by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

NASW WI’s Board of Directors recently held a retreat to develop goals for the chapter for the next two years.   The focus of the retreat was to review the challenges facing NASW WI in the areas of membership, finances, practice and legislative/political conditions and to determine how we can best meet these challenges.

In the area of membership, on a national level 250-300 NASW members are retiring every month with a subsequent drop in revenue and membership.  Newly certified social workers are not joining NASW WI to the same degree that social workers did in prior years.

On a financial level, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance for the Wisconsin Chapter as a small employer, along with the aforementioned drop in membership revenue has created some major financial challenges for the chapter. We have responded aggressively to address these issues. Employees have not received raises for the last two fiscal years. We have changed our 401K plan to eliminate processing charges and we have recently changed our health care provider saving thousands of dollars per year. We will be subletting part of our office space. The format of the newsletter changed from a mailed copy to online format saving over $10,000. We continue to search for ways to streamline our operations and lower our expenses.

In the area of practice there are perennial issues of social workers not feeling supported, valued or understood in their professional role, inadequate funding and reimbursement in private practice, burnout and stress management concerns.  Finally in the legislative/political arena, we face major challenges in the destruction of public unions, and the cuts to social services, education, BadgerCare, transportation and the general lack of support for our profession and the programs benefiting our clients currently in the Governor’s office and at the State Capitol.. Additionally we are bracing for upcoming cuts on a federal level

Despite these challenges, the Wisconsin Chapter has many strengths, which the board and staff will be using to meet these challenges.   First, almost 40% of our Board of Directors are in their 20’s and 30’s and they have already brought new ideas and a fresh perspective to our operations.   A number of our new upcoming initiatives in membership and continuing education were a result of suggestions from these younger members at our retreat and first board meeting.

Secondly the Wisconsin Chapter has an outstanding record in the production of continuing education programs and products including the annual conference, a teleconference program, ethics and exam preparation workshops, and an audio home study program. We  already market some of our programs nationwide through an online learning institute and are looking into ways in which we could expand those offerings through teleconferences and webinars.  . We would market these programs in collaboration with other NASW WI chapters and will explore marketing to other professional organizations.  Increasing sales of our continuing education programs would bring in much needed extra revenue for the chapter. We are also forming a Marketing Committee and would welcome the involvement of members with expertise in marketing.

Third, NASW WI provides very valuable and practical services to members that in difficult times can be especially beneficial.  At a time when most city, county and other public sector unions in Wisconsin have been greatly weakened and may cease to exist, public employees may take a second look at how NASW WI can help protect them.   Among the services that NASW provides that can be very beneficial to public and private employees are: 1) Free legal consultation with the NASW General Counsel; 2) Ethics and practice consultation with me (I am a certified NASW ethics consultant) or with the national NASW Ethics consultant; 3) Malpractice insurance; 4) Liability insurance to cover transporting clients in your personal car; 5) NASW Practice Standards and Code of Ethics that can be used as a basis to improve the agency’s work environment 6) Networking opportunities with other social workers in your area of practice or region; and 7) Significant discounts in our outstanding continuing education programs.

Our Professional Standards & Regulation committee, composed of members from all over the state, regularly takes on challenges to the practice of social work including hiring in the Family Care program and MA reimbursement for LCSW’s and CAPSW’s.  This is a powerful committee that has participated in many meetings with state officials on issues affecting social work practice.   Similarly our statewide Legislative/Social Policy committee takes positions on the biennial state budget and bills introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature with an impact on our profession or clients. Committee members, NASW WI interns and I testify at hearings, lobby legislators and mobilize our members on priority bills.  NASW WI is also involved with a number of statewide coalitions in order to combine our power to affect social change.  One example is the Big Tent Coalition, a state-wide coalition promoting universal health care in Wisconsin.  The Big Tent Coalition is closely monitoring the implementation of President Obama’s health care reform bill in Wisconsin.

The attacks on public sector unions, the cutbacks in support for low income individuals and families and as well as the funding cuts for public schools, transportation, etc., have been made possible by the new political alignment in Wisconsin after the 2010 elections.   One of the keys to changing the current environment is through electing office holders who share our priorities in public policy.  NASW WI’s political action committee (Wisconsin Social Workers PAC) was active in the State Senate recall elections contributing both time and volunteers for canvassing and money and it will certainly be active in elections held in 2012 that could have a major impact on support for our profession and clients.

During the coming year we will be surveying our members to learn in more detail which programs and services that NASW WI provides are most valuable to you and what you would like to see us do more of. There will be general membership surveys and some directed toward specific member groups such as student members, transitional members and lapsed members. NASW WI will also be initiating a health care coverage survey of its members to determine whether lack of coverage is a serious problem among our members.   The board of directors will review the results of these surveys, and will use them to determine chapter goals and priorities.

I encourage you, our NASW WI member, to join the NASW WI Board of Directors, Branch Chairs and Representatives, committee members and other active members in meeting our challenges head-on. Working together we can turn them into opportunities for growth and change for our members, NASW WI and our profession.