Podcasts are a great way to learn and celebrate the work of our colleagues in the nonprofit and child welfare world. The list below includes some of our favorites for insightful and inspiring dialogue.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we have. Happy listening!

(in alphabetical order)

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png


Annie E. Casey Foundation’s President and CEO Lisa Hamilton brings in experts to discuss how the social sector is working to improve the lives of children, youth, and families.

Frequency: 1 episode a month

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: Georgia Lawmaker Stacey Abrams Tells How State Policymaking Can Help Families and Kids Succeed

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

More Than Healthcare

Presented by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Ascentria Care Alliance, and Beech Acres Parenting Center, this podcast uncovers keys to collaboration and holistic health in pursuit of improved health outcomes and lower costs for all.

Frequency: 2-3 episodes a month

Length: 25 minutes

Recommended episode: Podcast Episode 27: When COVID-19 Came and the Child Abuse Hotline Stopped Ringing

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

NASW Social Work Talks

The National Association of Social Workers accesses its incredible breadth of expertise within its network to share content that will inform, educate, and inspire.

Frequency: Weekly

Length: 20 minutes

Recommended episode: EP 26 Increasing Social Work Salaries in New York City

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

Nonprofit Everything

Sponsored by the Alliance for Nevada Nonprofits, Andy Schuricht and Stacey Wedding moderate this Q&A-style podcast that answers questions that are common to nonprofits – succession planning, burnout, performance evaluations, and more.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per month

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: More Nonprofit Myths

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

Nonprofit Lowdown

Rhea Wong, nonprofit consultant and speaker, shares insights from her 10+ years of experience working in nonprofits and accesses a variety of subject matter experts to share their knowledge on helping nonprofits tackle shared issues.

Frequency: Weekly

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: #74 Unlocking Your Board’s Potential with Cindi Phallen

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

Nonprofits are Messy

Joan Garry, Nonprofit Leader and former Executive Director of GLAAD, has thoughtful conversations about tough subjects and interviews leaders in the nonprofit world.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per month

Length: 45 minutes

Recommended episode: Ep 109: How to Have a Difficult Conversation (in two parts)

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

Our American States

Produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Our American States offers compelling conversations that tell the story of America’s state legislatures, the people in them, the politics that compel them, and the important work of democracy.

Frequency: 3 episodes a month

Length: 25 minutes

Recommended episode: Episode 80: Teens in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Yellow Bar (1) copy.png

Social Work Conversations

From the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, this podcast showcases talented professionals and gives listeners practical tools they can use to change the world.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per quarter

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: Episode 31 – Dr. Jones talks with Police Chief, Mike Ward, and the agency’s social worker, Kelly Pomilio about the need for integrating social workers alongside our officers

Did we miss one of your favorites? Please add it in the comments!

Thank you to Tiffany Langston of the Nonprofit Finance Fund for this guest post!

The "average Joe" needs to realize how important the US nonprofit sector really is to the health of the country as a whole. Smaller rural nonprofits like ours do our best to fill in gaps where the government actually drops the ball." -Leader of a human services nonprofit in Texas

History of the survey

In 2008, the economic downturn created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, not just for individuals, families, small businesses, and corporations, but it was also a very scary time for nonprofits and their clients. At Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), we wanted to find a way to tailor our financing and consulting services to be the most helpful to charitable organizations. How could we offer support, tools, and resources, so that nonprofits could navigate this tricky time? We decided to ask nonprofits how the changes in the economy affected their bottom line and the ability to serve their communities. The State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey was born. 

"In the schools we work in, prejudiced, stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors have been emboldened, and we hear from our young people that they are suffering as a result." -leader of a diversity education nonprofit in Florida

Nonprofits are a linchpin in creating social good. Yet there is precious little collective, real-time data on how nonprofits are doing. Are they serving more clients or fewer? Do they have the resources they need to do their work? Are they opening new offices, or dangerously close to closing their doors?

We launched the first Survey in early 2009, with little fanfare and almost no promotion. We rolled up our sleeves, opened our rolodexes, and asked our networks to spend 15 minutes to tell us how they were feeling, what they were doing to combat the recession, and how NFF could help them deliver on their missions. We heard from 986 respondents, many of whom told us that they were feeling financially vulnerable, bracing for funding cuts across the board, preparing to end the year with a deficit, and developing a ‘worst-case scenario’ contingency plan. The recession brought into focus a serious, long-standing issue: the nonprofit sector is continually forced to do more with less, and the margin between stability and crisis is often precariously razor-thin. 

But the thing that surprised us most was the numerous requests we got from media, researchers, policymakers, nonprofits, and funders, to do a deeper dive into the data. The results were published in The New York Times, CNN.com, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. There was a thirst for real-time data, and at the time, no one else was doing this type of survey on a national scale. 

Over the years, the questions adapted as the sector changed. It became a widely-watched barometer of US nonprofits’ programmatic, operational, and financial health. In 2010, we found that while the economy was recovering from the recession, nonprofits were not having the same success. By 2011, 87 percent of the 1,935 respondents said they still felt like the recession hadn’t ended. In 2012, we started asking about government grants and contracts, and if nonprofits were getting paid on time. The outlook finally started to improve by 2013, and we inquired about how organizations collected data and measured impact. And this year, we asked nonprofits about the diversity of their senior leadership and board members, and if their organizations proactively address racial inequity.

State of the nonprofit sector survey 2018

We are living in volatile times. As we prepared for the 2018 Survey, we were excited to get the pulse of the US nonprofit sector and better understand the challenges organizations now face. The 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey opened on January 16 and closed on February 28. We heard from 3,369 leaders across all 50 states and a wide range of sizes and missions. Respondents said they’re facing chronic challenges and real-time concerns, remain resilient and committed, but are worried about the vulnerable people they serve. 

When asked about 2017, 79 percent of respondents saw an increase in demand for services, and 86 percent anticipate an increase in the coming year. Not only did 57 percent of nonprofits find it difficult to keep up with the rising demand last year, but that number swells to 65 percent for organizations serving low-income communities. Despite the challenges, nonprofits continue to invest in programs, staff, and strategies. We found that 52 percent of respondents said their organizations expanded services in 2017, and 63 percent plan to do so in 2018. We learned that 54 percent of responding nonprofits increased staff and 55 percent increased compensation in 2017. We found that 64 percent said they address racial inequity, and half of those said that focus grew in 2017. We also learned that 76 percent of responding nonprofits finished 2017 at break-even or better.

Affordable housing was the most-cited critical community need, followed by youth programs, mental and behavioral health services, and financial capability. We also asked nonprofit leaders how the federal government’s policies & positions influenced the communities they serve, and 67 percent said those practices make their clients’ lives more difficult. Additionally, 37 percent of respondents said their organizations plan to formally engage in policy/advocacy in 2018. 


How to use the data

At NFF, our mission is to create a more just and vibrant society. One of the ways we work toward that is by sharing accessible insights, so that the sector has the necessary data to make informed decisions. You can explore the Survey results completely free of charge using our Analyzer. Compare your nonprofit to peer organizations across focus areas, sizes, and geographies. Use the findings to inform planning around strategy and budgeting. Cite data in your campaigns, white papers, testimonials, and grant proposals. Use the data as evidence to support open discussions with funders about the full costs of service delivery and meeting the needs of your communities. 

We invite you to dig into the data. Use the filter or combination of filters that gives you the right slice of information for your presentation, board meeting, or application. You can even download images of the visualizations and drop them right into a slideshow or report. Please let us know how you’re using the findings to deliver on your mission. Email us, or share on social media using the hashtag #NFFSurvey. Thank you to everyone who took the State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, entrusted NFF to raise your voices, and contributed to this critical social sector data set. 

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Tiffany Langston

Tiffany Langston is the Associate Director, Knowledge & Communications at Nonprofit Finance Fund. She has worked at the intersection of nonprofits and philanthropy for nearly a decade, including overseeing digital communication efforts for WaterAid America and Philanthropy New York, respectively. She is a food lover, writer, and her work has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC), publisher of the RISK eNews.  

To say that the term risk assessment has many meanings is an incontrovertible understatement. My Google search of the phrase “what is a risk assessment” yielded more than 127 million results in an astonishing .88 seconds! From time to time at NRMC we ponder what the phrase means, and why it’s relevant-to the mission of the people and community-serving organizations we serve.

