Woman with money
by Eva Forde, MSSW
Ask any social worker what issue matters most and you'll hear an array of social causes as diverse as the people who care about them.
For instance, in recent years, the usual cause suspects like child welfare, human rights, and ethics have needed to share the limelight with new arenas of practice, such as green and veterinary social work, and social workers have had to expand their approaches to include more web-based technology and cross-border interventions.
But let's face it: in order to afford change in any of these arenas, we have to talk about money.
Of course, the typical social worker might likely argue for the preeminence of human capital over financial capital, it's the money that is needed to support these efforts and drive said change.
Why would a profession so devoted to the uplifting of the human species not talk more about such a fundamental resource as money, you might ask?
It's an interesting question and one with at least ten reasons why we don't and three on why we absolutely should.
1. The profession of social work began with a focus on helping the poor by those who were not.
The discipline of social work has not so long been a qualified profession, only gaining formal recognition in 1898 in the United States and increasing in world popularity ever since.
Most social workers are familiar with enough of the history to know that Jane Addams herself was from a prosperous family, as were many of the friendly visitors of the 1800s.
So, as in the case of many well-to-do social activists, money existed as a non-issue in social efforts, allowing the issue to be the issue.
If, from the dawn of the profession, social workers had less of a need to talk about the earning power of case workers, wealth creation, or money management, it makes sense that the topic of money remains secondary to the pressing issues of poverty, inequality and injustice that we still address today.
2. Social workers focus on resources not generally connected to money.
We all learned from the Strengths Perspective that to help a system improve, it's best to focus on the strengths of that system as opposed to its weaknesses.
This is also the preferred perspective of most social workers I know.
But often, our focus on strengths is primarily because a system is limited financially and needs to consider additional resources. Usually those resources are more likely to include things like the system's networks, abilities, and unique characteristics. Generally, if money is included as a strength, it's minimally emphasized and rarely, if ever, maximized beyond an immediate need or mission, because why would it be if we're not accustomed to focusing on money in the first place?
3. Service is our middle name and giving is our game.
The profession of social work was built on the notion of service. So fundamental to our mission is service that we even put it in our Code of Ethics.
Think about it. The profession itself has its roots in church activities and volunteer movements around the world which are all heavily service-based. It makes sense, then, that it remains a strong influencer within the social work profession to this day.
And although the trend from the corporate and for-profit world is increasingly to embrace the value of a service-oriented mission, social work remains largely rooted in the NGO and not-for-profit sectors, where money is seen as scarce and resources are considered few.
But service for the social worker has its reward inherent in the act of the service itself. That's to say, we do it because it's the right thing to do, not because of a paycheck.
With a mission to serve with no motivation of financial reward as our goal, is it any wonder, then, that social workers don't talk more about money?
4. Wanting to be wealthy is seen as anti-social work.
For many social workers, the words "rich," "money," and "wealthy" imply "filthy," "greedy," and "capitalistic" - all anti-social work themes. And yet we can intellectualize that none of these words are "anti-social work" in and of themselves.
If social workers believe something is "filthy," "greedy," or "capitalistic," chances are they aren't going to go for it - it's blatantly offensive to the social work creed - and that's probably a good reason why more social workers don't talk about money.
5. We don't have many wealthy social workers to look up to.
Although we are aware of some social workers who became rich, we don't see them very often, and we know even fewer wealthy people who become social workers, so we don't have a plethora of examples of massive wealth by individuals associated with the profession.
In his book Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill stressed the importance of having mentors - an individual or group of people to look up to, gain inspiration from, and follow consistently. Years later, Jim Rohn would famously state, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with," prompting learners everywhere to critically assess their most cherished associations.
I don't know about you, but most of the social workers I know associate heavily with one another. And if it follows that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, as Jim Rohn has declared, and if the average social worker is nowhere near wealthy, then it's no wonder that more social workers don't talk about money or have more of it to boot!
6. We're discouraged from doing so.
Every social worker has heard these words: "We don't do it for the money," "People are what's important, not money," and "If you want to make lots of money you'll have to choose another profession."
Although the desired implication may be that money is a secondary component to the act of helping others, this idea often dissuades social workers from wanting more wealth; and if the profession that you love so much ever discourages you from wanting more wealth, why would you ever discuss it?
7. We don't know that we can.
This goes with number six above. When we hear a phrase like, "You'll never be rich as a social worker," it stops us from even daring to dream about an alternate reality where money is overflowing, so we don't even try.
If we were to consider Johari's Window on the topic of money, the realization that we actually can have more money in our lives would probably be in our blind spot: "We don't know what we don't know." This is information that is known to others but not known to us, and it requires feedback from others to help us develop the awareness.
The truth is that all social workers can be rich social workers if they want, to learn the principles and practices of wealth, but without this awareness, no one would expect you to talk more about money or have more of it in your life if you don't know that you can...and now you know.
8. We're embarrassed at our own money mishaps.
Many social workers are deep in debt from student loans, moves across country, home ownership, family matters, and life in general.
As routine as it is for us to handle crisis situations for our clients, many of us find it quite difficult to handle our own money matters and are actually quite embarrassed about them. When it comes to things like balancing checkbooks, investing for retirement, and owning our own businesses, it's necessary for us to ditch the shame and get the same type of support that we prescribe to our clients in order to move into the space where we're more comfortable talking about money, whatever our shameful past.
9. We don't know how to talk about money.
There's a great financial training website specifically for social workers called The Center for Financial Social Work, but if you haven't heard of it, I'm not surprised.
The Center's founder, Reeta Wolfsohn, states that she's had a hard time selling social workers on the importance of having a financial awareness for themselves and an even harder time getting them to invest in financial training for their practice.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, teaches that one of the habits of the wealthy and why they have money is because they talk openly and often about it. When was the last time you heard social workers talking openly and often about money? No money, social workers? Perhaps this explains it.
10. Because we don't have any ourselves.
...and we can't talk about what we don't have now, can we?
So, why talk about money?
Given the list above, one might wonder why social workers would even need to bring up the subject of money, especially since it's not usually one of its leading topics. Hasn't the profession done well enough thus far without the focus on money, one might ask?
However, if we consider that every social effort requires money on some level - not only for the intervention, but to support the practitioner - we may begin to consider the value that these types of conversations can bring.
- Money is a necessity, like it or not. It's a quality of our current society and is not inherently good or bad. Neither does it hold any meaning or value other than what we give it. It's important, so it's to our advantage to pay attention.
- The more money you have, the more people you can help and the more good you can do. This is not bad. This is good. Embrace it.
- Ignoring the topic of money won't make it go away. Embrace this, too. In fact, the very future of social workers' compensation depends on our attention to its importance. How important is that?
And there you have it: thirteen reasons why the content of our conversation matters to social workers now and for years to come. The truth is that no one is going to talk about money for us if we don't talk about it for ourselves. Besides, there's more than enough of it to go around, and why not? The more we talk about it and the more of it we have, the more good we can do!
So here's to your future money conversations. Happy chatting.
Eva Forde is the president of the Jamaica Association of Social Workers, offers life and executive coaching for individuals and businesses, and is the author of How NOT to Practice Social Work: Saving Good People From Bad Practice One Step at a Time. Learn the principles of money and wealth from a social work perspective at evaforde.com.