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What is a Professional Association?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A professional association is also called a business organization or a standards society. It's a group of and for people who work in the same profession. All types of industries have professional associations, including retailers, fundraisers, publishers, biologists and legal assistants. Considered as a leadership authority in its particular industry, a professional association sets, maintains and enforces standards while acting as a regulatory body.

Acting as a regulatory body means that a professional association has and uses systems of assessing its members' businesses to ensure they meet licensure and other standards. Overall, standards societies look for good professional conduct. People who run their businesses professionally meet legal and governmental requirements on all levels and are in good standing with creditors. Their customer satisfaction level is high and they likely have a strong rating with a well-known consumer protection agency such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Such ratings tend to make potential customers trust a business more than they would otherwise.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Rather than focusing on protecting consumers directly, professional associations regulate businesses in a specific industry to improve standards for customers as well as suppliers and owners. They may create educational materials for the public about a certain group of professionals such as eye surgeons. Mainly though, a professional association represents its members; it distributes newsletters to them as well as research findings and changes in legislation. Professional associations hold regular meetings and conferences; these give widespread members of the same business organization the opportunity to meet professionally.

Professional associations may be national or international in scope. Being a member of a reputable professional organization in one's field is typically considered wise. It places a person in the same group as other respected professionals in his or her industry and aligns him or her with a leadership authority. Having an official membership decal displayed in a store window can help inspire trust in the business by potential customers. Being a member of a professional standards association can also be appealing to employers, as it gives the impression that the job applicant considers himself or herself a career person who is concerned about meeting industry quality levels.

It's important to note that a standards society is nonprofit, which means it uses membership fees to run itself, but doesn't create or keep profits. A professional organization advocates for business people in a certain field with the overall goal of promoting that industry. Many professional organizations certify education and training with their fields. For example, in the United States, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) controls the required education standards for Americans to become professional interior designers. In Australia, the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) develops and maintains a Code of Ethics for financial planners in the country; it has more than 12,000 members.

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