The Associations Matter Monthly Poll – September 2023 Results
Alignment with strategy and member expertise are key drivers of associations’ responses to social issues.
Given the current referendum in Australia, some discussions at this years’ AuSAE MX events centered around how associations determine whether to formally announce a position in relation to various social issues.
To contribute to this conversation, the September 2023 Associations Matter Monthly Poll examined how association executives evaluate and respond to social issues, and the factors that influence any decisions to make public comments. The survey, supported by AuSAE and conducted by Survey Matters, received responses from association executives across various sectors.
Overall, the survey revealed over half of associations (55%) do not have a formal process or protocol in place to guide decisions on whether to take a position on social issues. Only 27% of associations say they have a formal process in place, while 6% are currently developing one. The remaining 12% were unsure if such a process exists within their association.
As a result, feedback suggests associations follow various process and protocols when deciding whether to take a position on social issues. These processes typically involve senior leadership discussions, CEO briefings, board assessment and approvals. Some organisations mention the involvement of committees or advisory groups in evaluating social actions, while others are guided by the association’s Code of Conduct.
While the decision-making processes vary depending on the association's structure and values and the nature of the social issue, many associations follow a process to determine whether the issue “aligns with our strategy” or “how applicable it is to business”.
Member consultation also plays a role in the decision-making process for many associations, although the extent of member engagement varies. While some associations show a reluctance to “put out a statement on behalf of our members unless our members are consulted”, others suggested that as the “Board is member elected and made up of members, their position represents the membership and profession”. Overall, 16% of associations report member feedback often shapes their position on social issues, 35% say member feedback is one of several factors considered and a further 28% report member feedback is considered but not always essential to the decision-making process. Only 9% of responding associations say decisions are typically made without significant member input.
When deciding which social issues to comment on, associations primarily consider factors such as relevance to their mission and values (71%) and impact on members and stakeholders (48%). A further 28% mention their decision to take a position on social issues depends on whether they can meaningfully influence the issue, and whether their expertise is directly relevant to the issue at hand. These respondents suggest “they only comment on issues where our members have direct expertise” or where the issue “intersects with our mission such that we can be a credible thought leader”. A recent example of this approach is the statement in support of the proposed Voice to Parliament referendum, which was signed by more than 50 Victorian and national health organisations, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).
Other factors, such as legal or regulatory implications (22%), ethical or moral imperatives (16%), feedback or requests from members (13%) and the capacity to make a positive change (10%) are considered by some associations.
There were also several associations who indicate they “do not comment on social issues”. Comments indicate this is often because it is “not part of our remit”, that the association’s “constitution prevents [them] from commenting on political issues” or that they “are not authorised by its Board of Directors to comment on social issues”. Others suggest they do not get involved because “a position supporting some members will often antagonise others”.
Overall, while a significant number of associations do not have formal processes in place, and many believe it is not their position to get involved, member consultation and alignment with mission and values are key considerations when deciding whether to take a stand. Associations strive to make informed decisions that reflect the interests and values of their members and stakeholders.
“We use a process that considers three issues: Does the issue align with our strategy? What are our stakeholders’ views on the issue? Can we meaningfully influence the issue?“, CEO, Industry Association.