Association Components Commonly Used Terms

Within the association community, we have many terms for our member communities that are somewhat vague and too often used interchangeably. This info sheet is intended to provide a guide for understanding the terms commonly used to refer to member communities and their relationship with a lead organization. Sources include Component Relationship Handbook (ASAE), IRS and Association Law Handbook (ASAE).

Affiliated Organization: Autonomous organization which has some level of formal relationship with a central association. Generally, they are local components operating in a specific geographic area, although they can include sub-specialty organizations. (See Allied Society) Other names: Sections, Councils, Affiliates, Allied Society.

Affiliation Agreement: A binding legal document that defines the relationship between the central organizations and its component.

Affiliation Structures:

  • Single Organization – chapters are sub-entities within the central organization which no legal or operational independence
  • Parent/Subsidiary – central organization and chapters are separate, legal organizations with a parent authority through governance and polices; generally, operate under charter or affiliation agreement
  • Contractual Affiliation – central organization and chapters are separate organizations, which may or may not be legally independent, operating under an agreement

Allied Society: Autonomous organization which has a relationship with a lead organization. (See Affiliated Organization)

Chapter: A branch of a central organization operating in a specific geographic area. While the organization may be separately incorporated, it generally operates under the authority and permission of the lead organization.

Central Organization: Association within a profession or trade that all members either relate to or belong to and which has components. Also referred to as a Parent, Lead or Umbrella organization.

Charter: Authorization from a central organization to establish a geographic entity as a component organization.

Component: ASAE adopted this catch-all term to refer to organizations or groups that are a segment or part of an international, national, state, regional or local organization, which includes affiliated or independent society, chapter, branch, special interest group, division, council, committee or member segment.

Contingent Membership: Membership type which requires belonging to two or more levels of the organization, e.g. must join national to join the chapter or vice versa.

Council: group or organization that covers an area of interest (e.g., industry, discipline, topic, skills) rather than geographic area

Division: A community within a larger organization focused on professional discipline or practice area within a profession. May operate similarly to special interest group or as a semi-autonomous unit. Other names: Council, Institutes, Academy.

Federation: group of membership organizations or professional associations that have joined together to form a larger, usually representative organization or governing body

Group Exemption: A determination from the IRS recognizing a group of organizations affiliated with the central organization as tax-exempt. The central organization and its subordinates must have a defined relationship and be subject to the central organization’s general supervision or control.  A group exemption letter does not change the filing requirements for exempt organizations. Under some conditions, the central organization may file a group return on behalf of some or all of its subordinates.

LMO: Local-only member

Reciprocal Membership: Membership type which does not require belonging to more than one organization.

Special Interest Group: A community within a larger organization focused on advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology. Other names: Communities of Practice, Specialty Practice Groups, Councils, Sections.

Unified Membership: Membership type which includes all levels of the organization within one dues.