Introduction to Social Media for Non-Profits


Social media has become an important part of outreach for nonprofits as well as customer/client/donor relation management for nonprofits and for-profit organizations. Social media provides agencies with a way to connect with their clients in a real-time way to provide updates, address complaints, and continue to engage stakeholders. (Young, 2017)

Before exploring social media for your nonprofit it is important to determine what you hope to achieve with your social media presence. For instance, some organizations post primarily organizational related information (such as links to their crisis line number and events), while others post pictures and motivational statements that go beyond official crisis line communications into general wellness.

Bernritter, Verlegh, & Smit (2016) discovered that brand warmth, and a desire to publicly affiliate with positive organizations made users more likely to “like” nonprofits on social media, rather than competence. This means that nonprofits have an opportunity to build a strong brand online.

Wyllie et. al. (2016) showed how social network analysis (SNA) can be used to identify new stakeholders and potential by donors by looking at who engages with your organization and who those people are connected to; this can provide avenues for expanding fundraising efforts; additionally, when posts go “viral” (experiencing wide distribution) they may be seen by potential future donors and supporters.

Finally, Goldkin (2015) identified multiple advantages to nonprofits who use social media including fundraising, advocacy and policy changes, and the ability to directly engage clients or service users.


Facebook is the most common social network in the Western Hemisphere according to Vincos (2017); it allows users to “like” and comment on posts. Facebook Insights allows you to see the engagement that each post received, including likes, comments and shares.

The biggest advantage of Facebook is that it allows you to communicate deeply with your clients and potential donors, who may share your posts. Unlike Twitter, there is no 140 character limit so you can tell your story without feeling constrained or limited, including images or videos.

Huang, Lin & Saxton (2016) describe the social media marketing of HIV/AIDS nonprofits, in order to examine what strategies worked well. They explained one-way informational messages and calls-to-action or event messages generated less user interaction than two-way dialogues.


Twitter, despite its fame, actually has fewer users than other social networks. At 300 million users, it pales in comparison to Facebook’s 1.59 billion, and even Instagram’s 400 million (Adweek, 2016) Twitter’s advantage is that nearly 3 in 4 of their users are outside of the US. For nonprofits that serve international audiences Twitter can help you match these donors and clients.

Twitter contains a 140 character limit, requiring message to be short and sweet.

Other Social Networks

There are a variety of other social networks that can be used for nonprofits to communicate with their clients. The exact networks chosen will depend on your audience. For instance, Instagram requires photos and videos, versus Facebook’s use of text, videos or photos – however Instagram’s engagement by user is higher than Facebook’s. (Nwazor, 2016)

Networks for nonprofits to consider include:

  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube


Hootsuite describes their goal as “managing all of your social media marketing efforts from a single dashboard. With Hootsuite’s platform, you get the tools to manage all your social profiles and automatically find and schedule effective social content.” (Hootsuite, n.d.)

Hootsuite allows you a dashboard in which you can see and make posts on all of your social media profiles at once; this makes it much easier for you to maintain regular posts on all your profiles in much less time, and to send a consistent message to your donors or clients.


Adweek. (2016) “Here’s How Many People Are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Other Big Social Networks”. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Bernritter, S. F., Verlegh, P. W., & Smit, E. G. (2016). Why Nonprofits Are Easier to Endorse on Social Media: The Roles of Warmth and Brand Symbolism. Journal Of Interactive Marketing, 3327-42. doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2015.10.002

Goldkind, L. (2015). Social Media and Social Service: Are Nonprofits Plugged In to the Digital Age?. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39(4), 380-396. doi:10.1080/23303131.2015.1053585

Hootsuite. (n.d.) “Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard –” Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Huang, Y., Lin, Y., & Saxton, G. D. (2016). Give Me a Like: How HIV/AIDS Nonprofit Organizations Can Engage Their Audience on Facebook. AIDS Education & Prevention, 28(6), 539-556. doi:10.1521/aeap.2016.28.6.539

