The words association and organization are often used interchangeably, but they do have different definitions and proper usages.

Learning more about the differences and similarities between an organization and an association can help you better understand which is which and what each type of group does.

Association vs Organization

Tasks and Functions

In general, an organization is usually a group of people with defined tasks and administrative duties.

These people are usually employees who have clearly defined roles. Any work that needs to be done in the organization is assigned to people based on their areas of expertise and their job titles and descriptions.

Organizations often feature several levels of employees or members, with each new level overseeing the work of the level below them.

People in an association, on the other hand, often have less defined tasks or functions, or they may offer different tasks and jobs to different people depending on varying skills or who is available for a particular task at the time.

People in an association are usually all at an equal level, although there are sometimes elected leaders, such as presidents, coaches, or treasurers, who have more defined job roles.

association person sitting at desk with keyboard

Interests and Focus

Associations are usually defined as a group of people with the same personal interests.

Members of an association might all be working with a certain focus or towards a particular goal, but they may not all go about achieving that goal in the same way, and their focuses might be on slightly different aspects of the shared interest.

For example, a writer’s association will share an interest in writing and may have a specific interest in a certain genre.

Members of the group might share the goal of finishing a draft or becoming published. The association members might also want to promote their writing or the genre.

However each member works towards that goal, though, could be different, although many members might work together to achieve this goal.

Association members also often work together to foster cooperation within their particular interests or increase awareness or education about the focus of their organization.

Organizations usually have one very firm goal, and it’s up to every member of the group to focus on that goal.

The focus of the organization might not be of personal interest to the members involved, although this is not always the case.

Most members of an organization, however, are hired to perform their tasks regardless of personal interest.

goals - decorative image

Profit and Pay

Because they are hired to perform a job and are generally employees of a particular organization, organization members are almost always paid for their role in the group.

In fact, some organizations are simply groups within a company, focused on solving a specific issue or working towards a goal that benefits the company.

Association members are generally not paid for the role or work they perform for the group.

Associations are nonprofit, which means that the members don’t receive payment and can claim a tax exemption if they need to.

If the group requires money to purchase supplies or advertise for their cause, they can receive donations or utilize a fundraiser.

Organizations can also perform charity functions, but the members of the charity are paid and the organization is considered to be a for-profit group.

Associations are nonprofit and members don’t recieve payment.

Formal and Informal Organizations

There are two main types of organizations, called formal and informal organizations.

Formal organizations are, as the name suggests, more formally structured, and the organization is usually created with a clear goal and desired outcome.

When the organization is formed, there may already be a plan in place for how to achieve that outcome, and people are brought into the organization to perform very specific tasks.

Informal organizations also have clear goals and a desired outcome, but how those goals are achieved might change as the group evolves.

Members of informal organizations are often encouraged to voice their ideas or concerns in order to better achieve goals.

The group might also focus more on helping each individual member achieve their own goals.

organization decorative image

Types of Associations

There are many types of associations, but they can usually be broken down into three groups.

The first is a voluntary association, where members choose to donate their time to support a particular cause.

The second type is a club association, where members connect over a shared interest and work to promote that interest.

The last is a trade association, which works with companies with the goal of helping them create a better work environment or run more efficiently.

volunteers taking donations under a tent

Can association and organization be used to describe the same group?

Although they are often different, sometimes the lines defining an association or organization might become blurred.

The easiest way to remember which term is appropriate, however, is to consider whether the members are attempting to achieve a goal that’s personally important or one that’s important to their company or employers.

If it’s the first, the group is most likely an association, and if it’s the second, the group is probably an organization.

non profit organization

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