dedicated to developing a specialized body of kn
owledge enabling MBOs to deliver more meaningful and transformative experiences to their members.

Associations & Social Change

Who decided how library books should be catalogued?

Who determined the viscosity of oil for your car engine?

Who was the first champion of water fluoridation?

Who designed and put up the first road signs?

Who recommended that putting babies on their backs
when they sleep as a way to mitigate the risk of
sudden infant death syndrome?

Membership-based organizations (MBOs)
- associations -
 have taken the lead in each of these social changes.


Most of us do not recognize the world of membership-based organizations that operate openly in our society, yet recognize their presence everyone once made aware. These organizations mold and shape our society. They set stan-dards for their members' products and services; their members carry out innovative research that benefits all of us; and they are ever vigilant of charlatans and frauds who would jeopardize our well-being.

And yet, most of us are likely members of one or more of these organizations. We join them to represent and protect our interests in the political and social arenas. We engage in them to achieve our personal and professional goals.

Membership-based organizations are pervasive in our lives and widespread in our society. We may praise those that champion our cherished causes or condemn those that don't as "special interests."

Others of us may not be members, but know well the policies and politics of those that have worked hard to maintain a visible presence in our world. One thing is certain. The number that we know pales in comparison to the tens of thousands that we don't.

While the "third sector" contains a large number of nonprofit organizations, the Melos Institute's focus is on those organizations that we identify as membership-based. These organizations may call themselves "associations," "societies," "councils," and "federations."

Membership-based organization (MBO) is a term that separates these mutual benefit organizations from other nonprofit nonprofits and for-profit entities. Its definition (below) was developed over a number of years after consulting with a wide-range of these organizations and examining nearly 300 published histories of associations.

MBOs represent a population of eligible individuals and/or organizations that  voluntarily join together to promote/protect their mutual interests; advance
their body of knowledge through a high-degree of member engagement.

Built on a network of relationships, members recognize themselves as citizens within a community; existing to support their individual/collective fulfillment. Their efforts influence the kind of social changes that have improved/advanced the quality of life for their members, those in the domain, and the larger society.        

MBOs contribute as:
        - developers of human potential
        - harbingers of data, information/knowledge
        - providers of lifelong learning opportunities
        - incubators for innovation
        - advocates for collective action
        - pioneers in generating shared leadership models

"It has been for some time under advisement to form...
a Society of Engineers embracing also the kindred professions,
with a view to mutual improvement and the public good."
American Society of Mechanical Engineers


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