Close Search
Happenings on the hill  |  PolicyAdvocacy

What can the social purpose sector learn from industry associations?

10 March 2020 at 8:37 am
Neil Pharaoh
Neil Pharaoh shares three things which make industry associations highly effective in their campaigning and advocacy.

Neil Pharaoh | 10 March 2020 at 8:37 am


What can the social purpose sector learn from industry associations?
10 March 2020 at 8:37 am

Neil Pharaoh shares three things which make industry associations highly effective in their campaigning and advocacy.

Almost every social purpose organisation I speak to is quick to mention how well networked they are into government, how great a relationship they have with such and such, and how influential they are on social policy. But how do you genuinely assess capability, capacity and competence to campaign, advocate or engage on public policy? 

And how, as a leader of the social purpose sector, do you compare with Australia’s many industry associations?

For-profit industries and their associated not-for-profit organisations are continuing to gain a higher presence with state, federal and even local parliaments. We are also seeing continued debilitation of the public service – which traditionally supports and values the informed and tested policy ideas that come from the social purpose sector. So, what constitutes competitive engagement now?

It is estimated there are currently over 3,400 industry associations in Australia, employing around 23,000 people. The industry associate sector is worth around $4 billion annually and represents everyone from big business (e.g. Business Council of Australia) to smaller industries’ groups (e.g. Plastics Industry Pipe Association of Australia). Some are regarded as highly influential and many successful ones are in the medical sphere. Take the Pharmacy Guild, who have successfully defended against competition in the pharmacy market for many years, or the various Royal Colleges (of Medicine), who artificially restrict supply of specialists to ensure that people pay more and wait longer for specialist appointments. 

What are these successful industry associations doing that social purpose organisations are not?

Over the years I have noticed three things which make industry associations highly effective in their campaigning and advocacy:

1. They are focused, determined and know what they want.

Too often, social purpose asks are vague and general. Good industry associations know the specifics of the ask (who is involved, what needs to be done) and are happy to ask their members and associates to join in their campaign, to apply lateral pressure.

2. They have done their research. 

Not the type of general but heartwarming research that our sector tends towards. Economic models, cost benefit analyses, regulatory impact statements, legislative timelines and regulatory understanding are all part and parcel of effective industry association advocacy. If your organisation is not doing all of these, you should be. 

3. They play a long game.

Industry associations make submissions years in advance to set the tone, build relationships before they are needed, monitor trends and opportunities, and plant the seeds early.

Remember, imitation is the best form of flattery (and strategy) and is always allowed in this space. So why not look into a couple of influential industry associations that operate in the private sector. What do they mention online or on social media? What submissions have they made to enquiries or to royal commissions? Are you doing the same?

One of the most successful campaigns from an industry association in recent history was the “This is your mining story” campaign, which successfully killed off Australia’s Carbon Tax. While this campaign was expensive (it cost tens of millions), it was very effective – in return for their investment the respective companies retained billions of dollars in revenue. 

When competing with this, what can social purpose organisations do? 

Put simply, you need to examine and potentially redraw your picture of what great networking, political access, campaigning and influence looks like.

Government has multiple parts. If you are only engaging or have relationships with one or two people in government, that doesn’t really make you influential. Assess your stakeholder framework in regard to government, do you have stakeholders in each of the following groups?

  • Ministers, executive and shadow ministers – those who run government, or could run government in the future.
  • Members of Parliament – MPs, MLAs, MLCs etc. Anyone elected to parliament.
  • Policy departments – health, education, science. In my experience, this is often typically the only stakeholder group that social purpose organisations possess a deep understanding of. Sadly, with increasing cuts and increasingly less clout, good public servants are being tested to their limit. Be wary of adding to their burden.
  • Central agencies – Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury, Finance and Premier and Cabinet (and related bodies) are all critical stakeholder cohorts to engage, whether it be through submissions to groups such as the Productivity Commission or Treasury, or simply knowing the person responsible for your policy area in each of these sections.
  • The political parties themselves. Avoiding any form of contact with political parties isn’t being apolitical or putting you “above the fray”. Ignoring political parties is like ignoring the rules of a game – it doesn’t work. Being smart and nonpartisan actually means involving each side properly. Policy committees, interest and associated groups, state or federal conferences and bodies through to local branches, all of them have a role. 

Finally, if you want to play on an equal field to the industry associations, remember you are only as strong as your weakest link. A single point of contact (one person knowing somebody else) or personal relationships that are not based on your organisation can mean that what you think of as influence today may not exist tomorrow. 

Be structural and systematic, embed your government engagement and ensure your network has the depth and breadth required. 

After all, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax gave us around $24 billion reasons why this is a good game to be in. 


About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. He regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Happenings on the hill is a new fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.

If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.

Neil Pharaoh  |  @ProBonoNews

Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.


2022 Salary Survey

Get more stories like this


Your email address will not be published.


Pursuing purpose in times of politics

Danielle Kutchel

Monday, 9th May 2022 at 4:39 pm

Calls to close cleft cost gap

Danielle Kutchel

Thursday, 14th April 2022 at 2:04 pm

Poli-pix to create clear picture for government

Jonathan Alley

Wednesday, 13th April 2022 at 1:10 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook

News for those with purpose.

Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Thank you - you have successfully subscribed.

Get the social sector's most essential news coverage. Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

You have Successfully Subscribed!