Why risk assessment matters

Stewardship is significant

The leaders of nonprofits are mission stewards, responsible for guiding, supporting and sustaining the missions, values and assets of their organizations. In his book, Finance Fundamentals for Nonprofits, thought leader Woods Bowman reminds us that: “…the risks of a nonprofit are borne by the people it serves (its clients), who have neither a voice in selecting the organization’s leadership nor the ability to manage the risks.” It is thus the responsibility of nonprofit leaders to manage risks that might directly or indirectly affect our stakeholders.

Stuff happens

All nonprofit teams face obstacles and difficulties–some capably forecast and some startling–throughout their organizational journeys. Thoughtful leadership and mindful management cannot eliminate the possibility of frustrating or resource-draining “stuff” obstructing your view or impeding your progress.

Reflection builds resilience

Reflecting on the risks in your landscape is a vital step in building resilience. Former NRMC board member Felix Kloman says it best: “The proper goal of risk management is to build and maintain the confidence of stakeholders. That combined confidence and trust is often translated into much-needed support, financial and otherwise, when surprise inevitably hits. It is the essence of resilience.

How nonprofits evaluate their risks

In the NRMC team’s experience, risk assessments take various forms. For example…

Intuitive approach

Some leadership teams (boards, staff teams, volunteer teams, etc.) intuitively ponder the risks associated with any change in strategy or new program. We’ve heard from our consulting clients and Affiliate Member teams that instinctive questions like “what are the risks associated with that?” often pop up during team meetings. Often a single team member can be counted on to ask that question, while in other groups various members take a turn with the risk champion or devil’s advocate role. One of the goals we’ve heard client teams reiterate time and time again, is to evolve risk management in a way that makes risk management skills–or the function itself–baked-in rather than bolted-on. One possible motivator for a baked-in risk function is the recognition that creating a new department of risk professionals is impractical and costly. Few leaders of ambitious nonprofit organizations have extra dollars or people available to support and fully-staff a new risk management function. A dedicated risk function also won’t guarantee that all of your team members are considering risks while making decisions each day. Read our article Designing a Durable, Doable Risk Management Function & Capabilities to explore this topic further.

Checklist approach

Still, other nonprofit teams use checklists to assess risk management capabilities and identify gaps. I wrote about the potential value of checklists in the Risk eNews article Making My List and Checking It Twice, describing them as “among the simplest and least expensive tools at your disposal.” I was inspired to rethink my aversion to risk management checklists after reading The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. In his terrific book, Atul Gawande explores how the simple device of a checklist can help translate a large data set into safer practices.

Deep dive, all-in approach

Yet another approach to risk assessment is a full-on review, facilitated by an internal or external risk champion. At NRMC we are honored every time we are selected to lead a

Risk Assessment or an Enterprise Risk Assessment for a nonprofit client. During these intensive engagements, we interview stakeholders representing diverse vantage points across the organization, we bring an outsider’s fresh perspective as we consider the nonprofit’s risk landscape, and we present detailed recommendations for action steps and strategies that will fortify the mission and key objectives of the nonprofit. These engagements often wrap up with training or risk champion coaching to equip our client teams with the resources they need to sustain lasting changes to their risk programs.

Each of these approaches offers a potentially meaningful, mission-advancing way to uncover and better understand the risks you face. Each approach can inspire action in the face of the inevitable uncertainty facing all organizations. Yet many nonprofit teams crave a self-guided option–one that is less time-consuming than an all-in assessment and more nuanced than a checklist.

My Risk Assessment

I’m excited to announce the release a brand-new self-assessment web application for nonprofit teams: My Risk Assessment. Inspired by earlier self-assessment tools developed by NRMC and lessons and insights from many deep-dive risk assessments we have led, the new My Risk Assessment is a powerful, practical and affordable fourth option for teams seeking to understand and act on their principal risks. How does My Risk Assessment work?

Risk Ranking capability

A brand new Risk Ranking feature enables users to swiftly create a team and invite colleagues to select and rank their top risks. Whether you want to poll a team of twelve or cast of hundreds, My Risk Assessment gives a risk champion the ability to quickly and efficiently gut-check different perspectives on risk. The Risk Ranking component features 100 risks suggested by NRMC and covers 13 areas of exposure and operations. Users have the option of adding two organization-specific risks before inviting their team members to weigh in. The web app aggregates team member scores and reports the number of votes and relative rank on a top ten list of risks. We recommend that teams use the Risk Ranking feature as a starting point for a conversation about priority risks, exploring the top ten list to validate it and to determine what risks require action.