Nwazor, T. (2016) “Faceoff: Instagram versus Facebook, For Business.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Vincos. (2017) “World Map of Social Networks” Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Wyllie, J., Lucas, B., Carlson, J., Kitchens, B., Kozary, B., & Zaki, M. (2016). An Examination of Not-For-Profit Stakeholder Networks for Relationship Management: A Small-Scale Analysis on Social Media. Plos ONE, 11(10), 1-20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163914

Young, J. A. (2017). Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs: The Adoption and Utilization of Social Media in Nonprofit Human Service Organizations. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 41(1), 44-57. doi:10.1080/23303131.2016.1192574

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Introduction to Social Media for Non-Profits," retrieved on June 25, 2017 from

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Introduction to Government Policy Development


Policy development involves research, analysis and writing of government or organizational policies. Policies “refers to those plans, positions and guidelines of government which influence decisions” by governments, nonprofit agencies or other bodies. (Manitoba Office of the Auditor General, 2003)

This article focuses on government policy, rather than nonprofit policies and procedures, which will be explored in a future article.

Policies can be very broad or very specific, setting out specific plans and programs or instead suggesting the government’s commitment to development.

The 2012 US National Strategy on Suicide (Office of the Surgeon General, 2012) is an example of a specific policy, with 13 goals and 60 objectives that are laid out with clarity such as “Provide training to community and clinical service providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors”, while the UN Sustainble Development Goals (2015) are very broad, like “Affordable and clean energy” and “Reduced inequalities.”

Policy writing may be performed by Policy Analysts or Legislative Aides who work for government, Macro or Community Social Workers, or lobby groups who are advocating for a particular change in policy.

Policy Writing Steps

Policy analysis can be broken down into five steps:

  1. Issue Identification
  2. Issue Analysis
  3. Generating Solutions
  4. Consultation
  5. Performance Monitoring

In the first step, issue identification, the policy analyst will need to identify an issue. Issue identification may occur through many ways, such as constituents talking to their Members of Parliament (or Representatives), lobby groups focused on specific areas like Environmental Issues or Developmental Disabilities who notice concerns in their communities, or other issues.

In Issue Analysis, the Analyst gathers all available information and begins doing research to describe the problem. This can involve interviews, surveys, examining models and policies in other regions and the academic literature.

Generating Solutions involves, as the name suggests, generating a number of potential solutions, changes to policies or laws, or other ways of fixing the identified issues. There are pros and cons to all issues, so an important part of this step is figuring out what the most optimal solution is.

When the policy analyst reaches Consultation, the analyst will provide a draft of their copy to affected stakeholders and ensure that individuals have an opportunity to provide comment. This does not have to be limited to the public, but often public consultations are helpful.

Finally, after the policy is implemented, it should be monitored in order to see the desired outcomes. Outcomes measurement or evaluation is an important element of developing policies and programs.

Policy Issue Identification

The first step to policy development is to identify the issue. The important element here is to make sure that you are describing the cause of a situation, and not the symptoms of that situation. For instance, if an area does not have enough housing that is a symptom of something. That something could be lots of unoccupied, purchased houses. In that case, simply building more houses would likely not fix the problem. Instead, implementing a vacant or foreign buyers tax would help free up this real estate.

Other steps in issue identification is deciding what policymakers will actually focus on. For instance, governments may be confronted with many issues of which only some are within their control. Of those that are within their control, they must choose a smaller number to work with, so as to not exhaust limited resources.

Finally, you must decide on issues that can actually be tracked. Returning to our National Strategy on Suicide, “Provide training to community and clinical service providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors” is a measurable goal that can be tracked as the number of gatekeepers reported increases.

Policy Issue Analysis

Issue analysis involved collecting data in order to really deeply understand the issue at hand. There are multiple stakeholders who may see a problem in a certain way. For instance if school children are performing poorly on statewide tests, teachers, students, school administrators, academics, local and state government likely all have different angles on the problem. Those angles will need to be explored in order to get a deep dive into the issue.

