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About Associations
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What is an Association?

Associations are all around us and their work has an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. You may not realize it, but chances are that you belong to an association or actively support an association's programs.

Before you left on your last vacation, did you stop at the local AAA office for maps and tour books? If so, you are a member of the American Automobile Association. If you checked over you car before the trip and added a quart of SAE 10W40, you purchased oil that meets rigid standards administered by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The hotel where you stayed is probably a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. That restaurant you enjoyed so much most likely belongs to the restaurant association......and those are just a few examples of the role associations play in our lives.

The information below will tell you a little more about the different types of associations, their programs and the people who manage them. If you would like to explore the world of associations in greater detail, check out the website of the American Society of Association Executives headquartered in Washington, DC.

Types of Associations

There are three basic types of association: professional, trade and philanthropic/charitable. Although many have full-time, paid staffs, they are mostly not-for-profit organizations.

Professional Associations - These associations consist of individual members who share a common interest or are employed in the same industry.. Examples of professional associations include: college alumni associations, legal bar associations, the local board of realtors, and the model train collectors association.

Trade Associations - Trade associations are similar to professional associations in many respects, however, companies rather than individuals are their members. The companies that comprise the membership of a trade association are usually from the same industry. The Automobile Dealers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America are examples of trade associations.

Philanthropic/Charitable - Among the organizations in this category are the American Cancer Society, the National Association to Prevent Blindness and the United Way.

Scope of Associations

Associations come in all shapes and sizes. Large international associations have members throughout the world and often employ large staffs with multi-million dollar budgets. On the other end of the spectrum, a local association (such as the Iowa Society of Association Executives) may be managed by volunteers who operate with a very small annual budget. Many associations that are national in scope have local chapters that serve a particular region of the country or an individual city.

Programs & Activities

The programs and activities sponsored by association are about as diverse as the associations themselves, but they generally fall into a number of general categories.

  • Education & Training
  • Publications
  • Networking
  • Standards
  • Certification
  • Advocacy

Association Executives

The activities of the typical association are diverse, so managing them requires individuals who have a broad range of skills and experience. If you are an experienced in the areas of marketing, public relations, communications, information technology, finance and accounting, journalism, customer service, legal affairs, government relations, meeting planning, or trade show administration, just to name a few, you might enjoy a career in association management.

The chief staff officers of most associations have earned undergraduate degrees (many have advanced degrees) and have reached their positions only after years of work in the field of association management. Requirements for candidates who fill other professional level positions on the staff vary by organization.



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