I've got CiviCRM installed for a non-profit client whose membership base is small organizations (theater ensembles) and individuals. I am now considering that I may have fundamentally engineered this wrong and that if I got it right there would be better solutions to problems that arrise.

How should CiviCRM be implemented so that there is the most logical and flexible architecture when both individuals and organizations can hold memberships?

Some details about what I mean about organizations and individuals both holding memberships:

  • Organizations can hold memberships. Organizations have staff and associates. Organizations often have no email address of their own, only the address of an associate. This maybe be the achilles heel.

  • Individuals can hold personal memberships. Some of these members are affiliated with member organizations. Some stand alone.

  • There are also many non-member contacts such as donors, newsletter subscribers, potential members, event participants... you get the idea.

  • We'd like to keep track of all these folks so that we can (easily) see activity for an individual, an organization, and an aggregate of activity for an organization with its associates.

  • We'd like members to be able to manage their membership profiles, manage their associates' profiles (if they are organizations), pay for new/renewing membership.

  • We'd like members to have privileged use of the website based on the type and status of their memberships.

  • We'd like to send bulk emails based on profile information and past activity. We'd like to send renewal notices and other personalized emails.

  • We'd like to be able to pose questions like: Which organizations had more than one associate who attend an event last year?

There's so much more of course but it is predicated on getting the architecture right. Any guidance will be most appreciated. Thanks.

2 Answers 2


I think the missing piece of your puzzle is to enable CiviCRM's inherited membership functionality.

  • Create a membership type that will be inherited from your organization members.
  • Set the relationship type to Employer of.
  • Your organizations' staff will now be considered members, which allows you to send them emails, and lets them renew their employer's membership online.

You can read more about this in the user and administrator guide.

  • Thank you, that's definitely is a key piece of the puzzle! If there is only one email address, would you recommend giving the organization and its associate the same address? Not giving the organization an email address at all? How might you search for participants of an event that are employed by Org X? How would you
    – Lani
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 0:40
  • 1
    I think it depends on how you use it. If all your organizations have employees, and at least one employee has an email address, then it wouldn't be necessary to ever email the orgs directly, just email the associated members. However if you have an email for an org and you don't know what individual it belongs to, then I wouldn't sweat it. Just record it on the org, and be sure to include orgs in your mailings.
    – Coleman
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 0:49
  • Thank you @coleman, your help is tremendously appreciated. Sorry for all these questions, it just slips out of my grasp as soon as I try to take the next step! How might you view all the activity of Org X's employees? How might you identify a list of orgs that have had more than one employee attend an event in the past year? Would renewal notices go to all employees?
    – Lani
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 1:16
  • You're welcome. These questions might be good to spin off to new topics on this site.
    – Coleman
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 23:58
  • It's a plan. I've got another Civi workshop planned for tomorrow and then I'll try to rephrase some of these as discrete new topics. Thanks @coleman.
    – Lani
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 5:00

One adjustment to bullet number 2 in Coleman's response, in case someone gets stuck. I found that it had to be a relationship of Employer of instead of Employee of. That got it working for me.

  • Thank you for this correction. It would be better to add this as a comment to Coleman's answer rather than a new answer and hopefully this will prompt @Coleman to update his answer. Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 10:20
  • I edited Coleman's answer
    – petednz - fuzion
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 0:37

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