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Member communication: the Australian Counselling Association

3 min read

The Australian Counselling Association (ACA) has a very high member retention rate, an aspect of not-for-profit management that many associations struggle with.

As a measure of this, CEO Philip Armstrong says that in their recent membership renewal, over 75 per cent of existing members signed up to the body again, and the majority of these did so within five days.

At the figure of 3,000, their membership retention is no small feat. In fact, in less than five years the ACA went from a start-up association to the largest national association of counsellors in Australia – and this was in a climate where over 75 other professional counselling bodies already existed.

So why were people drawn to the ACA over these other professional bodies? Armstrong says that none of the others have the political or industry influence that the ACA has.

“Many now are simply meeting groups of professionals, not professional bodies.

“The difference between the two is significant.”

Employment matters

One of the key factors behind the ACA’s success is the importance it places on employment, as well as the value to employees of having an ACA-registered counsellor working for them.

Armstrong gives an example: “Last year we worked with an American company that was employing counsellors to go to Afghanistan and Iraq, and they would only accept ACA members for the positions.”

It’s this type of “high profile work” that Armstrong says demonstrates the value of the ACA.

“Members want security through work before anything else,” Armstrong explains. “Many associations lose touch with this reality and focus on making membership a financial and administrative burden with no pay off.”


Dealing with 3,000 members cannot always be easy, and Armstrong says that the ACA faces its own share of difficulties that arise in member engagement.

The ACA places real value on direct communication to dilute issues with emotional and financial pressures, a personal approach that Armstrong says is crucial “for members to form a positive emotional link to you and support you.”

“The policy at ACA is that I take all calls in regards to certain issues so as members hear it from the top.

“I am able to discuss the issue with them… and then explain that they should follow up all rumours with ACA first before investing emotionally and/or financially in them.”

Keeping informed

Of course, the ACA has other means of communicating with members than just individual contact.

Members need to be up-to-date with industry and association news, which is distributed via the ‘monthly platform’ of the ACA Ezine.

The ACA also offers a print magazine, which Armstrong says has more professional significance. The journal is designed to improve academic knowledge through providing peer-reviewed professional articles, ACA policy information and research news.

The value of the member magazine

The value of having a magazine, Armstrong says, is that it distinguishes the ACA as the peak professional body for counsellors in Australia, rather than just a “meeting group of professionals”.

As he commented earlier, the difference between these two concepts is ‘significant’, and Armstrong believes is a reason why counsellors become members of the ACA instead of other groups of counselling professionals.

“Many readers comment that the value of having a print magazine is the difference between meeting the expectations of what a professional peak body should deliver, and simply just another body of professionals that simply meet every month.”

The next level

In 2010, ACA decided that, in its ten year history, its journal had reached its optimum in relation to delivering a peer-reviewed publication to members that was produced internally by the association.

“To compete internationally in design, content and layout with other similar journals, it needed the expertise of professional publishers.”

ACA approached Great Southern Press with a request to redesign their magazine. Since then, Counselling Australia has regularly been distributed to 2,500 of the association’s members, both in Australia and overseas.

“We have been over-whelmed by how well members have received the new publication,” Armstrong says.

“An external publisher was sought to take the journal to the next level, and neither we, nor our readers, have been let down in this regard.”

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