The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees bring numerous professional benefits to their holders. Social workers engage in exciting and meaningful work that delivers clear benefits to their clients and to society at large, a fact of which they can rightfully be proud. In addition, the very act of practicing social work confirms mastery of a challenging profession and confers a sense of purpose, both of which can be intensely rewarding.
Further, a career in social work joins the social worker to a community with shared values and aspirations; this impact of the profession is often unexpected and also often less-than-fully explored. Through their desire to make the world a better place, to champion social justice, and protect the vulnerable, social workers share a powerful tribal affiliation.
To nurture this identity, every BSW and MSW ought to invest in his professional development and personal growth by connecting with colleagues, expanding his professional networks, and advancing his knowledge. Social work can be a high-stress profession requiring emotional fortitude; to manage the pressure, social workers should seek platforms and communities where they can encourage and support each other.
One of the best ways to do this is to join a professional social work organization.
Fortunately, there are a number to choose from. There are inclusive organizations for all social workers, and practice-specific groups that focus on unique populations. An important benefit of membership is that many of these organizations do not just provide support; they also provide career services and post job listings.
Student social workers may find membership especially worthwhile. Many organizations offer reduced student fees and provide invaluable opportunities to launch a career.
Here are the top ten organizations every social worker (and social work student) should consider joining.
To learn more about how to become a member, it’s best to visit each organization’s website. We’ve listed the NASW first because it is by far the most important; the rest are listed alphabetically.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest professional membership organization of social workers worldwide, and the most influential. If any single organization is forging and branding the identity of social work, it’s the NASW.
The mission of the NASW is to promote the professional growth and development of its members, guide the standards of professional practice for social workers, and drive the agenda of social work policy. Its influence should not be underestimated; the NASW provides the defining guideposts for all social work practice.
The NASW also offers gold-standard credentialing in advanced social work practice areas and competencies (the organization offers 18 advanced practice specialty credentials in areas such as case management, military social work, and gerontology). These credentials can be career builders, qualifying social workers for specialized work and increasing their earning potential.
The NASW also sponsors a unique 100,000-plus member online network called MyNASW, where social workers can meet, engage and build relationships with like-minded peers. Discussion boards allow members to post questions and converse. A robust career center, another feature of MyNASW, not only lists jobs but also provides resume-polishing help and other career guidance. Other services NASW provides include professional liability insurance for advanced clinicians.
For social workers who only have the time and energy for one organization, the NASW is the organization to join.
There are a couple of significant practical considerations:
- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification
Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:
- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. ( )
A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. ( )
- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees
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The Association of Baccalaureate Program Directors (BPD) has a narrow focus: it is a membership organization designed for program directors, administrators, educators, faculty, field directors and any other individual focused on the baccalaureate level of social work education. Benefits include access to relevant content and publications and an invitation to the organization’s national conferences. BPD membership facilitates networking with fellow members who share a strong interest in undergraduate social work education and training.
Annual membership fee:__ $185
The AOSW reports that its membership “is comprised of more than 1,300 professionals and students who practice in hospitals, cancer centers, home care agencies, hospice, community-based oncology practices, community programs, patient advocacy organizations, educational institutions and other settings.” Social workers in health care settings who deal with cancer, and those working in hospice and palliative care may find membership in AOSW provides substantial supports for caregivers in this high-stress field.
Members have access to regional conferences, publications, online learning, professional development and other learning opportunities tied to this practice area.
If you are a clinical social worker or plan to become one, the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) is a membership organization that will support your practice needs and inform your professional growth. Through its website and other materials, the CSWA provides practice-informed content and resources, including the latest clinical information. Clinician-members can also take advantage of discounted liability insurance for their practice. On the political front, the CSWA lobbies on behalf of licensed clinical social workers for adequate reimbursement.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the accrediting organization for all social work schools and programs. CSWE accreditation ensures a school has met minimum curriculum and training standards.
Because licensure in social work requires practitioners to hold a degree from a CSWE-accredited school, the organization holds tremendous influence over social work education and practice standards in the United States. The CSWE sets standards for such requirements as minimum number of fieldwork hours (when you find yourself working back-to-back field placements as a student, it’s because of the CSWE).
As a membership organization, the CSWE offers valuable opportunities for networking and professional growth. It helps promote best practices in the social work field for post-MSW degree holders through education sessions, peer-mentoring events, and a robust career/job-search center. Each year, CSWE hosts an annual program that “brings together more than 2,500 individual members as well as the largest gathering of graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education.”
Professional development of social workers in the health and human services field is the primary focus of the Network for Social Work Management (NSWM). Any social worker in this practice area interested in supercharing his executive potential would benefit from this organization. The NSWM places a strong emphasis on promoting and strengthening leadership potential; to that end, the organization offers intensive training, mentoring, coaching and other platforms for support.
A dynamic menu of programs includes an executive circle, an annual management conference, and the Emerging Leaders Institute, which offers leadership training. A truly standout and noteworthy offering is the Changemaker of Color (COC) Healthcare Management Training Program, an “intensive leadership development training program targeted at innovative, visisionary, and emerging leaders of color.”
Annual membership fee:__ None
The Rural Social Work Caucus refers to itself as an informal organization with a “loose” membership body and structure. However, it is serious about its devotion to the practice of social work in rural areas. Each year, they partner with colleges and universities to host the “National Institute on Social Work and Human Service in Rural Areas.” The organization also promotes research and publications on the subject of rural social work. It even has its own theme song, which includes the lyrics: “As long as we can laugh and sing and let down our thinning hair/Then this traveling rural road show will pop up again somewhere.”
Annual membership fee:__ None; you just sign up!
The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) serves social workers practicing in a school environment. The organization keeps members informed through an electronic newsletter, webinar series, regional conferences, and leadership institutes. The SSWAA also acts as a professional and legislative advocate for school social workers, lobbying for higher salaries, better resources, and improved work conditions.
The Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) is focused solely on supporting social workers and students, faculty and researchers in the field of social work research. Members have access to the Social Work Research Network (SWRnet), which provides weekly email updates about research resources and opportunities in social work research. The newsletter posts funding opportunities, requests for papers, proposals and abstracts, up-to-date research, and data sources; it also lists upcoming conferences and training.
Members also receive a free electronic subscription to the “Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research” and access to the SSWR’s Doctoral Student Center, which supports doctoral research, writing, and employment. The organization also offers members discounts to research-focused conferences and other resources.
The Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care (SSWLHC) serves social workers in the practice area of health care. SSWLHC membership provides networking opportunities, continuing education, leadership resources and leadership institutes, free publications (including the “Social Work in Health Care” journal), and member-only discounts on books, products, and events. The organization also oversees a mentorship program that provides mentor-matching for professional development. The mentorship program allows members to learn from other members who are social work leaders and clinician in the healthcare field
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