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Currents - May/June 2012 Message from the President
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Message from the President


Observations and Suggestions Based on What I Have Learned as President of NASW-NYC

 This column was edited by National NASW.

Susan Nayowith


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your president for the past two years. I want to share some of my observations and suggestions with you as I step down. 

When I started my term I was eager to fulfill my responsibilities to the membership of the NYC Chapter. I considered how I would translate my duty to maintain the fiduciary trust and organizational governance into action. What did it actually mean to protect the membership’s interest? What did accountability to our members look like?

Some of what I learned is that a Board of Directors needs to be in a constant process of assessment of their organization. They need to be clear about what to the goals of the Board are and set a path to achieve them. A Board must consider what works and is not working for the organization and think about the roles Board members play, how the governing body works, and recognize what changes need to be made to stay responsive and relevant to our members and the community.

Even though we are volunteers, in our role as Board members, we must be responsible and do what it takes, in whatever time it takes, to get the job done. Board participation is hard work. Many of us volunteer because we believe in NASW and we believe we can make a difference to the organization. In addition, we volunteer because we believe participation on a Board will help develop our leadership skills, will connect us with knowledgeable people in our field, and will be a place to market ourselves for future career opportunities. When challenges occur our volunteer work as Board members can take up more time and energy than anticipated. This causes a dynamic tension that influences our participation, commitment and delivery of our governance tasks. However, this is what we signed on for when we committed ourselves to represent our members. People volunteering to serve on the Board in the future should be aware of this and make sure they are willing to commit the time and the energy to work through such issues.

This Chapter’s Board of Directors had our own conversations about the direction and operations of our chapter. This has involved a lot of uncomfortable soul searching. Even now, I am not sure how well these conversations have been received. They clearly have not been resolved. However, it is my belief, whether WE like it or not, part of our double responsibility as Social Workers and as Board members is to be honest with ourselves and tackle the complicated issues for the betterment of our membership and the future strength of the Chapter.

Isn’t this what social workers do: identify problems, make assessments of the situation, come up with plans for action and work towards making change?

I would be remiss not to mention another issue we are faced with - decreasing membership. We have asked ourselves, while some organizations are growing, why isn’t ours? What is not working? The Board created the Marketing and Membership Committee to identify some solutions. They have been reaching out to students at social work schools. We began a more structured schedule for Board members and others committed to NASW to speak in the community to attract members. We need to find more ways to increase membership each and every day.

Another positive step was that NASW established measurable benchmarks for our Board and chapter's performance to be responsive to our members and the many fields of practice they represent and the communities where we serve in as practitioners and leaders. We need to do more. I am worried if we do not make changes, if we maintain the status quo, we will continue to lose members and watch our organization fail.

I encourage the Board to show their courage -- stand up and fight for the NYC chapter and to do the necessary work – to make and carry out difficult choices. As we find ways to work together at this critical time we need to agree to listen and learn from one another. We need to agree to disagree in a civil fashion, not spend time fighting amongst ourselves. I encourage all of our members to become involved. The Board is your voice and we need you to make sure that your voice is heard!

In closing, as many of you have heard me say, I have never regretted my choice to become a social worker. I have never regretted the rewards and challenges of working for social justice. I am thankful to all the wonderful people who have become my friends and colleagues and supported my efforts and the work of the chapter. I am sorry I could not have accomplished more. However, I feel comfortable I have left the Board with eyes wide open to assist in planning how to move forward. I wish you courage and all the best.

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