Comparing your region with other regions to see if they are struggling with the same issue. If not – how come? If they are struggling with the same thing, what have they tried? This can help you rule out models that may appear to be effective but actually don’t work in your area.

Lots of data may be available at the municipal, state or federal level depending on your area. For instance, Statistics Canada in Canada and the US Census Bureau both collect a variety of data, along with many other agencies.

The expression, “Garbage in, garbage out” is useful here – if your data collection is insufficient or slanted rather than objective, you will find that you have an impaired understanding of the issues and therefore your solutions will not adequately fix the problem.

Generating Solutions for Policy

Generating solutions involves defining a number of ways of answering the problem. This should begin with identifying the assumptions that underlie your solution or opinion, and then by indicating what changes would need to occur in programs, legislation, or implementations in order to allow the solution to proceed.

Each of the available solutions is going to have positives and negatives. Negatives may affect some stakeholders or many, and may have financial impacts on the government or on the stakeholders themselves. For example, environmental regulations may improve air quality in a town (and therefore reduce the impact of asthma), but with a cost on local industry. Detailed calculations would be necessary to evaluate the net impact on the area.

Examples of implications of policy from the British Columbia Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (2012):

  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Geographic
  • Political
  • Environmental
  • Economic
  • Social

One final element in determining solutions is to identify the outcomes that will be measured and expected. In the example of children performing poorly on statewide tests, the rate of children passing the test in the region after the implementation of a new program may be one way to measure the effectiveness.

Policy Consultation

Although consultation is listed as the 5th of 6 policy analysis steps, in fact it will be throughout the entire step of developing policy. Consultation in a government setting will start with the Ministry (and often the Minister leading it) who will set the priorities for their Ministry.

As the policy takes shape, consultations will occur inside and outside of government, especially with affected stakeholders and lobby groups. The types of consultations can include distributing drafts, holding public “town halls”, private meetings, and so on. Many governments provide policies on their website and take feedback from the internet as well.

Policy Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring begins after the policy has been implemented. Like any program implemented by a nonprofit, government programs must be evaluated as well. The reason that performance monitoring is a preferred term is that some policies may not be evaluated in the same way that programs are, especially if the subject of the policy is very broad (e.g. affordable and clean energy.)

If a policy leads to the creation of specific programs, those programs will often have evaluations attached to them that can make for fertile performance monitoring. As an example, the National Suicide Strategy goal to train gatekeepers will lead to the expansion of programs like ASIST, safeTALK and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). These programs can be evaluated for their effectiveness and the increase in trained individuals, in order to prove that the goal is being met.

Policy Writing Template

One example of a framework for an actual written policy is given by Young & Quinn (2002) at the Open Society Institute. Their review of common policy writing templates shows the following structure:

  • Title
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract/Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Problem Description
  • Policy Options
  • Conclusion and Recommendations
  • Appendices
  • Bibliography
  • Endnotes

This final document could be between 5,000 and 20,000 depending on the depth and the amount of background information provided. Shorter policy documents are more common for those distributed to the public while longer documents are used internally in government, or with other policy analysts.

Policy Writing Training

Training in policy writing is usually on-the-job. For instance, many beginning Policy Analysts get their start doing internships for governments. Most policy analysts hold Bachelor’s degrees however it is also very common to see individuals with Master’s or PhD degrees.

Relevant courses from Athabasca University that may help an individual become a policy analyst:

  • GOVN 403 – Public Policy in a Global Era
  • HIST 328 – History of Canadian Social Policy
  • HSRV 311 – Practice and Policy in the Human Services
  • HSRV 322 – Ideology and Policy Evolution
  • MHST 605 – Demysitfying Policy Analysis and Development

A Masters in Public Administration (MPA), Masters of Social Work (MSW) or MA in Political Science may also give the student the advanced analytical and writing skills required to work as a Policy Analyst. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) includes policy writing resources to help policy writers meet US government standards.