Risk advice from trusted advisors to nonprofits

My Risk Assessment features 13 topical risk assessment modules that users can complete to self-assess the risks facing their organizations. The NRMC team updated the assessment questions, the pop-up advice, and the detailed report and recommendations shared after you complete one or more of the 13 modules. All of the guidance in My Risk Assessment is written by NRMC team members, who are risk champions with experience advising hundreds of leadership teams in diverse nonprofits.

Robust reporting

You asked and we answered! Users of My Risk Assessment are able to generate an Executive Summary containing a high-level overview of assessment highlights and suggested action steps, or a full report with detailed recommendations, context, and helpful resources. Choose the report format that suits your needs in the moment, and return anytime to download or share the shorter or more substantive version of your risk assessment report.

The app is designed for any and all risk management professionals – whether you’re a long-term risk champion who is rarely surprised by risk events, or a leader who has recently accepted a risk leadership role. We invite your questions and feedback as you use My Risk Assessment to delve into the always fascinating, never lackluster world of risk in your organization! 

This article was reprinted with permission from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, publisher of the RISK eNews.  Read past issues of this free publication. 

Melanie Lockwood Herman

Melanie Lockwood Herman is executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Melanie welcomes your thoughts about the “why” and “how” of risk assessment in the nonprofit sector at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or 703.777.3504.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from organizations, is what the differences are between these three entities: accrediting bodies, licensing authorities, and certification organizations. Commonly there is overlap, but sometimes there are distinct differences. Before we explore those differences, there are a few points to highlight:

Now let’s walk through the definitions and examples of each category, and then take a look at some examples of how they can overlap.  There’s an infographic at the end of the post that gives an overview of this discussion. 


If an organization is accredited this means they conducted a thorough self-assessment and compared themselves to recognized standards of best practice. Accreditation means that the organization, agency, or program was able to demonstrate evidence of implementation to all of the relevant standards. It is a rigorous process conducted by a third party organization.

The process is voluntary; however regulating bodies often require accreditation in order to be licensed or certified. The accreditation process typically repeats every 2-4 years, depending on the accrediting body. Normally, individuals or private practices are not able to become accredited; however, some exceptions may exist.


The Council on Accreditation (COA) develops standards and guidelines for the accreditation of services delivered by behavioral health and social service agencies. The accreditation process is designed to assist agencies in implementing organizational structures (i.e. financial management), and processes of care (i.e. case-management) that will help them achieve better results in all areas, and ultimately improve the well-being of their clients. Organizations use their accredited status to demonstrate accountability to clients, funders and donors.

Accreditors of human and social services

The most common accreditors of human and social services are as follows:

Council on Accreditation (COA)
Joint Commission

Here’s a comparison between the above accrediting bodies.


Individuals are often licensed by their respective state to practice counseling, social work, or nursing. Organizations may need to be licensed in order to provide a specific service such as services for substance use disorders or residential treatment. Practitioners and programs are required to be licensed or face penalties, including suspension or closing of agency.


Under New York State law, no organization may operate an adult group home without a license.

In most states, including New York, individual social workers must have a clinical license in order to provide psychotherapy without supervision.


Certifications at the organizational level can definitely vary, including the terminology. Some structured evidence-based models require certification. In these cases, the certification can be called “authorized provider” or “approved site.”


We also often see certifications for individuals. Many schools of social work have certificate programs. For example, Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana offers a certificate in Family Practice. This is an opportunity for students to get a specialized education and accrue experience in this specialized area which they can include on their resumes. 

Understanding the correlation between accreditation, licensing and certification

More and more, regulating bodies are requiring that organizations become accredited or certified in order to be a licensed provider in their respective state.


Effective January 1, 2017 in California foster care providers must be accredited or in the process of being accredited to qualify as a licensed provider. We call this a recognition, the state is recognizing the value of accreditation and using it to identify credible and accountable organizations who have implemented best practices. 

