Part vi: Keep Members informed

The EO's members need to be regularly updated on the organization's advocacy objectives, the actions being taken by the organization, the actions it would be helpful for them to undertake, and how the advocacy effort is progressing. They will also need to have available the most up to date facts on the issues on the advocacy agenda.

Member communication is vital if the EO is to secure commitment to its objectives and solicit member help in advocacy actions. Communicating priorities, actions and successes is about more than commitment and support. The EO's members and non-members will judge the success of the organization as a whole on how influential and successful its advocacy efforts are seen to be.

Advocacy successes are normally qualified and are rarely explainable in win or lose terms. Even where there are relatively clear "wins", it is often difficult for the organization to claim and broadcast them. For the EO to proclaim a clear "win" means declaring an equally clear "loss" for someone else. This may not help its ongoing relationship with policy-makers and other interest groups like trade unions.

For these reasons, members will often judge advocacy success by the effort they witness the EO putting in, the relevance of the issues it is working on, and the volume and tone of media coverage. In short, they want clear evidence that the EO is working hard on the issues that matter to them.(1)

For employer organizations to be true to their purposes and relevant, they must be member-driven. An organization cannot be a credible voice of employers without knowing and advocating what members believe, and without meeting their actual needs at a given point in time.

Being member-driven has both internal and an external elements. An employer organization is member-driven if it has governance and organizational structures that provide for meaningful consultation with, and feedback from employers in the development of policy, strategy, and work priorities. This internal element should operate both prior to the delivery of services by an employer organization (i.e. consultation in planning) and after the delivery of services (i.e. feedback on the effectiveness of services).

The external element of being member-driven involves the employer organization communicating to external stakeholders those matters that members have collectively agreed on through internal member consultation and feedback. In practical terms, this means that the employer organization is truly the voice of its employer members and the bridge to external stakeholders. External stakeholders include unions, governments, or the broader community.(2)

In both these internal and external processes it is important that employer organizations do not exist for the purpose of one individual office-bearer or the commercial interest of a single member. Rather, the collective nature of employer organizations means that they must operate in the service of members at large. Often this requires governance and consultative structures in employer organizations to be robust, inclusive, and fair. Employer organizations must ensure that powerful or loud voices in their membership are reflective of majority views, if they are to be given influence. Office-bearers and executives must always be aware that members are commercial organizations competing against each other, and not put the organization in a position of conflict of interest by associating with the views of one member or a group of members against the interests of other members. These are not always easy matters to resolve. The values of executives and senior officers can sometimes be tested in ensuring that the organization remains truly member-driven and professional in this broad and collegiate sense.

When an employer organization is truly member-driven the benefits can be significant. First, the standing and goodwill of the organization is enhanced, making it more likely that external stakeholders such as governments will listen and take action as advocated by the organization. Second, the advocacy and representation work of the organization is made easier because members are more motivated to be involved and express third-party support for the work of the employer organization. This too can increase the chance of successful outcomes being achieved. Third, there are membership benefits. Existing members are more likely to maintain membership if their views influence strategies or outcomes. Non-member employers in the industry or region are more likely to join if they believe their involvement would be valued and able to make a difference.

(1) ILO: “Guide Three” Advocacy Effective Employers’ Organization Series, ACTEMP, 2005

(2) This section is adapted from an article by Peter Anderson, Chief Executive Australian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in "What the Private Sector expects from its representative organizations" in IOE Labour and Social Policy Review, 2009: