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Ethics of the Social Worker as Consultant (7th in Series)

The social work Code of Ethics ( is robust enough to cover the activities of the social worker as consultant. Its ethical principles of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence remain true and applicable for social workers in every practice arena. Yet, a review of other codes can provide more tailored guidance for specific consulting activities. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) offer some additional considerations for the social worker as consultant. 

Multi-Code Review

AFP Code of Ethical Principles

The social worker as consultant will often be involved in fundraising and other capital development practice with organizations. The Association of Fundraising Professionals ( provides guidelines for such consultations. In addition to similar principles to service, integrity and competence, the AFP guidelines speak specifically to contracts, intellectual property, stewardship and compensation.

Members of AFP are counseled to remain “responsive and available to organizations…before, during, and after any sale of materials and/or services” (AFP Ethical Standard 8). Even after the contract is completed, the social worker as consultant should not abandon the relationship. Consider the expertise you provide and the services areas you practice within. If you must separate completely at the conclusion of a contract, provide support to the former client by making a solid referral.

Intellectual property and respect for copyright laws are especially important for technology implementation and social media including web sites and blog development. It is also applicable in print and advertising including stock photo sites. Two common mistakes are utilizing a corporate logo that is not authorized to be included in your marketing materials. Another is changing a logo, even the logo of your client, without express written permission of the parent corporation. In addition, understand laws related to the use of photos, even photos you take at client-sponsored public events. It is advisable to inform and reasonably seek model releases from photo subjects when photos will be used in promotional materials. Be sure to maintain model releases on file.

Stewardship includes putting money to the use intended by the donor. For the social worker as consultant, stewardship includes the integrity to educate the donor on the organization’s intended and real purposes for donations. This may include training the client organization on the virtue of transparency and the value of donor relationships long-term.

AFP guidelines on compensation are especially intriguing. Ethical Standard 21 states that “Members shall not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees.” For the social worker as consultant, this suggests that contracts are to be flat fee-based. Agree on a fair price for the consultation you provide. Do not fixate on what the organization may build from the sharing of your expertise. This disciplines you as consultant to balance your expertise, the need of the organization, and your profit motive in contract negotiations. Understand the value of what you offer, the competition in the market, and what it takes to do the job right. Do not sell yourself short.

WHO Agenda

The World Health Organization ( offers an important pattern for the social worker as consultant in its stated agenda. Consider the compatibility between the holistic health and well-being goals of social work and the health systems promotion goals of the WHO. The WHO describes their agenda as consisting of objectives, strategy, and operations—a good model for social work intervention and innovation.

The WHO health objectives are 1) Promoting development and 2) Fostering health security. The social worker as consultant would do well to focus on development, especially social development. Health security reminds the social worker as consultant that the social environment is an important consideration, always.

The WHO strategic needs are 3) Strengthening health systems, and 4) Harnessing research, information, and evidence. Social workers know that healthy systems produce greater good. The WHO connects strong health systems to poverty abatement. The social work as consultant should seek to innovate and enhance social support organizations. Social workers have embraced evidence-based practice (EBP), but not all social workers understand that EBP requires dissemination. The social worker as consultant understands: if you are not disseminating best practices, you are not effectively practicing.

The WHO operational approaches are 5) Enhancing partnerships and 6) Improving performance. Social capital development and the building of communities is all about collective activities—what the citizens can achieve when they work together. The social worker as consultant can be an effective broker, negotiator, and mediator to bring individual citizens and organizations together for specific purposes. The WHO suggests coalescing around best practices, ethical guidelines, and shared priorities.

Asset development is important to the long-term success of clients who hire the social worker as consultant. This includes the operational environment and the group emphasized by the WHO: staff. The social worker as consultant will do well to include expertise in performance evaluation, staff training, and leadership in his/her skill set.

Social Worker as Consultant Ethical Framework

Social work professional history guides us to do more than “9 to 5 and go home.” We cannot agree that our communities are fractured and only assist our clients in navigating that dysfunction.

Individual & Social Change Perspective

Build the capacity to change the status quo. Intervention should include the person and his/her perspective in the social and institutional environment. Innovation will seek to ensure access to and education on the mechanisms of production.

Social Capital & Collective Activities

Broker relationships among clients and between organizations in ways that foster reciprocity and win-win. Build relationships as investments and be clear about what you want in return. Focus on defining roles and responsibilities in the context of an action plan.

Process and Content Evaluation

Document activity with reports, receipts, and electronic communications. Organize and present the “big picture” in order to engage all parties in the vision. Parse that picture into manageable projects in order to provide all parties with a role 

Knowledge Sharing

Initially and periodically, every consultant offers services pro-bono. Share information freely as much as is possible. Disseminate best practices, instructive failures, and ruminations.

Transparency. Ensure that the processes of your clients are as transparent as possible while maintaining appropriate confidentiality. Educate your clients as well as their constituents. Create the sense that dialogue is valued and remain responsive and engaged.

Cost-Benefit Analysis. Conduct Cost-Benefit analysis at all levels of ecology, individual, individual as member of groups, groups that do not include individual. This means that the social worker as consultant must assess potential activities and predict the consequences of a course of action. Consequences include all costs including opportunity costs.

Sustainability. Predict the long-term sustainability of proposals in all resource areas, financial, information, people, and time. Educate clients on the pros and cons of a slow-building approach. Consider the supports needed for success to be maintained even after the consulting contract is terminated.

Impact. Predict the impact of the proposal on the community including the establishment of precedence, reactions of prior constituents, and entitlement of current individuals who potentially constitute a class. Consider that the pattern created by a certain course of action extends beyond the present time and budget period. Consider how actions of clients impact the culture of the agency and the community.

Written by Dr. Michael Wright

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an life coach, business consultant, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy for more than 18 years. Wright lives in Nashville, Tennessee.


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