Policy Writing Courses

Policy writing courses are available that may help analysts build fundamental skills. Most of these are available through governments, rather than online given the limited audience for many of these organizations. Completing internships with governments or lobby groups may help aspiring policy writers gain access to this training.


British Columbia Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. (2012) Sharpen Your Policy Skills. Municipal Administration Training Institute (MATI) Foundations Program. Retrieved on March 31, 2017 from


Manitoba Office of the Auditor General. (2003) A Guide to Policy Development. Retrieved on March 30, 2017 from


Office of the Surgeon General (US); National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (US). 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action: A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General and of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Washington (DC): US Department of Health & Human Services (US); 2012 Sep. Available from:
United Nations. (2015) “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015 “. Retrieved on April 1, 2017 from

Young, E. & Quinn, L. (2002) Writing Effective Public Policy Papers: A Guide for Policy Advisers in Central and Eastern Europe. Open Society Institute (OSI). Budapest, Hungary: Open Society Institute. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Introduction to Government Policy Development," retrieved on June 25, 2017 from
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Violence in the Social Services


Nearly one-third of the 100 “fatalities in healthcare and social service settings that occurred in 2013 were due to assaults and violent acts” (OSHA, 2016) No matter what area you work in (community mental health, general or mental hospitals, working in client homes or in a centralized office like a crisis line) you may find yourself working with clients who are expressing thoughts or feelings of violence.

Risk Factors for Violence

A number of factors increase the chances that a client will be violent. Some of these include (James, 2008):

  • Substance abuse. Active intoxication increases the chances a client will be violent. (Tomlinson, Brown, & Hoaken, 2016)
  • De-institutionalization. Moving individuals into community care increases the chances they will revert to their previous state and become violent. (Torrey, 2015)
  • Mental illness. Certain mental illnesses might increase the chances a person will become violent (Stuart, 2003) although the evidence is mixed. Most people with mental illness are statistically more likely to be victims than perpretrators of violence (Desmarais, et. al., 2014)
  • Gender. Men are more likely to be violent than women and more likely to be victims of violence. (Kellermann & Mercy, 1992)
  • Gangs. Gang violence, common in some areas, can increase the chances that youth experience violence as a perpetrator and victim (Neville, et. al., 2015)
  • Elderly. As elderly clients are institutionalized, they may find themselves at increased levels of violence as perpetrators and victims. (Sandive, et. al., 2004)

Assessing Violence Risk

The Dynamic Appraisal of Situational Aggression (DASA; Ogloff & Daffern, 2006) can be used to assess the likelihood that a patient or client will become aggressive within a psychiatric inpatient environment. The DASA has 7 items that are scored 0 for absent and 1 for present within the last 24 hours.

Other useful models for assessing violence risk include the Biopsychosocial Model of Violence Risk Assessment and the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG).

Assessing Homicide Risk

Assessing long-term homicidal risk is a task best left to clinical and forensic psychologists or social workers who have training specifically in this area. On the other hand, short-term homicide risk (such as the kind required by Tarasoff ethics) can be learned by all social service workers.

Borum & Reddy (2001) provide an article to performing these assessments, and I’ve also written an article on basic homicide risk assessment that you may refer to.

Levels of Violence Intervention

There are 3 levels of intervention related to violence, depending on the situation. These are suggested by dos Reis et al. (2013) in the youth context. Stage 1 is simple behavioural management such as listening, stage 2 involves pharmacotherapy while stage 3 involves the most significant interventions such as restraints, seclusion or antipsychotics.

