Money: What Rich Social Workers Do To Make More


Ask any random social worker on the street what the number one complaint in social work is and they’ll say it’s the money (or, rather, the lack thereof).

This is not a new complaint and not likely one to go away in the next several years. Social work has long been associated with volunteerism and poverty and it seems that the more good we try to do, the harder it is to make a living doing it.

And if it wasn’t hard enough for those of us who work in the field, it’s even worse for many of our clients. Ironically because of often limited resources those of us who are trained to do more just aren’t financially empowered to do so.

But why is that? Why aren’t more social workers making more money? Better yet, what are rich social workers doing that the rest of us are not?

Suzy, Steadman + Brené

A while back I wrote about three amazingly wealthy social workers and outlined how they had built their enormous wealth.

Besides all being linked to Oprah in some way (which never hurts), they all share the common variable in that they each created unique products or services that they then sell to those who want and can afford them. In turn they’re able to not only take better care of themselves, but they also  create more time to do more of the things they love.

Not only is this a good strategy to create wealth, but it allows you to serve many more people than you could one-on-one.

That’s Not Social Work, Is It?

The universally accepted definition of social work is that:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. – International Federation of Social Work 2014

Basically, we help people grow and cooperate with their environment to reach their maximum potential.

Traditionally, the methods to do this have been through providing services such as community programs, case conferences, home visits, counseling sessions, advocacy meetings, policy developments, administrative delegations and personal burnout (just kidding about that last part…kind of). And rightly so. In order for social work to work there must be practitioners on the ground to help clients meet their goals. Without them social work would cease to exist as we know it.

Now in the business world, these services are actually called products and services and they’re no different from the products and services that rich social workers create, except that in the traditional social service work-world social workers don’t create the product, they are the product.

I call that getting swindled and pimped. ~ (Macklemore’s words, not mine.)

Case Study

Now stay with me. We’re going to look more closely at Brené Brown: a tri-degreed social worker (I just made that word up and I like it), a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and a rich social worker. Brené offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the idea of how a social worker might create wealth through offering his or her own products and services while still working within a social work system.

I got a chance to hear Mrs. Brown speak at the National Association of Social Worker’s Conference in 2014. She was every bit the engaging presenter that you’d expect her to be. As mentioned in  the above-referenced article, Brené has managed to expand her social work efforts to the masses and in the process she’s become very, very rich.

So how did she do it? She created products.

Not only has Brené published several books  for the commercial market (not just for academics) – two of which are New York Times’ #1 Best Sellers – but she has a blog, has authored several CD’s, she’s created online classes, and she speaks at various events. So even though she has a salaried position as a university research professor, she still finds time to create products and offer high-priced services.

In short, Brené is a product creation machine. And you know what she does with those products, don’t you? She sells them and creates for herself multiple pay days per year.

Go’head Brené!

Brené Brown on Empathy

Motivation For Creation

So why would a social worker go “off the grid” and create multiple products and services, and what does this mean for you?

Well, one reason obviously is to have a way to make more money, but if your only motivation for creation is to make more money I guarantee you’re doing it wrong.

As social workers we often hear about the magical, mystical legend called “self-care.” Sadly, far too many of us continue to ignore its routine practice until we find ourselves so far down the rabbit hole of burnout that the only choice we have left is to cut our losses and run.

That’s sad and should not be (yes, I used the “s” word).

But the act of creation has it’s own kind of magic in it too. Studies show (here’s one) that when you take the time to focus your energy in a way that is creatively stimulating  in order to bring a new thing into existence  it can have tremendous benefits on your mental, emotional, and even physical health.

But I’m sure you knew that already.

The Missing Piece

What you probably didn’t know is that most social workers have no idea how to create a product or service that they might sell to someone and generally, unless we’re talking private practice, it’s a wildly foreign idea.

In the upcoming weeks I’ll share with you the process of what it takes to use your creativity and package it into a sellable product or service, but in the meantime why not schedule some time to reconnect with your inner creative? Write, paint, sing, read, connect, ski, cook, draw, climb, dance; pretty much do anything that pulls out the creative side of you and try to see if you can assess your level of prowess compared with someone else not as skilled. Those gaps may provide the very clues you need to identify  where your opportunity for product development may lie.