In Nebraska, organizations must be certified in Functional Family Therapy (FFT LLC) to be a licensed provider. In this example, the state is relying on a certification to ensure that specific models are implemented and relying on FFT LLC to track the fidelity of the program model.

Final takeaways

We hope you now have a better understanding of these terms, or at least with recognizing when you need to ask more questions to ensure that your organization remains in good standing with all entities that have a stake.

Here’s an infographic summarizing what we went over in this post, feel free to share it! 

Accreditation, Licensing, & Certification: What's the difference? Graphic

Community demographics are continuing to evolve nationwide, making the need for culturally competent organizations more prevalent than ever. In this article, we will discuss what this means for you as a provider of social services, and how your organization can progress in this realm by exploring the what, why and how of cultural competence.

The what

First, let’s define cultural competence. It can loosely be defined as the ability to respect, engage, and understand individuals who have different cultural or belief systems, where the elements of culture include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, geographic location, language, political status, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, tribal affiliation, and religion.

Tip: See more definitions of cultural competence from these experts in the field.

The why

The term competency in regards to culturally responsive practice has been debated. Can one ever truly be culturally competent? There might not be a consensus, but as a provider of social services promoting cultural competence will enable you to better meet the needs of the individuals, children, and families you serve. Understanding your community and those you serve facilitates stronger partnerships, resulting in higher quality programs and service delivery. Research shows that organizational culture impacts its effectiveness. An organization that commits to cultural competence is not only better equipped to successfully address community service gaps and needs, but also creates an internal culture that fosters responsive and respectful interactions.

Here are just a few of the many benefits, it:

The how

Seek stakeholder feedback

Connect with your community! The best way to do that is to offer formal and informal ways for clients and community members to provide feedback about the work that you do. That’s why COA highlights the importance of stakeholder involvement in performance and quality improvement systems in its standards. As an organization, you get a sense of what’s working and what’s missing the mark. You can then tailor your services and outreach efforts to ensure that they are culturally appropriate. Most importantly, when you incorporate client and community feedback it makes those you serve active in organizational decision-making processes and promotes engagement and empowerment.

Conduct a community needs assessment

Conducting a community needs assessment is an effective way to identify strengths and resources in your community. It also highlights current gaps and service needs. Collaborating with community partners can enhance this assessment. You can also review other external needs assessments conducted by organizations with a community-wide focus. KIDS COUNT data center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, allows you to access local, state, and national level data and statistics on demographics and child and family well-being that can be incorporated into your assessment process.

Incorporate community demographics into your strategic planning process

Strategic initiatives should be responsive to changing community demographics and service needs. COA recommends that organization leadership review a demographic profile of their defined service population at least once every long-term planning cycle. However, it’s not enough to collect and review demographic data; it must inform an organization’s planning and operations. Promote cultural competence by establishing goals and objectives that are culturally appropriate for those you serve. Want to go a step further? Incorporate a cultural competency plan into your strategic planning process.

Foster a culturally responsive workforce

Promote cultural competence by having a diverse and inclusive workforce. A first step is ensuring that your human resources practices are culturally appropriate. Organizations should strategically recruit and employ personnel that reflect cultural characteristics of the service population. Is this a challenge for your organization? Create a plan that establishes goals for recruiting and employing individuals that represent your service population and community.

Another way you can commit to promoting cultural competence is by providing relevant education and training opportunities to personnel at all levels. Opportunities should not only focus on work with clients, but also address the internal workplace and interactions amongst other staff. Education and training should be tailored to the needs of your organization, but may include: language classes, interpreter training, mentoring programs, and diversity workshops. You can also conduct workforce assessments to inform ongoing personnel development opportunities to ensure that all staff is trained on culturally responsive policies, procedures, and practices. Once personnel have the necessary education and training, it’s time to integrate culturally responsive practices into everyday work with clients. As a provider, your goal should be to provide respectful, effective, and equitable care. This stems from adopting a service philosophy that is culturally responsive to those you serve, and culturally appropriate program-level policies and procedures.

Arguably one of the most important things that you can do as an organization is create safe and supportive environment where personnel can explore and gain an understanding of different cultures. You can do so by creating a cultural advisory committee to address workforce diversity issues or holding “cultural conversations” where staff can discuss diversity issues and learn from one another. Offering these types of forums reinforces a culture that is accepting and responsive to diversity.