A different conceptualization more useful for adult clients is as follows:

  • Stage 1: Immediate intervention to prevent further escalation.
  • Stage 2: To reduce symptoms that can lead to aggression
  • Stage 3: Maintain safety of clients and staff

Stages of Violence Intervention (James, 2008)

  • Stage 1: Education
  • Stage 2: Avoidance of Conflict
  • Stage 3: Appeasement
  • Stage 4: Deflection
  • Stage 5: Time-Out
  • Stage 6: Show of Force
  • Stage 7: Seclusion
  • Stage 8: Restraints
  • Stage 9: Sedation

Violence Intervention Training


Borum, R. & Reddy, M. (2001) Assessing violence risk in tarasoff situations: A fact-based model of inquiry. Behavioral Sciences and the Law. 19:375-385. doi: 10.1002/bsl.447

Desmarais, S. L., Van Dorn, R. A., Johnson, K. L., Grimm, K. J., Douglas, K. S., & Swartz, M. S. (2014). Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses. American Journal Of Public Health, 104(12), 2342-2349. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301680

dosReis, S., Barnett, S., Love, R.C. & Riddle, M.A. (2003) A Guide for Managing Acute Aggressive
Behavior of Youths in Residential
and Inpatient Treatment Facilities. Psychiatric Services. 54(10). Retrieved on March 26, 2017 from

James, R.K. (2008) Crisis Intervention Strategies. Brooks/Cole: Belmont, CA.

Kellermann, A.L. & Mercy, J.A. (1992) Men, women, and murder: gender-specific differences in rates of fatal violence and victimization. Journal of Trauma. 33(1):1-5.

Neville, F. G., Goodall, C. A., Gavine, A. J., Williams, D. J., & Donnelly, P. D. (2015). Public health, youth violence, and perpetrator well-being. Peace And Conflict: Journal Of Peace Psychology, 21(3), 322-333. doi:10.1037/pac0000081

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (2012). Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. Retrieved on March 25, 2017 from

Ogloff, J. P., & Daffern, M. (2006). The dynamic appraisal of situational aggression: an instrument to assess risk for imminent aggression in psychiatric inpatients. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 24(6), 799-813. doi:10.1002/bsl.741

Sandvide, Å., Åström, S., Norberg, A., Saveman, B., & RNT. (2004). Violence in institutional care for elderly people from the perspective of involved care providers. Scandinavian Journal Of Caring Sciences, 18(4), 351-357. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6712.2004.00296.x

Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: an overview. World Psychiatry, 2(2), 121–124.

Tomlinson, M. F., Brown, M., & Hoaken, P. N. (2016). Recreational drug use and human aggressive behavior: A comprehensive review since 2003. Aggression And Violent Behavior, 279-29. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2016.02.004

Torrey, F.E. (2015). Deinstitutionalization and the rise of violence. CNS Spectrums, 20(3), 207-214. doi:10.1017/S1092852914000753

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Violence in the Social Services," retrieved on June 25, 2017 from

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Sequential Intercept Model


The Sequential Intercept Model was developed by Mark Munetz and Patricia Griffin (2006) to help communities understand the way people with mental health issues interact with the criminal justice system and to target interventions to prevent people from getting deeper involved in the system.

The Sequential Intercept Model is usually focused around 5 broad target points, or areas where people with mental health issues may find themselves in contact with police or legal officials.

The five Intercepts are:

  1. Law Enforcement
  2. Initial Detention / Court Hearings
  3. Jail / Court
  4. Re-Entry
  5. Community Corrections

The model was based on ensuring that people with mental health issues are not forced into the criminal justice system at greater rates than people without mental health issues.

Law Enforcement and Emergency Services

Noting that up to 10% of police calls by patrol officers involve mental health issues (Cordner, 2006), the first interception point is front-line police and emergency services workers. Munetz & Griffin (2006) describe several strategies to help intervene at this point:

  • Mobile Crisis Teams of mental health workers
  • Employing mental health workers as civilians in the Police Service
  • Pairing police officers with mental health workers to go on patrol calls
  • Specially trained mental health police officers

All of these approaches involve combining front-line policing with mental health support to ensure that sensitivity is respected. Emergency services may also respond to mental health issues where individuals are psychotic or otherwise struggling with a connection to reality, which can put these staff in danger.

Initial Detention / Court Hearings

After an individual has been arrested, the next interception point of the sequential intercept model is initial detention and hearings post-arrest. Individuals may be diverted at this point to programs for non-violent, low level crime (such as petty theft or trespassing) based on the symptoms of their mental illness.

