National Human Services Assembly


History of National Human Services Assembly

Read: Historical Highlights over 100 Years

Executives of twelve leading national social work organizations began regular monthly meetings in 1920. Formally organized in 1923, the National Social Work Council (NSWC) held meetings and conferences until 1945 when, upon revision of its by-laws, the Council expanded its functions and became the National Social Welfare Assembly.

The National Social Work Council did not undertake initiatives but helped existing agencies better fulfill their functions by mutual informational exchanges and discussions. Representatives of government, philanthropic foundations and agencies outside the NSWC were frequently invited to speak at the Council’s monthly meetings and examine with its members topics of mutual concern. Other meetings revolved around reports from member agencies of programs and projects undertaken, and topics of current importance for social work, which were discussed at the Council’s “Round-Table Meetings.”

Early NSWC meetings were largely concerned with bases of financial support, budgets, and endorsement. Subsequent topics of discussion included: attempts to achieve better understanding and closer cooperation between agencies functioning in related areas or the same communities; relationships between national organizations and their local agencies; problems arising from the Depression, including the financial pressures toward retrenchment in a period of increasing welfare and relief requests; defense mobilization and its social repercussions; and, a few years later, demobilization and the social needs and problems created by massive relocation.

At an all-day meeting January 18, 1945, Council members concluded that some structural and functional alterations were necessary in order to create an organization capable of meeting more effectively the diverse social welfare problems in the post-war community. A new constitution was approved by the membership, and at its December 1945 meeting, the National Social Work Council became the National Social Welfare Assembly.

The two broad functions of the National Social Welfare Assembly, according to the 1965 edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, were to define and study problems of broad social policy affecting the needs of people and to plan action to meet these needs and, also, to serve national organizations and local communities in developing effective programs, operations, and administration in the field of social welfare.

The social health and welfare problems accompanying the relocation of Japanese-Americans during the war were studied by the National Social Work Council and again became a topic of concern for the Assembly when the difficult post-war resettlement began. The Assembly’s Committee on Japanese Americans prepared a series of bulletins covering problems related to discrimination in housing and employment, legislation under consideration and prejudices against Japanese-Americans.

Social welfare agencies serving the interest of youth combined in several bodies of the Assembly to coordinate their work and undertake special projects. One such association, the Young Adult Council (YAC), was founded in 1948 as the coordinating organization for 28 national student and young worker organizations. Particularly concerned with youth in the 18-30 year age group, YAC sponsored a United States Assembly of Youth in 1953 at Ann Arbor, Michigan and also represented young adult organizations in the United States to the World Assembly of Youth (WAY).

Several name changes later, the descriptors in this history are as apt today as they were in those early years. And from the original twelve members to the twenty-nine that comprised the National Social Welfare Assembly in 1945, the membership has continued to grow and shift to meet the changing needs of the sector. Those organizations and their respective local service networks collectively touch or are touched by nearly every household in America—as consumers of services, donors or volunteers. They comprise a $32 billion sector that employs some 800,000 workers, operating from over 150,000 locations.

The work of the National Assembly is accomplished primarily through the collective efforts of its members. Following are examples of the members’ collective efforts:

  • During the Depression, the members strategized and shared information on “retrenchment in a period of increasing welfare and relief requests; defense mobilization and its social repercussion; …and the social needs and problems created by massive relocation.”
  • The Milford (PA) conference of 1923 focused on the commonalities in the practice of social casework across all areas of specialization.
  • Six national agencies, five of which worked together through the National Assembly (then the Council), established American War Community Services. The cooperative service agreement forged at that time continued through the Assembly after the war.
  • The Assembly’s Committee on Japanese Americans issued a series of bulletins covering discrimination in housing and employment and pending legislation that affected this population relocated during World War II.
  • The Assembly formed the Young Adult Council in 1948, a coordinating entity for 28 student and young worker organizations. It hosted the United States Assembly of Youth in 1953 and it became the home of the National Collaboration for Youth, which continues today.
  • Published first in 1974, the Assembly, in partnership with the National Health Council, published the fourth edition of Standards of Accounting and Financial Reporting for Voluntary Health and Welfare Organizations in 1998.
  • In the late 1990s, “NYDIC”—the National Youth Development Information Center, a website where all youth agencies and their workers can easily access information on youth programs, research, policy, jobs and more—was formed by the National Collaboration for Youth of the Assembly.
  • In 2002, the Assembly and its members forged a partnership background checks to perform background checks on volunteers. This was part of a continuing focus on safeguarding clients, especially children, which included the publication of Screening Volunteers to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse a few years before and continuing advocacy for protective legislation.
  • With terrorism rising and war looming, United Way of America and the Assembly convened youth-serving agencies to share resources for helping children and families cope with terrorism and war.
  • In 2003, the National Assembly was cited as an effective collaborative effort in the Harvard Business Review article entitled, “The Non-profit Sectors $100 Billion Opportunity.”
  • In 2004, the National Assembly established the for-profit subsidiary National Assembly Business Services which runs the group purchasing program for nonprofits called PurchasingPoint, that has collectively saved the sector an estimated $233 million dollars to be redirected toward mission-related programs.
  • In 2012, research began into a new way to talk about human services that would garner more support from the public, funders and government stakeholders. It was named the National Reframing Initiative and done in partnership with FrameWorks Institute, through funding from The Kresge Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation. After years of extensive research, the National Assembly launched the initial toolkit, full of recommendations and resources. The initiative continued forward with a variety of tools, resources, trainings, convenings and more created to respond to the sector’s needs.

In early 2020, the National Assembly pivoted as the COVID Pandemic began, focusing on providing the resources and services that members and the human service sector needed most. Victor Valentine was then named as Executive Director of the organization in early 2021, bringing with him 20 years of experience in the areas of board and executive leadership development, strategic and operational planning, professional coaching and philanthropy, to lead new and ongoing initiatives.

In June of 2022, for the first time ever in its history, the National Assembly is being run by BIPOC leaders with Victor Valentine as Executive Director and Darlyne Bailey as Board Chair. Additionally, the Board’s Executive Committee, comprised of Denise Harlow, Monisha Kapila, Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, and Mala Thakur, rounds out the diverse cast of top leadership at the organization.

The organization is thrilled to have celebrated its 100th Anniversary during the Centennial Summit: Advancing Human Services. In preparing for the celebration, we were reminded of the 100 years of traditions of learning, sharing, and collaborative efforts within the National Assembly family of nonprofit health and human service organizations.

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Are you interested in joining our network of nonprofit human service organizations to be a part of the collective voice of the sector? Find out more about membership with the National Assembly and all of the benefits that come with.

National Reframing Initiative

Build public support for human services so that all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute to thriving communities.