Update on NASW’s Modernization Initiative

As we begin the new year, it seems like a good time to provide an update on the Association’s ongoing Modernization Initiative.  We’re pleased to report that the implementation of the initiative is proceeding, for the most part, according to schedule.  We are now in the middle of the second phase of this three-phase implementation and are beginning to realize some of the anticipated benefits, including greater collaboration between chapter and national staff.

The Modernization and Revitalization Initiative, launched in July 2016, continues to fuel important and robust discussions about the direction of the Association.  To that end, it is important to highlight what modernization is, what it is not, and how NASW continues to work on behalf of its members and the social work profession to make our incredible organization even better.


NASW President Kathryn Conley Wehrmann and NASW CEO Angelo McClain

Importantly, modernization has not changed NASW’s status as one Association composed of 55 state and local chapters and a national headquarters located in Washington, DC.  In 1955, NASW was incorporated in the state of Delaware as a membership association dedicated to the support of social workers and the social work profession.  Given the NASW’s status as a mission-driven membership organization, it operates as a non-profit entity pursuant to Section 501(c)6 of the Internal Revenue Code.  This has not changed with modernization.  Chapters have always been administrative units of the Association with the charge to advance the mission of NASW on the local level.  Through the modernization initiative, chapters continue to exercise local decision-making over program priorities, advocacy efforts, membership activities, and all other chapter projects.

In 2015, NASW embarked on a multi-year journey to modernize association operations by upgrading systems and processes, particularly in the areas of governance and administrative services.  The goal was to increase the ability of state and local chapters to focus on local social work programs, policy, and member services.  Advocacy at the state and local levels, professional development, and the provision of member services at the chapter level were, and continue to be, viewed as the most critical functions of our chapters.  As part of modernization, NASW seeks to provide greater uniformity and consistency in the level of member benefits and services across all NASW chapters.  Since its inception, the modernization work across the Association has been grounded in the mantra “Members First.”

What the modernization process has taught us:

Constant communication and broad engagement with chapter and national stakeholders is essential and embodies the democratic principles we hold dear.

  • The decision to modernize involved conversations with chapter leaders, chapter executive directors, national board directors, and many different chapter and national staff, over a period of three years.  A wide array of volunteer leaders, past and present, who have steadfastly served NASW throughout their membership in the Association, participated.  Now as part of implementation, both chapter staff and national staff continue to collaborate on teams and committees working to ensure a smooth transition.
  • The key components of the modernization plan changed over time based on input received from chapter staff and volunteer leaders.  If you are a member, changes made during the evolution of the proposal can be viewed on the NASW national website at SocialWorkers.org/About/Governance/Modernization.  The fact that the proposal changed over time demonstrates the participative and collaborative nature of the planning process.

Delegate Assembly continues to be a critical part of NASW governance.

  • Delegate Assembly moved to a virtual format in 2008, many years before the modernization effort began.  The move was driven by the need to reduce costs and a desire to increase the number of members who could participate in the policy review process.  Through a new virtual Delegate Assembly review process, thousands more members have been able to comment on revised policy statements, review changes to the Code of Ethics and help set our triennial program priority goals.  Although the final voting is conducted by 200 elected delegates, more than 100,000 NASW members can now participate in this important organizational review process thanks to technology.

What NASW continues to be after modernization:

NASW remains a membership organization with chapter priorities and programs determined at the state and local level by member-elected chapter boards.

NASW continues to embody the principles of democracy by holding elections annually where members choose leaders to represent them at the local and national levels.

NASW continues to fight at the national, state and local levels on behalf of social workers and the social work profession.  Examples of these efforts include:

  • Advocating to increase salary and reimbursement levels for social workers
  • Advocating for enactment of social worker safety legislation
  • Fighting for the professionalization of the child protective services workforce through regulation and administrative policies requiring BSW and MSW degrees
  • Advocating for student loan forgiveness programs
  • Standing against efforts to weaken social worker licensing boards and regulations
  • Working at the state and federal level with government officials and employers to ensure that social work is viewed as the “go-to” profession in the areas of mental health and substance use services, child welfare, maternal and child health, aging services, veteran health, integrated healthcare, and more
  • Lobbying Congress and federal agencies to increase investments in social work research
  • Working with Congress to pass legislation that invests in the future of social work
  • Working at the state and federal levels to fight for critical safety net funding for social work clients and our communities
  • Promoting social work values and principles for a more just and equitable society

The changes in organizational operations achieved through modernization better position NASW for the 21st century challenges and opportunities faced by social work and the Association.  We know that succeeding in these ever-changing times requires more unity across the profession and within NASW.  Ultimately, our efforts to modernize organizational operations seek to advance the purpose and mission of NASW, enhance the member experience, ensure the long-term financial viability of the Association, and better leverage the collective might of our members and the strength of the social work profession.  We greatly appreciate your continued support.


Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW
Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW
Chief Executive Officer






  1. 8 of the 10 (80%) of the identified continuing actions are legislative advocacy actions. If 80% of NASW modernization is political, then NASW needs to stop identifying itself as a Professional Association and rebrand itself as a PAC. One of the biggest reasons I left NASW after 3 decades is the failure of the profession to engage in quantitative research to improve the outcomes of our services. No improved outcomes equals no improved job market or salaries.

  2. Thanks Kathy and Angelo for the update on modernization. It is so important to keep our members informed of the process. Wanda

  3. Why did you not talk about the shifting of funding from chapters to national? Why did you not talk about the powers lost to the Chapter Boards and Chapter Executives? Why did you not talk about the opposition to national’s power and money grab. I do not plan to rejoin NASW. After decades as an NASW member since the 1970’s, as a former Chapter leader, NASW is no longer my organization.

    • Good morning Ms. Miller:

      Thanks for your comment. The NASW Modernization plan was not done to take power from chapters or grab money.

      The changes are driven by the goal of improving local member benefits and strengthening the Association’s services across the country, while exercising prudent financial management in the operations of the Association. As a membership organization, we take very seriously how the Association spends member dues. If we reduce the cost of administration and governance, we can invest more in quality member benefits, programs and other services.

      To address your concerns we urge you to read our Q&A on modernization, which is available to NASW members (https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Governance/Modernization/FAQ). If you still have outstanding questions please email Governance@naswdc.org.

      We appreciate your long membership in NASW and hope you will reconsider renewing.


      Greg Wright
      NASW Public Relations Manager

  4. This reflects good work moving into the future with renewed application of various forms of technology. Where is NASW renewed focus on addressing the needs of one of the most vulnerable population groups in this country, African-American males. There are organizations and institutions within communities that understand the considerable research that explains their poor health and disportionate incarceration outcomes, have I missed the intentional leadership of NASW in this area ?

    • Thanks for your comment Dr. Washington. NASW is involved in these issues through its social justice outreach. Please visit the Social Justice website and read our briefs on issues affecting African American males, including police violence and racial profiling (https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Social-Justice/Social-Justice-Issue-Briefs)/. Also check out our resources on ethnicity and race in the NASW Practice Section (https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/Ethnicity-Race).

      NASW also has a National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (NCORED), which addresses the social work response to some of the issues you mention.

      If there is an issue you think we need to put added attention please contact Rita Webb at NCORED (Rwebb.nasw@socialworkers.org) or NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson at (mwilson.nasw@socialworkers.org).

      Greg Wright
      NASW Public Relations Manager

  5. Dr. Alma J.Carten

    Thank edyo for your hard work, and commitment to increasing the effectiveness of or professional organization–in these troubling times when a social work voice is sorely needed!

  6. Very Interesting article. A MUST read for all therapists (Social Workers), etc.

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