Voluntary association

An annual general meeting of a typical small volunteer non-profit organisation (the Monaro Folk Society). Office bearers sitting are president, secretary and public officer.

A voluntary group or union (also sometimes called a voluntary organization, common-interest association,[1]:266 association, or society) is a group of individuals who enter into an agreement, usually as volunteers, to form a body (or organization) to accomplish a purpose.[2] Common examples include trade associations, trade unions, learned societies, professional associations, and environmental groups.

Membership is not necessarily voluntary: in order for particular associations to function correctly they might need to be mandatory or at least strongly encouraged, as is common with many teachers unions in the US. Because of this, some people use the term common-interest association to describe groups which form out of a common interest, although this term is not widely used or understood.[1]

Voluntary associations may be incorporated or unincorporated; for example, in the US, unions gained additional powers by incorporating.[3] In the UK, the terms Voluntary Association or Voluntary Organisation cover every type of group from a small local Residents' Association to large Associations (often Registered Charities) with multimillion-pound turnover that run large-scale business operations (often providing some kind of public service as subcontractors to government departments or local authorities).

Differences by jurisdictions

In many jurisdictions no formalities are necessary to start an association. In some jurisdictions, there is a minimum for the number of persons starting an association.

Some jurisdictions require that the association register with the police or other official body to inform the public of the association's existence. This could be a tool of political control or intimidation, and also a way of protecting the economy from fraud.

In many such jurisdictions, only a registered association (or in the UK an incorporated body) is a juristic person whose members are not responsible for the financial acts of the association. Any group of persons may, of course, work as an informal association, but in such cases, each person making a transaction in the name of the association takes responsibility for that transaction, just as if it were that individual's personal transaction.[4]

There are many countries where the formation of truly independent Voluntary Associations is effectively proscribed by law or where they are theoretically legally permitted, but in practice are persecuted; for example, where membership brings unwelcome attention from police or other state agencies.