But for now, answer this question:

How would my life change if I were able to create and package my expertise and passion that others could then purchase to improve their lives?

The more clearly you can describe this, the better.

Finally, if you you know someone that could benefit from this, please pass it on!

Why You Can’t Afford to Wait for Your Ship to Come In and 7 Steps to Take Instead

Recently, my father had a heart attack. But get this, it was evidently his second one. We found out he had a smaller one prior because the doctors discovered some additional veins that had grown to try to compensate for the loss of an artery that had died at some point in the past .

And that dizzy spell he had 2 weeks ago? A small stroke. Not news you like to receive about your loved-one.


The reality is that at 77 none of these events are uncommon or even surprising. My dad is a little on the heavy side, has high blood pressure, and doesn’t engage in any routine aerobic activity – prime risk factors for coronary health issues. So based on the statistics (here are some alarming ones for you), he’s extremely fortunate to be alive.

But what has bothered me most of all about this scenario is not that he could have died, but that maybe he hadn’t fully lived.

Hear me out…


See, even at 77 (he’ll be 78 in July) my dad still has a full-time job and pays rent on a house that isn’t his, not because he wants to, because he has to.

He’s got brothers and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and cousins and friends that he’d love to spend time with, but he can’t afford the cost to visit (and it’s not like they live in other countries, just in other states).

Even I hope to get married some day, but I know for a fact that as far as help goes for the expenses I’m on my own – and while I am totally fine with that, what daughter wouldn’t want to know that she could call on her parents for some financial support if she needed to?


I think it’s fair to say that being his age and still having to work was not my dad’s plan. He thought he would have become rich and live off of his retirement like the story books said he would. He thought he would have traveled the world and left a big fat inheritance for his children and his grand children. He was sure that his ship would have come in by now. 

Let’s face it, my dad’s situation is, unfortunately, not unique. In fact it could be nearly anybody’s story in America today. Check almost any crowd funding platform around and you’re sure to find headlines like this: Family of Man Who Suffered Heart Attack Requesting Donations for Mounting Medical Costs. 

The  sad truth is that my dad’s proverbial ‘ship’ has yet to come in – at least in the way that would allow him to eliminate money as a concern. And while, of course, his health is the most important thing right now, not having to worry about money could sure help to speed up the recovery process.



See, there’s a problem with ships; sometimes they sink, and at the end of the day the opportunity, lucky break, or winning streak you were waiting for may never show up.

And besides that the bigger truth is this:“It is no use waiting for your ship to come in unless you have sent one out. Belgian Proverb

Look, here’s the bottom line: someday we’re all gonna die.

I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, and my dad – bless his heart – is gonna die. That’s the realest ‘ish there is. Once you can grasp that then the next question is, ‘if that death came today, could you honestly say that you’d lived your life on purpose’?

For each one of us the answer to that question hinges on the opportunities that we’ve taken or the choices that we’ve made to create those opportunities for ourselves. As my man Tony Robbins says, your destiny is determined by 3 things: what you choose to focus on, the meaning you give to it, and what you do based on that meaning. 

So with this ultimate end in mind, if you haven’t already determined to experience your life fully, YOU’RE the guy sitting on the dock waiting for a ship that’s never coming in because it’s never really been launched.  

...but the good news is, you don’t have to be.


As social workers we’re good for giving this sort of advice to our clients and even to our friends, but truth be told, we’re horrible at taking it ourselves. And while I would never discourage any social worker from giving of themselves (in fact, that’s our entire job), I did write a whole book on the crucial importance of caring for one’s self first – and in my book (pun intended) that includes, not negates, your personal dreams and deepest passions. 


So what do you need to do to make sure that your ship arrives safely at port and with all its bells and whistles?