Diverting this individual to mental health treatment can avoid exacerbating their mental health issues. Additionally the court may “employ mental health workers to assess individuals after arrest in the jail or the courthouse and advise the court about the possible presence of mental illness and options for assessment and treatment, which could include diversion alternatives or treatment as a condition of probation.”

Jail / Court

Individuals who have mental illnesses and get involved in the criminal justice system are likely to spend a significantly longer jail term than individuals with the same charges who do not have mental illnesses. (Hoke, 2015) For this reason, the third intercept point is the jail or court system, where many individuals with mental illness are managed.

One important opportunity is the establishment of Mental Health Courts set up specifically for people with diagnosed mental illnesses relevant to their crimes.


After an individual has exited the court system (if on probation) or jail (if sentenced to serve time), it is time for them to re-enter society. Transition points like this are times where an individual may be feeling the least supported and at greatest risk of suicide (Pease, Billera & Gerard, 2016) or of reoffending. (Caudill & Trulson, 2016) Discharge planning is common in hospitals but not in jail, which can make continuing care difficult for clients who are released from jail.

One potential model for solving this noted by Munetz & Griffin is the APIC (Assess, Plan, Identify, and Coordinate) Model by Osher, Steadman & Barr (2003). This plan “highlights the importance of collaboration among multi-sectoral community partners to ensure that the community is committed to the transition process.” (Evidence Exchange Network, 2014)

Community Corrections

The final intercept in the Sequential Intercept Model is community corrections, which is probation or parole. Since mental health treatment is often a condition of staying out of jail, these individuals represent an excellent opportunity to help those in the criminal justice system continue to access care, despite the adversarial nature of the parole/probation relationship.


Evidence Exchange Network for Mental Health and Addictions. (2014). “The Assess, Plan, Identify, and Coordinate (APIC) Model.” Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from

Caudill, J. W., & Trulson, C. R. (2016). The hazards of premature release: Recidivism outcomes of blended-sentenced juvenile homicide offenders. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 46219-227. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2016.05.009

Cordner, G. (2006) “People with Mental Illness”. Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. No 4. Retrieved on March 17, 2017 from

Pease, J. L., Billera, M., & Gerard, G. (2016). Military Culture and the Transition to Civilian Life: Suicide Risk and Other Considerations. Social Work, 61(1), 83-86. doi:10.1093/sw/swv050

Hoke, S. (2015). Mental Illness and Prisoners: Concerns for Communities and Healthcare Providers. Online Journal Of Issues In Nursing, 20(1), 1. doi:10.3912/OJIN.Vol20No01Man03

Osher, F., Steadman, H. J., & Barr, H. (2003). A Best Practice Approach to Community Reentry From Jails for Inmates With Co-Occuring Disorders: The APIC Model. Crime & Delinquency, 49(1), 79.

Munetz, M.R. & Griffin, P.A. (2006) Use of the Sequential Intercept Model as an Approach to Decriminalization of People With Serious Mental Illness. Psychiatric Services. 57(4) Accessed electronically on March 25, 2016 from

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Sequential Intercept Model," retrieved on June 25, 2017 from
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Financial Social Work


Financial social work is an under-valued component of a counsellor or social worker’s activities, however with the average debt level in the US (including mortgages) above $130,000 and credit card debt above $16,000 (El Issa, 2016), financial issues are a significant component of many individual’s negative emotional health.

Money problems are a leading cause of divorce (Dew, Britt, & Huston, 2012), anxiety (Archuleta, Dale & Spann, 2013) and suicide (Coope, et. al., 2015; Hempstead, et. al., 2015). Poor financial skills can cause even an individual with a high income to experience stress, much less low-income individuals who may find themselves accessing counselling or community social work services.

What is Financial Social Work?

Financial social work or financial counselling is the process of working with clients to “provide practical, sustainable skills for controlling and managing finances…and create real behavioral change in your clients.” (Center for Financial Social Work, n.d.) This is a comprehensive process of assessing an individual’s financial situation and building lifeskills of budgeting, responsible use of credit and debt management.

