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Nonprofit Social Service Directors


Social service organizations have been around in various forms for hundreds of years. During the Middle Ages, organizations formed to care for the sick and the poor. By the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was changing society's structure as numerous people moved from small towns and farms to cities where they worked in industries and had few, if any, established social support systems. The cities became more crowded, wages were low, and life became more complicated. After the Civil War, there was an explosion of social service organizations—groups caring for the sick and the poor, and, increasingly, for immigrants. Under President Franklin Roosevelt's administration during the 1930s, many New Deal programs, such as unemployment insurance, were established to help people deal with the effects of the Depression. During the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson's administration followed a similar agenda of promoting the well-being of all citizens with the "Great Society" programs, such as Medicare. These programs increased the role of the government in the welfare of individuals and stimulated the growth of private social service organizations. In the years that followed, the older organizations expanded and many new organizations emerged.

By the end of the 20th century, however, social support systems had begun to change. The federal government, responding to the unpopularity of the expense of many government social service programs, eliminated some programs and cut back on many others. Perhaps the best-known cutback was the Welfare Reform Bill, which was designed to shorten the length of time welfare recipients receive benefits. Reforms at the national level mean that state governments often find themselves trying to provide money to keep programs running. If the funds can't be found at the state level, the slack may be picked up at the city level. If the city is unable to come up with the necessary funds, the services usually pass out of the hands of governmental officials altogether and into the hands of local or national nonprofit organizations.

The need for nongovernmental organizations to fill in gaps left by federal, state, and local programs has changed the profile of charity work. Where many organizations once had untrained volunteers, they now often require trained, full-time staff. As nonprofit social service work has become more crucial to the national infrastructure, nonprofits have become increasingly professional. Nonprofit organizations are dependent on intelligent, educated, and savvy direction in order to work. Fund-raising, budgeting, resource management, and public relations are just a few areas where top-notch business skills are a necessity. The role of those who run the organizations—administrators, executive directors, and directors—is crucial.