  1. Do a self assessment: Ask yourself those important life questions like, What would I change or improve if resources were no concern? If I knew I was dying soon, what would I regret not completing? What is my soul’s deepest desire and am I being true to it?’ Questions like these should ignite a sense of urgency that you’ll need if you’re ever going to leave the port.
  2. Write it down: Brainstorm your loftiest dreams and desires and write them down! Don’t erase anything, just let your creative juices flow. Writing things down has a way of lodging them into your consciousness and bringing them closer to your reality. It will also help you to get clear on what you’ll create in your life from this point on. 
  3. Vision it: If you can dream it, you can do it. It almost doesn’t matter what it is. Use the power of your imagination to see your ideas come to fruition. You’ll know you’ve done it right when you start to feel as excited just thinking about it as you will when it arrives. 
  4. Make a plan: It doesn’t even matter if you have 1 cent or a million bucks, write down the steps that it would take to turn your dream into reality. Make these steps so simple that a 5 year old could follow them – that means with details. And don’t forget to add emotion to it. How will you feel at each step of the way? Now feel your feelings deeper. You’ve got it!
  5. Start working on your plan. This is where we put your plan into action and enlist the help of others to move forward. A coach or mentor who has successfully walked the path before you is usually a good starting point. They’ll help you with your strategy and techniques that will save you time and energy to reach your dreams that much faster.
  6. Feel deep gratitude in advance for the thing(s) you’ve imagined. This works on two levels: first on an emotional level because it feels good, and then on a universal level because it brings more gifts to you. The more grateful you are, the more you will receive to be grateful for. So if you want more to be grateful for, don’t skip this part!
  7. Act as if you’ve already achieved your goals and pretty soon you will. Just think “Form Follows Fashion” and you win!

I’ve talked to enough social workers to know that we have big dreams and desires just like our clients do, but that often money (or the lack thereof) plays a major role in whether or not we achieve them. Personally I believe that our loftiest desires come from God (or whatever you choose to call that Higher Power) and that if you’ve got a desire within you then it must mean that you also have Divine ability to achieve it, so you owe it to your Divine self to build that ship and set sail!


Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. I know this, you know this, and now my dad definitely knows this. It’s so easy to get swallowed up in the day-to-day responsibilities and realities of life that before you know it you’re watching the sun set on the docks wondering where the time went. But there’s something about being faced with your own mortality or that of a loved one that has a way of reminding us of how fleeting time really is and of what life is truly about. 

Thankfully my dad is still here in the land of the living, and I’m headed home this weekend to check in on the old man. Of course I also plan to get in some serious time on my business goals,  catch up with dear friends, and eat some of my god-mother’s great cooking. Who knows? We may even go to the docks and see what comes ashore…


And what about you? You’ve got this life right now. What will you plan to do with the opportunities you have in front of you? Let me know in the comments. And remember, the only ships that come back are the ones that get sent out in the first place.

…and let me know if you need any company. I’m always up for a good sail.

For the Love of Money: 5 Observations on Social Workers & Money from the 2014 NASW Conference in Washington, D.C.

The climate of social work is changing. Over the last several years while businesses have moved towards embracing greater social missions, more and more social workers have begun to embrace the field of business and entrepreneurship.

From conversations about money and finance to the increase of social workers starting their own for-profit ventures, social workers are expanding their knowledge on the monetary side of helping.

In fact, in the last two decades we’ve seen a rise in Schools of Social Work like the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan offering advanced training in entrepreneurship, management, and business, and contributing to new models of business within the corporate environment.

Founder of The Center for Financial Social Work, Reeta Wolfsohn, makes the observation that it’s taken some time for social work to embrace the importance of money and financial education, stating that for years the majority of participants certified by the Center have  not been social workers but other members in corporate America.

However, evidence of this increased interest on the topic of business and entrepreneurship by social workers was most notably apparent at the recent NASW Conference in Washington, D.C..

During the four-day conference, and especially among the conversations at the Financial breakout sessions, I personally observed several nuances that indicated an increased readiness on the part of social workers to talk openly about their not-so-secret desires for more money and increase their prowess in making it.  Specifically, I left the conference with five observations that I hope will help us all feel more comfortable when speaking on the topic of money and business.

Observation #1. Social workers struggle with feelings of unworthiness and shame around money

One might assume because social workers spend so much time talking about self-worth and actualization, we’d have those topics in the bag, and we do on many subjects. We pride ourselves on being able to move our clients from disabling feelings of shame and guilt to more empowering feelings of confidence and pride that enable them to make progress in their development.

