How Social Workers Empower Communities Through Non-Profits

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For social workers seeking a value-driven career that helps support local causes, non-profits are an ideal choice. In these roles, practitioners can serve the communities they feel a connection with, or neighborhoods that are very similar to those they grew up in. They help adults and children with various needs, from food poverty to financial insecurity and problems accessing healthcare. Non-profits can also seek out social workers who are ready to counsel and support veterans, and there is a growing need for substance abuse counselors. However, many advocates are always needed, especially those with diverse skills.

A career built around the interests of the practitioner 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2031 around 64,000 additional social workers will be required, many of whom will use their specialized skills to find solutions for non-profits. For practitioners with a BSW degree, this is a great time to earn an advanced qualification and explore more senior positions within the profession. 

One of the swiftest, most convenient ways to do so is by enrolling in one of the online advanced standing MSW programs available through reputable institutions such as Cleveland State University. With 100% online coursework, their Advanced Standing Master of Social Work allows students to continue in their current employment while they study, and although it includes 500 field hours, no campus attendance is required. 

A more autonomous work schedule 

Non-profits may not bring in as much income as private companies, but the services they provide are essential for many communities. The BLS reports that the average salary for a social worker is around $50,000 per year, but those who work for a non-profit employer are unlikely to receive the same salary as those in private practice. This is because the organization is directing its efforts towards promoting the cause it represents. 

Working for a smaller organization does have a range of perks that might not be available in a big company or a governmental agency. Primarily, social workers will have greater freedom when it comes to developing plans for the community, building a personal connection with residents, and being part of a neighborhood. Additionally, smaller employers may be able to offer more flexibility when it comes to hours, offering opportunities to work from home and job share. 

The professional benefits are considerable 

From the social worker’s perspective, non-profit work can also provide professional benefits besides the opportunity to work for a cause they feel invested in. This is a career that requires a dedication to lifelong learning and professional development. A high level of dedication is the only way to grow and maintain competencies and knowledge. 

Through their organization, practitioners can gain access to a range of tools that contribute to this process. These often include online courses, peer support, mentoring and advanced certification. The additional study gives professionals the chance to advance their careers and command a higher wage, but it also ensures they excel in their day-to-day roles and offer a consistently high level of performance. 

Raising awareness and supporting marginalized communities 

At a fundamental level, in either job situation, the core role of a social worker is very similar. It’s all about meeting the needs of service users, supporting communities and building better working relationships within the neighborhood. Charities and non-profits come in various forms and sizes. In some, clients are heavily involved with the day-to-day running of the organization. Occasionally, the group itself was started by people who once needed help themselves and now want to provide it for others. 

Alternatively, the non-profit could be geared towards gaining recognition for a cause and managed by people who have themselves suffered a related injustice. Social workers who have empathy for the social issue that is being addressed can find working for a community non-profit very rewarding. They have the chance to work closely and innovatively with clients, offer counseling and build on their advocacy skills with the support of a dedicated team. 

Why do social workers excel at community empowerment?

Successful community growth can be achieved in several ways, the social workers who are involved in this process have often gained the vital skills required while at university. From communicating effectively to motivating groups of people and understanding a range of perspectives, practitioners can arrive at a non-profit fully prepared for key roles. They appreciate the importance of diversity, and they are passionate about the mission and willing to persevere in order to get the job done. Coupled with their ability to establish good working relationships with a range of stakeholders, social workers can soon become powerful advocates for the cause of a non-profit, as well as the community it serves. 

Cultural competence is a vital aspect of social work 

As following a code of ethics is central to the practice of social work, people from this background can successfully combine being an effective manager with ethical leadership. Maintaining an effective organization while treating everyone on the team with respect, being fair in decision-making and using a collaborative approach is what social workers do. In addition, non-profits can be made up of a diverse group of employees, in terms of age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. As cultural competence is a value that all social workers are expected to promote, they are ready to appreciate these differences and harness the potential of a diverse workforce when it comes to realizing the aims of the organization. 

What skills can social workers offer a community-based non-profit organization? 

Promoting social justice and connecting with residents are key aspects of a social worker’s role; however, they have a specific set of additional responsibilities to consider in the community. Serving a community involves engaging and working with large groups of people and helping them to articulate what would benefit their neighborhood. Once this is achieved, it’s important to consider how change can be brought about, because community action does not look the same from one location to the next. 

Using self-reflection to improve practice 

As part of their role, social workers in non-profits will need to use self-reflection to consider what their own assumptions are and avoid imposing these on the community. This can be supported by carrying out research into the demographic that is being supported, looking at the group’s history, the challenges they have faced in the past and the culture which has sprung up as a result. 

When first joining an organization, social workers are typically open to feedback from their colleagues, as well as other stakeholders and people in the community. This is useful when they are developing or helping to create strategies to improve people’s lives or find solutions to specific problems. Context allows practitioners to better understand how the current situation came about, why the community holds the beliefs they do and what empathetic assistance would look like. 

Keeping the door open to visitors from the community

Being out in the neighborhood, having an appointment system or holding regular meetings ensures that social workers are not viewing community engagement as a short-term event. Direct face-to-face meetings may not be possible every day, but they can provide a social worker with insight that might otherwise remain hidden. Making time for people is also useful when it comes to establishing mutual understanding and ensuring people feel heard. 

In turn, this will promote meaningful community engagement. Through listening, being honest and being accountable, they can start to gain the trust of local residents. In addition, it can help to acknowledge that there are conflicts within the community. People may want a debate on the best way forward, and, in doing so, they will address any internal struggles. Being transparent, available and reliable ensures social workers are respected by those they serve and have a greater chance of meeting the community’s expectations. 

