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Association vs. Organization: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on December 15, 2023
An association is a group of people joined together for a common purpose, often informal; an organization is a structured entity, typically with a defined hierarchy and specific objectives.

Key Differences

An association is usually a collection of people who come together for a shared interest or purpose, often without formal structure. An organization, in contrast, is a formally structured entity with specific roles, responsibilities, and a clear hierarchy.
Associations are often voluntary and can be less formal in nature, focusing on shared interests or goals among its members. While, organizations tend to be more formal, with established procedures, policies, and often a legal status.
The objectives of an association are typically centered around the interests and needs of its members, like professional development or networking. However, organizations generally have broader objectives that include providing services, meeting business goals, or fulfilling a specific mission.
Membership in associations is often based on shared interests or professions and can be more fluid. In organizations, membership or participation is usually defined by employment, roles, or specific contributions to the entity's goals.
Associations may have less rigid governance structures, relying on member consensus or committees. Whereas, organizations are typically governed by a board of directors or management team with defined roles and responsibilities.

Comparison Chart


Often informal, voluntary
Formally structured with a clear hierarchy


Shared interests or goals among members
Specific objectives, services, or missions


Based on common interests, professions
Defined by roles, employment, contributions


May have flexible governance structures
Governed by board of directors or management


Generally less formal
Typically more formal with established procedures

Association and Organization Definitions


A group of people joined together for a common purpose.
The local writers' association meets monthly.


An entity formed for a particular purpose, such as a business or government.
He works for a non-profit organization.


A connection or cooperative link between people or organizations.
There is a strong association between diet and health.


A systematic arrangement or approach.
The organization of the book makes it easy to understand.


A group formed for mutual benefit or to represent a profession.
The association provides resources for small business owners.


The act of organizing or being organized.
Good organization is key to a successful event.


A mental connection between ideas or things.
The word 'snow' has an association with winter.


An organized body of people with a particular purpose.
The United Nations is an international organization.


An organized body of people with a particular purpose.
She joined the trade association to network with peers.


The quality of being methodical and efficient.
Her organization skills are evident in her tidy office.


The act of associating or being connected with
My parents disapproved of my association with my friends from across town.


The act or process of organizing
The organization of the photos did not take long.


An organized body of people who have an interest, activity, or purpose in common; a society.


The state or manner of being organized
The organization of the files could be improved.


What is an association?

A group of people joined together for a shared purpose or interest.

What is an organization?

A structured entity with specific goals and a hierarchy.

Can associations be formal?

Yes, some have formal structures, but many are more informal.

Do associations have members?

Yes, typically based on shared interests or professions.

Can associations have employees?

Some larger or more formal ones might, but many rely on volunteers.

Can anyone join an association?

Most are open to those with shared interests, but some may have criteria.

Are all organizations for-profit?

No, organizations can be for-profit, non-profit, or governmental.

Can one be a member of multiple associations?

Absolutely, people can join multiple associations.

Can an organization be part of an association?

Yes, organizations can join associations relevant to their field.

Are associations always non-profit?

Many are, but not necessarily all.

Is a corporation an organization?

Yes, corporations are a type of formal organization.

Are non-profits considered organizations?

Yes, non-profits are a type of organization.

What roles are in an organization?

Roles in organizations vary, including executives, managers, and staff.

Do organizations have a legal status?

Many do, especially in formal and structured entities.

What's the primary focus of an organization?

It varies, but typically includes fulfilling specific objectives or missions.

What's the difference in governance between associations and organizations?

Associations often have more flexible governance, while organizations have a defined management structure.

Are associations part of the public sector?

They can be, but many are private or independent entities.

Do organizations have to follow legal regulations?

Yes, especially those with formal legal status.

Do organizations contribute to the economy?

Yes, especially businesses and corporations.

Can an association become an organization?

An association can evolve into a more structured organization.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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