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The power of some.

With a staff of two--and capable volunteers--this association gets big results.

When the White House called this spring, Ethel Z. Gilman, CAE, ASAE fellow and executive director of the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Tallahassee, had 24 hours to alert volunteer leaders and find appropriate experts to serve on Hillary Rodham Clinton's first health care forum, in Tampa. The chapter leapt to action, and Gilman had resumes ready to fax to the White House on time. Four members participated in the forum--all people "who could tell real war stories," Gilman notes. "Many groups would just have sent their head honcho or their lobbyist."

Gilman, who has led NASW's Florida chapter for 13 years, has fostered an energetic and committed volunteer force among the chapter's 13 regional units. The chapter has a relatively small budget of about $350,000 and employs just Gilman and one support staffer. It ranks 11th in NASW membership size, with approximately 5,300 members. But the chapter's programs and services, as well as its political visibility, are respected both by other NASW chapters and by larger and wealthier associations.

Part of the chapter's energy comes from empowering volunteers to provide regional unit activities themselves. These activities range from collecting contributions for the political action committee to running membership campaigns, from producing unit newsletters to conducting educational programs.

Training members to lead

Once a year Gilman holds training sessions for elected and appointed unit leadership at the board meeting. Such training includes managing meetings, choosing and negotiating with facilities and speakers, fund-raising, recruiting members, writing newsletters, and planning unit programs.

Gilman describes the training's dual purposes as long-term leadership development (bringing new people up through the ranks) and team building, "so people work together more efficiently and effectively." The annual training began as basic orientation for new board members. "That got boring," she says, "so we made it a more positive experience with meaningful skills training. My volunteer president was quick to buy into it, and we typically have better than 98 percent attendance at board meetings." Gilman attributes that figure to making meetings "purposeful and fun."

Gilman is modest about the training's results, but the education does empower the chapter's volunteers to augment staff efforts and provide leadership to the chapter's 13 geographic regions. Chapter leaders tend to be active in other social work organizations as well. Last year the Florida chapter boasted seven members serving as chief volunteer officers of national organizations.

Ready to mobilize

Last year's hurricane catastrophe tested chapter leaders' readiness to handle a crisis. With volunteers used to planning and working at a high level, Gilman needed only six hours of brainstorming to come up with and begin implementing a comprehensive, coordinated relief plan for colleagues in the southern part of the state. NASW's national office helped mobilize members via a phone-a-thon to those listed in the association's clinical registry. Members from each region coordinated teams of social workers, who packed enough food and water for four days and went to relieve overwhelmed colleagues working in Dade County hospitals.

In the more recent March storm emergency, Gilman used the same member network she engaged for the hurricane response, finding people with specific expertise ready to answer the call.

Getting political

NASW is recognized as a voice in Florida's regulation and political arenas. The chapter's lobbyists and members regularly attend state licensure meetings, actively providing the state with input on future rules development. Its PAC solicitations and member contributions far surpass other social work groups in the country.

The chapter has also successfully garnered a number of appointments for its members in the current state administration. "We discovered that impacting on regulation is often more significant than the legislation itself," Gilman comments. Determined to have the profession's voice heard, members, the lobbyists, and Gilman put in long hours when the state administration changed last year and many political appointments to commissions and boards opened up.

According to Gilman, the NASW Florida chapter now has 50-75 members working in the administration. "We are getting out our literature, our ideas, and our standards," she affirms. "We haven't seen the fruits yet, but I think it helps to be calling the shots instead of getting shot at."

Cooperative efforts

Keeping in contact with and providing programming for a membership spread across the entire state takes planning and energy. Gilman spends 60 percent of her time on the road visiting the 13 regional units. She provides a training calendar for each unit with suggestions on possible activities each month, a sample newsletter, and brochure layouts. The chapter budget provides a minimum operating balance, augmented as needed.

The units then must hold meetings at least quarterly, present at least one

continuing education program per year, recruit new members, and establish some form of communication vehicle. Gilman and her administrative assistant are only an 800 number away for advice and counsel on projects.

What are the benefits of working with such a lean staff and giving all this responsibility to volunteers? According to Gilman, NASW Florida chapter members exhibit both ownership and pride in their unit development, and programs are in place for social workers the entire length of Florida. Volunteers also gain valuable leadership experience by leading and managing their own unit projects, and chapter funds go toward projects instead of additional staff.

Q and A With Ethel Gilman, CAE

Q: Your association thrives by using volunteers not only in policy and planning areas but also in the association's hands-on work. To what do you attribute their willingness to take on this additional responsibility?

A: Many associations and other NASW chapters have larger staffs but no bigger program. I often look at colleagues who have a dozen-plus people on staff and I wonder what they do. We get a lot done partly because we have no bureaucracy.

Chapter volunteers are also proud that their organization is able to accomplish so much because of their efforts. They own their chapter by their investment in its success, and that in turn stimulates them to take time to plan their programs properly.

Q: What formal planning does the chapter do?

A: The chapter has a formal three-year plan developed by the board at the end of each three-year cycle, but the plan is only a road map. Directors can change the plan and occasionally do as part of their quarterly brainstorming sessions. The chapter has added a half day to each of its quarterly meetings for this think tank. In these sessions, directors divide into three groups to analyze what's going well and how far they've come. They may add an experimental program or even alter course. They're risk takers--they're willing to take an unpopular position. That's a good quality in an advocate, and it comes with being in this profession.

Q: Do you supplement your small paid staff with outside contractors?

A: We contract with an accounting firm, a mailing house, and professional lobbyists. Student interns also help out with special projects from time to time. Some of the other work that's done in associations by staff, however, is done by our volunteers.

Q: How do you motivate volunteers?

A: What's critical is a lot of recognition. I send informal notes and make regular calls. People need to feel appreciated; that keeps them hooked.

Consistency is also critical. We send out RSVP postcards with packets before every quarterly board meeting. There are always a few people who don't send them back. When we call to follow up, we say, "Maybe you forgot to mail back the card, but we need to know if you're coming." Usually by the last board meeting, everybody is conditioned and faithfully sends them back.

Q: How do you keep up your own energy?

A: Whenever I get restless, some new project comes up that excites me. I'm also extremely fortunate that my board challenges me to continue learning and volunteering my own ideas about what should be done. They're supportive of my ideas and look to me as a major information source. We operate as a team.

The Florida Society |of Association Executives~ and the Tallahassee Society |of Association Executives~ also bring me a tremendous amount of stimulation. At roundtables, we borrow successes from one another. Although I might be on the opposite side of the aisle politically from another exec, through discussion and mutual respect, we often can come up with solutions beneficial to both our associations. In detailed reports to my board, I talk about my own volunteer work with the societies, and they understand the benefits to them. My board has always encouraged my participation in ASAE.

Carole Badger, CAE, is executive vice president of the Greater Madison Board of Realtors, Wisconsin.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:Annual Meeting Issue; includes related article
Author:Badger, Carole
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Previous Article:Celebrating the ASAE foundation's 30th anniversary.
Next Article:How coalitions work.

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