However, many social workers struggle with feelings of shame and unworthiness when it comes to the topic of money.

Sometimes it’s because social workers don’t feel like they have enough money and are in debt, other times they may feel ashamed to even desire more money or that it doesn’t align with social work values. And many times social workers just feel incompetent to handle their money or have more of it in their lives.

Social work researcher Brené Brown says that “shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement,” and while we agree with this statement and work with our clients to eradicate it in their experience, many of us allow these same disabling feelings to fester around the topic of money.

I was able to note this in many of my fellow colleagues because I’ve seen it in myself. However, the second thing that I noted gave me hope that our approach to money within the profession was changing.

Observation #2. Social workers want to stop feeling guilty about wanting to be rich

There are hundreds (possibly hundreds of thousands) of social workers who want to talk about money and who want to be rich – and  I mean really rich. And not only are these social workers ready to talk, they’re ready to revolt.

At the Conference, I watched brave social workers stand one-by-one and voice their desires to talk about wanting to be wealthy. They were tired of feeling lonely and ashamed, they said, of having aspirations for wealth but feeling as if they had no safe place within the profession to explore and express these desires.

I personally found it interesting that, despite all of the sparsely attended Financial breakout sessions at the conference throughout the week, the one containing the  “Rich Social Worker” presentation, which was held on the final day of the conference, packed a full-house. This was confirmation for me that, when given a forum to talk about money and wealth, social workers are ready to be included in the discussion.

Observation #3. Social workers (generally) don’t know how to make money, but they know that it can be done

One of the things I love about social workers is that we’re tenacious – we don’t give up – and even when we don’t know a thing (which can be quite often), we know how to persevere until we do.

At the Conference many social work entrepreneurs I met shared stories of how they had used their social work skills to create success in their various ventures. And while their stories differed, what was constant was the drive and determination to figure out how something could be done.

When faced with a problem of competency, social workers know that  if we ask enough questions, conduct enough research,  and experiment with enough theory we’re bound to move closer and closer to our goal. Not only was this the story of conference presenters Merry Korn, founder of Pearl Interactive Network, and James Townsend of the Townsend Group, but it’s the story of countless social workers who have ventured into the business world and found success.

Observation #4. Social workers are very generous and want to use their wealth to create more good in the world.

The fact that social workers are generous is not a new idea, but many are limited in their ability to be as generous as they want to be simply because of their financial resources and limited expertise in the way of massive giving.

I personally spoke to social workers at the conference that admitted their financial challenge in being able to attend. This had nothing to do with their desire to attend or the value they felt they had received, but was entirely connected to their income.

For the social worker the question is not about whether or not to give, but about how much he or she can afford to give.

This should not be. And of all the professions that use money to make the world a better place, social work is a shoe-in for “Most Likely to Succeed.”

Observation #5. No matter how successful they become in business, they fully embrace themselves as social workers

Because many social workers are venturing into entrepreneurship and for-profit businesses it’s easy to imagine that they would get so caught up with the for-profit side of things that they lose their connection with social work. But on the contrary, the social work business professionals that I spoke with strongly revered their social work identity and hailed their social work competency skills as the major component in the success of their businesses.

This theme was emphasised over and over at the conference and stood out as a reassuring beacon of hope for those contemplating entry into entrepreneurship, but fearing disconnection from the profession.

What this all means

In light of the observations made, I strongly believe that social work is experiencing a revolution, and that in the next few years, more and more trained social workers will seek options that not only create better conditions for their clients, but allow them to build business models to support them. They will have open discussions about wealth and entrepreneurship, and demonstrate confidence when quoting their rates. If enough are prepared to do this, not only will we impact the overall pay scale, but we’ll change the course of history forever.

Perhaps – just maybe – we will even be able to afford that trip to Cancun. Radical self-care, anyone?

photo credit: ignatius decky

Does Helping People Mean Earning No to Low Wages


It happened in class again this week. “You seem to be all about the money.” I have heard these words more often than I care to count. It has been said about me by a more politically diverse group than I care to categorize. So much so, I decided to write about it. There are three fallacies I will challenge  in this article 1) “You can’t care about people if you are busy making money.” 2) “Making a profit is fundamentally different from making a difference.” 3) “Success is measured in people served, not by money made.”