Establish and maintain a diverse and inclusive board

One major responsibility of a nonprofit board is establishing and adopting organizational policy. Policies and procedures that support culturally responsive practice provide the framework for being a culturally competent organization. That is why having a board that reflects the demographics of the community it serves is so crucial. It’s no secret that board recruitment can be a challenge. If your organization is struggling to establish a board that is diverse and inclusive, establish a stakeholder advisory group that is representative of the community you serve and create a board recruitment plan that outlines strategies for getting everyone at the table. Need a little guidance? BoardSource is an excellent resource on board diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t be. One of the most important things for organizations to keep in mind is that cultural competence is an evolving, active process; it’s not something that is attainable overnight. In fact, some researchers say there is a cultural competency continuum. The takeaway here is that every step you make towards becoming a culturally competent organization is a step in the right direction.

Want to learn more?

There are plenty of resources floating around the Internet that address cultural competence. Here are a few that you may find helpful:

National CLAS Standards

The National CLAS Standards are a set of guidelines that aim to reduce health care disparities and advance health equity. COA developed a crosswalk to demonstrate how COA standards align with the National CLAS Standards and support the provision of culturally and linguistically responsive services.

National Center for Cultural Competency (NCCC)

The National Center for Cultural Competency (NCCC) aims to promote health and mental health equity through the promotion of culturally and linguistically competent service delivery systems and offers a variety of resources and publications geared towards the promotion of cultural competence.

Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice

Are you a social worker? The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) developed standards and indicators for cultural competence in social work practice.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a host of information around cultural competency in the field of behavioral health. Check out this manual which focuses on helping providers and administrators understand the role of culture in the delivery of mental health and substance use services.

Okay, your turn!

What are some challenges your organization faced in this area and how have you attempted to overcome them? Can you share any tips, tools or resources that lead to your success? Please leave a comment below and help others learn from your experiences.

When beginning the accreditation process – specifically the completion of the Self-Study – one of the most intimidating challenges can be trying to figure out how to organize the work and delegate it to your staff. You don’t need a certificate in project management to accomplish this task (although having one won’t hurt!). What you do need is prep time, focus, and a solid understanding of what’s expected.

This post will discuss how to form effective workgroups that can assist your organization with completing the necessary work in order to achieve accreditation – and hopefully improve your organization’s operations as well. Now let’s get started.

When talking with organizations in COA’s network, we see a variety of types of workgroups. Some small organizations do not form new workgroups; they simply utilize a currently existing structure to fill the role. On the other hand, large organizations may develop multiple workgroups that focus on different aspects of the Self-Study.  Only the organization can determine what the best model is going to be, but we can certainly explore some basic characteristics.

According to Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Bell, B. S. (2013), workgroups have the following qualities:

One is the loneliest number

If your workgroup only consists of you thenyou should probably revisit your plan to achieve accreditation. Even for small organizations, all levels of staff should be involved in some way. There are multiple benefits to involving many people. First off, staff will have a better understanding of the importance of accreditation if they are embedded in the process. If the process is presented to them in a positive way then they can take ownership. A common question is “how can you present accreditation to staff in a positive way?” While it’s difficult to imagine how anyone can view accreditation in a negative light, talk with your staff – particularly those that you want to engage in workgroups – and bring the focus to achieving client outcomes. The purpose of accreditation is to improve outcomes for those that receive your services. Every action that takes place in accreditation should be tied to the end user: the consumer.

Another way that staff can buy-in to participating in a workgroup is to view it as a professional development opportunity. In fact, you would be remiss if you didn’t. Think about your shining case managers, clinicians, administrative assistants, residential managers, and foster care workers who have impeccable paperwork, organized with to-do lists, and always volunteer for new projects. Working on COA-related activities can improve their administrative and leadership skills, expand their knowledge of social service management, and program development.

“Every action that takes place in accreditation should be tied to the end user: the consumer.”

A chance for collaboration!

