Why Do Associations Exist

by Steve Ritch

Joining ASHA is one of the best things you can do, if you are in the field of communication sciences and disorders. But did you ever stop to ask, "Why?" In fact, why do associations exist in the first place? What do associations do for members and affiliates like you?

The American Society of Association Executives™ (ASAE)—essentially, the association for associations—defines an association as "an organization or group of individuals affiliated with one another who share a common purpose, interest, or mission and exist for the mutual enrichment and advancement of their membership" (ASAE, 2012, p. 4).

There are many types of associations, but the four most common types of associations are as follows:

  • Trade associations—are established by individual industries for the sole purpose of allowing businesses in the same industry to connect to and benefit from one another (ASAE, 2012). The American Dairy Association would be an example of a well-known trade association.
  • Philanthropic organizations—are groups that "give or receive support from money allocated for humanitarian purposes," (ASAE, 2012, p. 7). The American Heart Association is an example of a philanthropic organization.
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—according to Wikipedia (2014), "are organizations that are neither parts of a government nor conventional for-profit businesses. Usually set up by ordinary citizens, NGOs may be funded by governments, foundations, or businesses. Some avoid formal funding altogether and are run primarily by volunteers. NGOs are highly diverse groups of organizations engaged in a wide range of activities. NGOs take different forms in different parts of the world. Some may have charitable status, while others may be registered for tax exemption based on recognition of social purposes." The YMCA, YWCA, and World Wild Life Fund (WWF) are examples of NGOs.
  • Professional Associations—are organizations that are established to further specific professions and the interests of those who work in them. "Unlike trade associations where the businesses are members of the association, the membership of professional associations is comprised of [sic] individual members within the profession who share a common belief or purpose," (ASAE, 2012, p. 6). ASHA is an example of a professional association.

No matter what the type of association, all of them offer particular benefits to their members that are quite valuable. Most associations offer some tangible benefits—such as products, services, information, and discounts—as well as many intangible benefits, such as networking, a sense of community and common purpose, and even the opportunity to volunteer. The traditional benefits that most associations provide include:

  • Learning—the opportunity to take courses or professional development activities either online or in person
  • Knowledge—the collective body of information resources produced or procured by the association, such as publications, research, or websites
  • Community—opportunities for members to interact and share ideas, such as online forums, social media, conventions, and meetings
  • Advocacy—the political or lawmaking influence that associations exert on a local or national scale that supports the work of their members—advocacy may take several forms, including lobbying, creating policy documents, or providing specialized or technical information

ASHA does all of these things and more. Some of the most valuable benefits ASHA provides to Associates include:

All in all, ASHA provides numerous resources and benefits for members and affiliates alike. When you join ASHA as an Associate and volunteer to write an article or post in a community or join a Special Interest Group (SIG), you help ensure that audiology assistants and SLPAs have representation, that benefits are continually being developed, and that the vision of ASHA is continued—making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all.


American Society of Association Executives [ASAE]. (2012). Essential practices in association management: Participant guide 2012. Washington, DC: Author.

Wikipedia. (2014). Non-governmental organization. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-governmental_organization.

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