People Versus Money

This is the great non-profit deception: People versus money. First, allow me to dispel your mis-informed belief that all non-profits are one-person, altruistic, low-revenue operations. The successful, enduring ones are no such thing. Most non-profits you know about, that reach name recognition outside your neighborhood, rival fortune 1000 companies in their annual revenue. Don’t believe me? Form 990 is a public document that is a yearly filing requirement for non-profits. See for yourself.

Beyond that fallacy, it is more helpful for you to think “ecosystem” NOT “choice.” Running a business is NOT a choice between serving people OR making money. Running a business is an ecosystem where vision, mission, AND money make possible modest and grand programs that serve people. Just like any ecosystem, remove money from the equation, and the system is choked. Focus too heavily on money to the exclusion of other inputs, and the system is destroyed.

When social workers refuse to recognize the ecosystem that includes money and people, they lose the awareness that the bills are ALWAYS paid. If not by you, they are paid by someone else. The truth is, no matter how convinced you are that altruism is its own reward, someone always foots the bill for activity. I honor their monetary input as an investment. I work to ensure that their investment results in a return AND sustainability for the business they helped birth.

Making Profit Versus Making a Difference

You get the pattern here. These dichotomies are not useful in reasonable circles. They certainly are not a sustainable way to run a business.

Profit is the result of operating a business at lower expenses compared with revenue. Profit is about efficiency. Sustained profit is also about effectiveness–consistent delivery of the expected product.

Making a difference is not at odds with profit. Indeed, making a difference is informed by the same efficiency and effectiveness that profit abides by. Difference is the result of more positive, proactive indicators than negative, reactive indicators. Sustaining the presence of these indicators is the measure of effectiveness–health and well being.

Even more than shared evaluation structure, making a profit and making a difference are linked symbiotically together. The one feeds the other. Money indicates wisdom in the business model, which translates to ability and longevity for the difference-making business. Difference indicates mission-process alignment, which signals management and operations that support money-making. You are right to be suspicious when a lot of money goes in and little difference results. You must also question, when a lot of difference comes out, how we can increase revenue and produce more difference. Explore ways to share what is being done and expand the benefit to a larger service footprint.

When social workers throw out the consideration of profit, they lose a useful indicator of service efficiency and effectiveness. The impetus to grow and change with a community may be lost. The ability to respond to the felt needs may be lost in the lack of fiscal awareness. If your non-profit doors close, you cannot make the difference your business was created to make.

Measuring Success

Service Growth (people) or Shareholder Benefit (profit) is another false dichotomy. Remember. This is your business. You set the shareholder base. You only accept investments from those who share and hold the vision as dearly as you do. To benefit them is to see your business blossom. Your shareholders benefit from great service provision and a sustainable company.

Measuring success by the numbers served also has sustainability concerns. Too big, too fast is a recipe for decline in a business. Integrated conversations with your board, shareholders, and stakeholders can help you grow strategically.

Your service is not only in growth of the numbers served, but in development of your staff. Leadership development along with livable wages and benefits are a must. A business model that realizes monetary gains supports research, development, righteous wages, and fringe benefits.

Utilize Creative destruction as a value in your business to guard against the bloating and mission-creep of size and diffusion. Creative destruction is a periodic shedding of services you find needful, yet do not do well, decide are not the core of your business, or increase your size beyond optimal functioning. It results in what could be termed “spin-offs”–businesses initially founded by the success of your business. Partner with these new agencies, created by your former staff who you helped to launch.

When social workers see only a choice between people and money as a measure of success, they miss the opportunity to partner with shareholders, stakeholders, and staff to build community. The network of services that support the long-term health and well being of us all has use for money. The social worker’s ethics of service and competence are useful here. Our every action of service must include a consideration of the cost of doing so.

No. I’m not ALL about the money. I am about an ecosystem that prizes socially just outcomes while honoring the sacrifice required to sustain gains for the less fortunate. I am about requiring efficacious service not just help that feels good. I am about including all voices and sustainably creating community as the ultimate outcome of a life of service. These considerations are not about money or social good. They utilize money for good.

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