Illustration of writing an article on a laptop

ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Charities are not the only nonprofits on the block

I recently completed the MNpS program at ASU and have a successful career in association management. Throughout the program, the overwhelming focus was on charities. Yes, 501(c)(3) organizations make up the majority of the nonprofit sector, but there are 29 types of 501(c) organizations. As the Executive Director of the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association, I seemed to be the only inhabitant on the 501(c)(6) island. I found this surprising since nearly every career path in the world has a trade association or individual membership association dedicated the to uniting that industry, distributed among 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s.

What many people consider nonprofit organizations are 501(c)(3)s and include charitable, religious, scientific or literary organizations. Contributions to these groups are tax deductible, which is not the case in other nonprofit organizations. Some associations fall into this category, but are limited on the amount of lobbying they can do on behalf of their members. 501(c)(4)s are sometimes referred to social welfare leagues and have more freedom in political activities. 501(c)(6)s include business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and professional football leagues. Many trade associations fall into this category.

My point is that associations are a critical piece of the nonprofit sector. Best selling author, Jim Collins referred to associations as “the hidden glue of our society and economy.” Associations not only develop platforms for collaboration and education focused on continuous improvement, they generate strength in numbers on the political front. Without a unified voice, it is difficult for an industry to truly make a difference on a grand scale. For these reasons, I find the association world extremely compelling and fulfilling. Associations are unique opportunities to move an entire industry forward through continued education, trade shows, certification and other professional development opportunities.

The 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations worldwide who are part of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) tell me that I am not alone in this passion. When I discussed trade associations and the 501(c)(6) category in the MNPS program, I was usually met with unsure facial expressions or confusion about the IRS categorization. Before long, I realized there is a wide array of resources offered through the American Society of Association Executives for furthering education and training in associate management. ASAE University offers training and certificate programs both in person and online. Once established in the field, the Certified Association Executive program is an option for refining your knowledge and adding prestige to your resume.

When you expose the level of importance associations hold in society, I have to question the resource deficiency in the Master of Nonprofit Studies program. As “the MBA of the nonprofit world,” this program should emphasize this segment of the sector rather than simply focusing on charities. The truth is one out of every three Americans belongs to an association or nonprofit organization, according to ASAE. It is time for the MNPS program to lead the way in association education.

Sonja Moseley has a Master of Nonprofit Studies with an emphasis in member recruitment and retention from Arizona State University, in addition to a B.S. in Education from the University of Minnesota. She also plans to become a Certified Association Executive through the American Society of Association Executives. Prior to joining the MRAA team, Sonja was Executive Director of the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association where she helped turn the association around through increased membership, increased conference participation, debt alleviation, improved marketing/communications, increased advocacy efforts and restructured operations. In addition to her career in associations, Sonja held management positions in multiple nonprofit organizations, mostly focusing on education, environmental issues and parks/recreation. 


ASU Lodestar Center Blog