Another commonality in workgroups is that they are all part of the same organization. Note that it’s within the organization, but not necessarily within the same department, division, or satellite office. Workgroups foster cross-departmental collaboration. For example, let’s say that you are going to create a workgroup that focuses solely on drafting and reviewing procedures for the organization.  For medium-large organizations, having this type of committee helps ensure that there is consistency across the organization, standards are still being met, and duplications are avoided. Including staff from different departments and different levels can provide different perspectives. Perhaps a member of management reviews a procedure and thinks “wow, this is great and will really help improve the reliability of our data.” Then a member of the direct service staff, who is also part of this committee, reviews the same procedure. She may have a comment such as “the intent of this procedure is spot-on, but the ability to put this in practice is unrealistic.” What’s better than a well written procedure? – A procedure that is actually practical. Having a diverse group of individuals within your organization as part of the accreditation workgroup is essential to change that is effective.

Find common ground

Common goals are an essential characteristic of workgroups. Having common goals relates to proper planning. If you establishing one committee or 3 committees to complete the work, there needs to be a goal that is achievable. You may think, “The goal is to get accredited.” Good point, that is the goal, but that’s the goal of the entire organization; not of the workgroup. The workgroup’s goal may be to establish a working PQI system, assess current practices to COA standards, or assemble the Self-Study.  The goal of each workgroup will clearly delineate its role in completing the larger mission: achieving accreditation – and as we discussed earlier ­- to improve outcomes for consumers.

To further break down the goal, we need to identify specific tasks that support the actual completion of the workgroup’s goal. Planning, again, comes into play. Recognizing that planning is not everyone’s strong suit, there are some resources out there to assist. While COA doesn’t endorse any specific resource, we do find these helpful. Meister Task is an efficient task management application that can be used to organize individual tasks as well as collaborative tasks. Consistent with our definition of workgroups, there are both individual tasks and tasks that people must work on together. This web application can help support and provide structure to both. Another great application is Wunderlist.  It provides some of the same functionality with a different style. If you are not quite ready for that level of organization and need some foundational support, try reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. It’s an easy read that will help you organize your life, as well as your accreditation work. Remember, if you do utilize any of these resources, it’s recommended to take a full day to sit back and focus on implementing these systems for your work.  

Assigning the work

However you handle the workload, a workgroup has tasks that are completed individually and some that are completed by more than one person or a subgroup of the committee. When tasks of the workgroup are being assigned to its members you will want to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each member. Initially, it may be your gut reaction to assign tasks that are good matches to individuals’ strengths; however, also consider matching someone’s weakness to a task to help them further develop. Perhaps pairing that person with someone who does have more experience can be a great learning opportunity. Make the most out of your accreditation experience and use it to support a positive learning environment.  Maybe you can even develop mentorships within your staff, with the accreditation work as the central theme.  

Involve social interaction, have you ever tried to hold a committee without social interaction? Typically that’s an email with directives to everyone involved with no discussion. Sometimes effective; most of the time not. At the beginning of the process of forming your workgroups, you will be concurrently developing the buy-in of the workgroup members. Meeting in-person, with sugary treats, that typically helps (personal favorite: Insomnia Cookies). If you can’t have fresh cookies delivered, consider holding the meeting outside of your organization, at least for the first time.  Use this common goal, develop strong collegial bonds that last past COA Accreditation. And finally, manage your meeting efficiently. Here are some tips from Mindtools.com.

Introducing accreditation to your culture

Maintaining boundaries that are consistent within the organization may be a little bit more challenging for an accreditation workgroup. The group may be perceived by others in the organization as closed-off or working on something has nothing to do with the rest of the staff. One remedy for this perception is to provide communication about the status of the workgroup throughout the process to the rest of the organization. The workgroup is not charged with setting completely new and rigid policy, determining who at the organization is underperforming, or planning a coup d’état. Transparency is key, solicit feedback from staff who may not be directly involved. Always ask for volunteers, although don’t expect a waitlist. The accreditation workgroup is not a clique; it is a model for how people work as a team to achieve a seemingly insurmountable task.

Lastly, it is important to maintain key components of the organization’s culture. You can expect shifts, bumps and slides during the process, but the core of your organization will grow stronger. Your culture is the cornerstone of stability for your staff, who spend 40 hours of their lives there each week. It is a safe place for consumers whose lives you change. It is part of the connective tissue that holds your community together. Change may be inevitable but the culture of your organization is the reason for your continued success.

Share your tips!

What tips do you have for developing a strong workgroup or sustaining it once it is in place?  Please leave a comment below and help others learn from your experiences.