Redesigned NASW Intent on Lighting New Paths for Members and the Profession

By Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Five years have passed since former NASW board President Jeane Anastas appointed a group charged with the task of charting a sustainable course for our professional organization’s future.

At the time, Dr. Anastas and the NASW board knew organizations that fail to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges of changing resources, technology and membership demands are destined to stagnate or disappear altogether.

In the face of that reality, a task group of 12 members—including chapter presidents, chapter executives, and current and past board members—came together to review demographic and professional trends and new models of serving a diverse and dynamic membership.

They carried out their charge with the mission of seeking to assure a sound financial foundation for NASW and respect for its history of service to social work practitioners and the goals of the profession.

The task force dared to imagine a new platform from which to launch needed initiatives, explore new professional frontiers and capitalize on opportunities to support meeting the professional needs of today’s social workers, and to carry out advocacy efforts on a greater scale than ever before.

After two years of hard work, the task force presented a plan for change to the NASW board for consideration. After thorough review and deliberation, the board voted to support what it saw as the association’s best course for a promising future.

As a member of the board at the time, I recall that the decision to move forward with the plan was accompanied by the realization it would represent a great deal of change and a fair amount of discomfort. It would mean leaving behind the familiar in favor of moving to a more united organization, developing greater capacity to serve our members.

This plan for change was shared with chapter executive directors, chapter presidents and presidents-elect at the Annual Leadership Meeting (ALM) in 2015. To say the plan was met with complete enthusiasm would be untrue.

Rather, like anything representing a departure from the “usual” way of doing things—the comfortable way—it was met with criticism that included in-depth discussion but also glimmers of hope and faith that the plan might be a course worth investing in.

It was what we, as social workers, view as a healthy process—that is, key stakeholders encouraged to voice concerns, ask questions, and offer ideas for modification. Many of the recommendations for modification were adopted, either in whole or in part.

I was present for much of the process and I think the discussions at the 2015 ALM, as well as the nationwide conference calls held with presidents and executive directors, were valuable in moving us forward with the work of reinvention that was truly reflective of NASW leadership throughout the country.

What a difference a few years and dedicated effort have made. While there are still areas we are working on, our redesigned NASW is intent on lighting new paths for the social work profession, shining a light on where more social workers are needed, and speaking out on issues like immigration and gun violence.

The original task force and the two subsequent work groups associated with our reinvention met the challenge of creating new opportunities. This rejuvenation led to NASW having much more powerful branding through our uniform look; increased ability to promote and benefit from cross-chapter pollination of promising ideas and practices; more effective use of our collective national impact; and greater ability to orchestrate initiatives on multiple levels using a variety of platforms—and ultimately greater responsiveness to its members.

We have also revised our Code of Ethics through our Delegate Assembly process to be more aligned with the realities of today’s practice with its inclusion of technology.

Chapter and national leadership, in partnership with volunteer leaders, have made these accomplishments possible, and their amazing work is much appreciated.

We have all been activists for our profession and all the potential it holds for creating a just society. I am looking forward to the new year and the opportunities it will bring to NASW and our members old and new, those who left us and should return, and those we have yet to recruit.

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at