Association or Organization? Is There a Difference?

Organization and association are two words that are used interchangeably by native English speakers.

The most significant distinction is that an association is a group of people with similar interests, whereas an organization is a group of people who have defined roles and responsibilities.

Organization Meaning

An organization means a group of people and how they work together to achieve a goal.

An organization has an explicit purpose or set of objectives to fulfill.


For example, common goals include:

  • Maintaining profits
  • Increasing community outreach
  • Increasing market share
  • Growing shareholder value.

People, resources, and knowledge are brought together in an organization to carry out interrelated activities.

It usually has divisions and departments, and there are many types of organizational structures that establish the flow of work within the organization.

Examples of organizations include government departments, corporations, charities, and universities.

organisation structure

Levels in an Organization

Line Organization: This is a typical hierarchical organization, where managers have the authority to assign tasks and decide who needs to do them.

Functional Organization: People are grouped together with similar knowledge and skills. Managers in functional organizations are assigned to oversee specific functions, such as marketing, accounting, engineering, etc.

Matrix Organization: This type of structure works well with large-scale projects. Employees may have to report to multiple leaders.

Association Meaning

An association is also an organization of people formed for a purpose. They may be considered as non-profit.

Oftentimes we use the term “association” to describe people who share a common interest or the same job, for example, football association, students’ association, athletic association.

However, the association is an umbrella term to mean a wide range of alliances, such as unions, clubs, leagues, volunteering groups, non-profits, cooperatives, fellowships, or conferences.

An association doesn’t necessarily have a mission statement to fulfill. It serves to fulfill an unmet need in the community of individuals with similar interests.

For example, it might be:

  • Pushing employers for greater opportunities
  • Creating educational resources
  • Offering a support network

An association can also mean a group of organizations that work together for a particular purpose, used as the name for these organizations, for example, the national association, employers’ association, the industry-specific association.

Difference Between Association and Organization

The difference between “association” and “organization” is not clear-cut from a quick search in the dictionary. There is usually a lot of overlap between these terms.

In fact, people will use these terms interchangeably, so you don’t have to fret about saying the “right” word.

The basic difference between association and organization is that an association is seen as a membership organization where people with similar interests or jobs can connect to achieve their common goals.

Organizations are entities that are more focused on the work involved to meet objectives and fulfill the purposes of the company.

Associations have more open memberships, whereas not everyone can join an organization.

The leadership structure is more formalised in an organization, whereas the leadership structure is informal in an association.

Moreover, associations can be created to connect with other people for pleasure or enjoyment, while organizations have more formally defined functions.

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In Conclusion

Organization and association are two words that describe a group of people working together to achieve a goal.

These two terms are often used interchangeably in conversation, but they have their differences.

Organizations and associations have different goals. Associations’ goals lie within the interests of people, whereas in organizations, the goals lie within the company’s interests.

Organizations and associations are different in terms of formality, with organizations usually having a more defined structure and function.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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