Celebrating and promoting the community’s successes

To allocate their resources in a way that most benefits the community, social workers working with non-profits need to carry out assessments, alone or as part of a team and plan programs. Their work is less about doing good deeds for the local people and more about assisting residents to identify issues and how to tackle them. 

For the social worker, this will involve a great deal of collaborative work during which they aim to consult and engage with residents at every stage of the process. Practitioners should aim to guide and facilitate decision-making, without influencing the result. 

They will offer information, resources, and learning opportunities to nurture an informed community. These might highlight any human rights issues that are relevant to the non-profit’s work and detail similar cases which have resulted in a successful outcome. Outreach work will often aim to inspire the community by advertising its own successes and achievements, which may be through a celebration or an exhibition.

Non-profit community work is a constantly evolving process

Serving individuals, family groups and communities effectively is a dynamic practice. Both the practitioner and the organization they work for need to stop regularly to evaluate the progress of their initiatives and reflect on the changes that may be needed. Part of this will include getting feedback from local people on the work that has been done so far, collecting data on whether changes have been effective, and analyzing the results. This can be of use when it’s time to spot gaps in the service being provided, but also when identifying new or emerging challenges that might impact the organization. 

By evaluating the outcomes of their endeavors for the community, social workers can help assess what was effective and what was not, then use this information to shape their future efforts. In addition, by measuring the success of an activity and reporting on this, non-profits can illustrate their findings to potential donors for a better chance of securing funding. 

Working within the ethical codes and principles of social work 

Although they are employed by a non-profit, rather than a government organization or local authority, social workers maintain their dedication to ethical, value-based working practices. They continue to maintain the standards of their profession, support human rights and uphold social justice wherever they can. Practitioners will remain cognizant of the codes of conduct set out by their organization, the guidelines for social workers in their state and any other standards that relate to community engagement. 

On a personal level, they strive to challenge and address any form of oppression or discrimination they witness while at work or during outreach. Additionally, they will hold themselves to these same standards and be accountable for their mistakes. Acknowledging an error, seeking feedback and learning from it is useful, as it demonstrates a willingness to change and improve. 

Collaborating to share knowledge and learn 

Working with communities is never a solitary role, it requires regular collaboration with colleagues and community residents. People learn from one another’s perspectives and share their experiences, and as a result, the organization can move forward collectively. This principle can also be applied to the non-profit’s wider networking activities. 

Partnering with other organizations, community groups and social workers in different fields is good practice. In doing so, findings are shared, success stories are disseminated and each group can learn from the experiences of the others. In addition, sharing data contributes to creating a greater evidence base and resources that can be drawn upon to inform future work. 

Non-profits that actively share knowledge may also be contacted by individuals with similar goals, some of whom may wish to become stakeholders or donors and others seeking mentorship. Additionally, by establishing events that formalize information sharing, the group can reach more local people who may need help, hopefully getting them on board with one of its initiatives. 

How can social workers help to grow and develop a non-profit? 

For social workers, playing a part in achieving the aims of a non-profit can be very gratifying. For these smaller, independent organizations, the social worker has much to offer besides their practical skills. 

Assisting the organization with a digital transformation 

In many sectors, the need for digital transformation is pressing. Communicating with stakeholders online can play a major part in raising funds, building better services and ensuring their work has the maximum impact. Social workers can bring their knowledge of digital services to an organization by introducing online platforms to the group’s working practices. These can be more effective than analog solutions when collaborating with the community, monitoring programs and reporting on the progress of their efforts. In addition, the nature of social media means that non-profits can reach a much wider audience and engage more fully with their clients. 

Supporting interdisciplinary working practices 

Interdisciplinary work can be a challenge for small organizations that work independently. They may be accustomed to a certain level of autonomy and feel unsure of opening up their practice to the scrutiny of others. However, at its heart, social work is an interdisciplinary profession that looks to experts from a diverse range of specialties for guidance and insight. Social workers can show non-profits how collaborating with law enforcement, psychologists and economists could be vital in furthering their aims. These professionals can help non-profits address some of the more complex issues that the community is experiencing by providing a range of perspectives. Collaborations serve to improve the quality, expertise and effectiveness of interventions, which helps to enrich the way an organization functions. 

Bringing in their professional and inclusive perspective 

As social workers often work with diverse groups of people, they recognize the need to respect diversity and celebrate cultural differences. When employed by a non-profit, social workers bring this commitment to inclusivity, as well as their dedication to social change and practical skills. 

According to McKinsey, by embracing an inclusive approach, non-profits are better able to retain their staff and amplify the efforts of their organization. Social workers can help ensure the non-profit is transparent about its inclusive practices, and shares these clearly with volunteers, clients and the general public. They can suggest ways of including the voices of grassroots leaders and underserved community members to inform policymaking and find effective ways to hire new staff from underrepresented groups. In addition, practitioners can help to develop an onboarding process that communicates these values when new people are introduced to the organization. 

Working for impactful change in US communities 

By choosing to work for a non-profit organization, social workers can bring about lasting change in society. Whether they are engaged with inner city, suburban or rural communities, their work can significantly affect the residents’ quality of life and feelings of personal empowerment. By developing programs, securing resources and continually checking the progress of their work, practitioners can help individuals and communities reach their full potential. All social workers aim to help clients find solutions to their problems, but in the community, as part of a non-profit, practitioners can have an even more profound, far-reaching impact.

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