Selling Social Work

In a new book, GSSW's Veeder says today's social workers need to market themselves

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

When Assoc. Prof. Nancy Veeder's (GSSW) students choose words and phrases they feel best describe what a social worker should be, "salesperson" is usually not among them.

It's an understandable omission, but an unfortunate one, Veeder says, because the role is one social workers are well-equipped to play - and will have to play in the evolving managed care market.

Veeder offers a resource for human services professionals grappling with the demands of that market in her recent book Marketing Human Services: Selling Your Services Under Managed Care . Describing her work as "desktop reference," Veeder shows how marketing practices such as fund-raising, target-segmenting, task and focus groups can be used in social work.

Assoc. Prof. Nancy Veeder (GSSW)-"There's been a tremendous resistance in the field to the idea of business practices. For better or worse, however, human services has become a business. What I'm saying is, let's beat the suits at their own game and do good for our clients." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
If nothing else, Veeder hopes her intended readers will reexamine their attitudes towards the "business side" of their profession. Social workers and others in human services have traditionally been reluctant to adopt for-profit management practices, she says, or even to consider their vocation in such a context. But they will need to overcome that reluctance if they are to survive in the managed care environment, says Veeder, who enhanced her social work credentials by earning an MBA from the Carroll School of Management in 1990.

"There's been a tremendous resistance in the field to the idea of business practices," said Veeder. "For better or worse, however, human services has become a business. What I'm saying is, let's beat the suits at their own game and do good for our clients.

"The workplace is totally different than what it was," she continued. "In the past, there was an assumption that social work or other human services were needed and valued, and so the consumer demand was guaranteed. But today, the consumer is very sophisticated in selecting a health care payer, and it is the payer who presents options to the consumer. That means you, as a practitioner, have to demonstrate your effectiveness - you have to market yourself."

In the book, Veeder outlines a series of steps human services practitioners and organizations can take to develop marketing strategies. She recommends establishing marketing task groups - composed of clinical and administrative personnel, clerical and support staff, and past and current clients - to serve as resources within the organization and liaisons to consumer groups and the general community.

She also discusses other components of a marketing strategy, like assessing the organization's understanding of its goals or determining the range of clients served and their specific needs and characteristics, and addresses areas such as public relations and outreach, budgeting and ethics.

"You have to find out a lot of information before you market yourself," she said. "The problem is, people often simply associate marketing with advertising, and are so intent on 'getting the word out' they don't stop to think what they should say and how they should say it."

Contrary to what one might think, Veeder says, the task of marketing is not anathema to the ethos of the social worker.

"Social workers are natural marketers," she explained. "Marketing is research, which is certainly an area with which social workers are well-acquainted. Marketing also is communication, and that too is familiar territory for social workers, who deal with many different groups of people on many psychological levels."

Veeder followed her own advice in conceiving Marketing Human Services . She surveyed 24 human services administrators and managers, including Graduate School of Social Work Admissions Director William Howard, on what would be the most useful information a book on marketing would contain. She asked them questions relating to their own views on, and experiences with, marketing. Veeder also interviewed three CEOs from for-profit organizations for their insights on marketing.

"Bill [Howard] provided a perfect case study," said Veeder. "As admissions director, he has to articulate the mission and goals of the school beyond prospective students: to the social work field which will someday employ them, and even to the health care market in which they will work.

"Marketing permeates everything we do, including our education. In that sense, everyone who graduates from here ends up marketing GSSW."

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