The membership of COGR consists of qualifying research universities, affiliated medical centers, and independent research institutes. Currently, each member must have federally sponsored research expenditures of at least $15 million annually as reported by the National Science Foundation. Affiliated organizations, including hospitals that meet these criteria and are engaged in a substantial way in graduate education and research, may be considered for membership with the endorsement of their COGR member institution. The Board must approve all applications for membership. The costs of the Council's activities are paid by its members through annual dues. COGR does not include professional associations in its membership nor does it permit underwriting of its activities by commercial organizations. This policy serves to maintain the independence required for the advocacy positions COGR offers on behalf of its membership.
Each university participating in support of the Council's programs is linked to the Council's operations by a Primary Representative on its campus. These Primary Representatives serve as the focal points for consultation regarding positions the Council may take on advocacy issues. The Primary Representative will also designate a number of professionals at his/her university who serve as liaison. This serves the purpose of maintaining effective and mutually beneficial interaction between COGR and the academic community on specialized subject issues. However, it is subject to the discretion of the Primary Representative to decide the extent to which individual experts become involved in COGR activities. It is also the prerogative of the Primary Representative to determine whether an individual should be nominated to serve on the COGR Board of Directors. A single nomination is allowed from each institution. Nominations must be endorsed by the Primary Representative to assure that the requisite time and support commitments can be met by the institution.