters meet every second Monday. The information discussed is posted on a SharePoint site for all chapter EDs to access.

“Chapters of similar sizes may face similar issues, such as smaller chapters face operational issues much differently due to less number of working hours per week or no ability to delegate, because they are it,” Overly says. “It comes down to doing a newsletter by a certain date versus lobbying the state’s general assembly for social work practice issues. The priority decisions must be made and the newsletter may not be done by the deadline. All executives are essentially running a small business, in a way.”

The COCE steering committee also meets once a month on its own. The committee includes a chairman or chairwoman, chairman- or chairwoman-elect, secretary, treasurer and two additional members. Each position is held by a current executive director and has a term of two years. Terms are staggered, so half of the steering committee positions are elected by a majority vote of the executives each year.

“The COCE members watch the Listserv, know about national board meetings coming up, and watch the association’s events,” Overly says. “We help communication flow either up or down, to state and national boards and committees. That way we’re working as one for the mission. Each of us going off on a tangent doesn’t work.”

NASW-Connecticut Executive Director Steve Karp, who is the COCE steering committee secretary, says the council helps him learn about successful approaches to the issues faced in running a chapter.

“Chapter executive directors are on our own without counterparts in our state,” he says. “The (COCE) provides a valuable vehicle for sharing ideas, experiences and support.”

Sam Hickman, executive director of the NASW West Virginia Chapter, has been chairman of the COCE a few times during his 30 years with the chapter. He is currently one of the steering committee members and says that as common interests and current or systemic issues are identified, the COCE often organizes task groups of EDs who work together to quantify problems, identify opportunities, vet solutions, and put forward recommendations.

“The opportunity for chapter leaders to get together, compare notes and inspire ideas in one another is consistently at the top of the list of things we can do to improve the energy and influence of NASW,” Hickman says. “The Council of Chapter Executives takes this a step further for chapter executive directors.”

Other current COCE steering committee members are:

  • Chairman — NASW-New Jersey ED Walter Kalman
  • Treasurer — NASW-Louisiana ED Carmen Weisner
  • Committee member — NASW-Nevada ED JD Fripp.