Financial social work is often performed by non-profit credit counsellors, Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) and may be performed by social workers in other capacities, such as those who work as case managers with individuals on a low-income or struggling with substance abuse issues.

Assessing Financial Anxiety

Archuleta, Dale & Spann (2013) discuss the Financial Anxiety Scale (FAS), a tool that can be used to assess the impact of financial counselling or financial social work’s on an individual well-being. As they proceed through their treatment, their anxiety reduces.

Financial Anxiety Scale (FAS)

Each item on the FAS can be rated either yes/no (with a cut-off score of 4 or higher) or on a Likert scale for clinical purposes.

  1. I feel anxious about my financial situation.
  2. I have difficulty sleeping because of my financial situation.
  3. I have difficulty concentrating on my school/or work because of my financial situation.
  4. I am irritable because of my financial situation.
  5. I have difficulty controlling worrying about my financial situation.
  6. My muscles feel tense because of worries about my financial situation.
  7. I feel fatigued because I worry about my financial situation.

Money Personalities

Money personalities (Mellan, 1995) describe an individual’s approach to working with money, and what makes an individual happiest or unhappiest as they work with money. Brief descriptions of the money personalities are below:

  • Amasser – an individual who prefers to have large amounts of money but may also struggle with significant anxiety as they try to do this
  • Avoider – an individual who avoids working with money because of the negative emotions involved, because of feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm
  • Hoarder – an individual who likes to save money. In extreme cases a hoarder may literally hoard money in their house or other areas instead of investing them
  • Money Monk – an individual who is afraid of money, considers it unclean or dirty, and tries to avoid having a relationship with it at all
  • Spender – an individual who likes to spend money and gets immediate satisfaction from spending

Financial Social Work Qualifications

In order to practice financial social work or credit counseling it is important to receive training in this area. Rappleyea, et. al. (2014) discuss a curriculum for financial social work training that was designed for Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) students. Some of the many topics suggested in this paper that are valuable to learn include:

  • Money personalities (described above)
  • How to track expenses
  • How to live within your means
  • How to spend money in a way that leads to happiness rather than guilt or unhappiness
  • How to understand emotions created by money

Financial Social Work Certification

The Center for Financial Social Work provides the Certification in Financial Social Work. It provides 20 CE credits, workbooks and curriculum on financial planning, credit, debt, savings and spending plans and investing. The whole package costs $595. There is also information available from the Center on how to develop financial support groups to help individuals make better choices.

Financial Social Work Jobs

Financial social work job titles include Case Manager, Credit Counsellor, Financial Counselor, and Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). All of these job roles may involve elements of financial counselling or financial social work either as a primary or secondary function of the role.

Financial Self-Care

It’s important that social workers recognize that financial health is a part of their own development and self-care. If you are worried about money, it’s difficult to be fully present for your clients. Developing a budget, reducing and eliminating debt, and investing are valuable skills for both your clients and yourself.

Taking care of these things will help reduce your burnout and make you a more effective social worker.


Archuleta, K. L., Dale, A., & Spann, S. M. (2013). College Students and Financial Distress: Exploring Debt, Financial Satisfaction, and Financial Anxiety. Journal Of Financial Counseling And Planning, 24(2), 50-62.

Center for Financial Social Work. (n.d.) “Become Certified in Financial Social Work”. Retrieved on March 8, 2017 from

Coope, C., Donovan, J., Wilson, C., Barnes, M., Metcalfe, C., Hollingworth, W., & Gunnell, D. (2015). Research report: Characteristics of people dying by suicide after job loss, financial difficulties and other economic stressors during a period of recession (2010–2011): A review of coroners׳ records. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 18398-105. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.04.045

Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce. Family Relations, 61(4), 615-628. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00715.x

El Issa, E. (2016) 2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study. NerdWallet. Retrieved on March 8, 2017 from

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Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Financial Social Work," retrieved on June 25, 2017 from

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