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Spotlight on the Association sector

Third Sector chats to John Peacock GM of Associations Forum.

Australia’s association sector presents a healthy – and quite wealthy – picture, according to Associations Forum GM John Peacock. “It is healthy because Australia has the freedom to associate. You can start an association for any cause you like, no matter how boutique it is,” he tells Third Sector.

“It is a healthy sector because you can make a surplus and it is invested back into the organisation.”

Peacock says a big trend now apparent is a move toward online membership services.

There is also a big shift toward full-time paid positions. “More and more people want to be in a situation where they don’t have to volunteer all their time,” he says.

Boards are also following the trend of moving to the best-practice size of eight. “Associations realise the distinction between governance and management, which has encouraged this move.”

He says a common question is “Are there too many associations?”, but Peacock says there can never be enough. “I don’t think there are too many associations, but in some circumstances rationalising may be necessary. Everyone has the right to start associations if they wish.”

Online disruption

A big hurdle for the associations sector is keeping members engaged and happy in a time where everything is online. “More competitors are coming from the internet, and this can be a huge disruption to the sector.”

Peacock says there have been some instances lately of prominent associations being defrauded by a senior staff member or management.

“It is really dreadful for the organisation and the volunteers when there is dishonesty,” he says. “Associations need to take good advice about how they are being run.”

Associations receive funding from members and suppliers, with only a small number relying on government funding. As most are not reliant on government funding, they are not bound by government funding requirements.

Governments usually leave associations to run themselves, he says. “Associations are independent, and they should be advocating to the government as to how it should change laws. They are not subservient to the government.”

When he looks to the future of the associations sector, Peacock says he hopes for continued growth, continued use of technology and a better understanding of member engagement.

Spotlight on an association (National Retail Association) 

Battling the lawmakers

Big things are being achieved for the retail sector by the National Retail Association [NRA]. Third Sector speaks to CEO Dominique Lamb to find out more about the organisation, the challenges it faces and the importance of associations in Australia.

What is the NRA?

The National Retail Association is the peak industry body representing the retail sector. Membership spans from single stores right through to Australia’s major retail chains.

For nearly 100 years the NRA has provided representation on behalf of retail businesses throughout the nation, as well as delivering critical information and advice to thousands of retailers.

What struggles does the NRA face as an association?

One of the biggest challenges confronting the NRA is advocating on policy that is in the interests of our members, but may face strong political opposition.

A classic case was the decision by the Fair Work Commission to reduce Sunday penalty rates for some retail workers. Despite the fact this may enable NRA members to hire more staff or open for trade on Sundays, it has faced hostile opposition from certain segments of the community.

We have also made representation to the government about the minimum wage law on behalf of NRA members. While the NRA supports a decent wage for low-income workers, it should not have a crippling effect on small business.

Proposed changes to the franchising law under the Vulnerable Workers Bill have also been challenged by the NRA. As well as engaging with federal government ministers on our reservations relating to this Bill, we have also contributed to a senate inquiry on how we believe it may negatively impact the franchising industry.

What makes the NRA successful?

Our success lies in our ability to advocate effectively on behalf of our members to achieve policy outcomes that advance the retail industry. We understand it is vital that businesses in today’s competitive marketplace receive accurate and timely information on issues that impact their business.

Why are associations important?

Industry associations such as the NRA are important as they lend a voice to mum-and-dad small-business owners. To be heard by our lawmakers, retailers need a body that advocates effectively on their behalf.

What are your hopes for the NRA over the next year?

Our goal over the next 12 months is to continue to advocate passionately on behalf of NRA members throughout Australia, and in the process deliver positive change to the retail industry. We hope to cement ourselves as the number-one industry body for the retail sector.

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