The IETF is organized into a large number of working groups and informal discussion groups (BoFs, or Birds of a Feather), each dealing with a specific topic and operates in a bottom-up task creation mode, largely driven by these working groups. Each working group has an appointed chairperson (or sometimes several co-chairs), along with a charter that describes its focus, and what and when it is expected to produce. It is open to all who want to participate, and holds discussions on an open mailing list or at IETF meetings, where the entry fee in July 2014 was USD $650 per person.
Rough consensus is the primary basis for decision making. There are no formal voting procedures. Because the majority of the IETF's work is done via mailing lists, meeting attendance is not required for contributors. Each working group is intended to complete work on its topic and then disband. In some cases, the WG will instead have its charter updated to take on new tasks as appropriate.
The working groups are organized into areas by subject matter. Current areas are Applications, General, Internet, Operations and Management, Real-time Applications and Infrastructure, Routing, Security, and Transport. Each area is overseen by an area director (AD), with most areas having two co-ADs. The ADs are responsible for appointing working group chairs. The area directors, together with the IETF Chair, form the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), which is responsible for the overall operation of the IETF.
The IETF is overseen by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), which oversees its external relationships, and relations with the RFC Editor. The IAB is also jointly responsible for the IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC), which oversees the IETF Administrative Support Activity (IASA), which provides logistical, etc. support for the IETF. The IAB also manages the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), with which the IETF has a number of cross-group relations.
A Nominating Committee (NomCom) of ten randomly chosen volunteers who participate regularly at meetings is vested with the power to appoint, reappoint, and remove members of the IESG, IAB, IASA, and the IAOC. To date, no one has been removed by a NomCom, although several people have resigned their positions, requiring replacements.
In 1993 the IETF changed from an activity supported by the U.S. government to an independent, international activity associated with the Internet Society, an international membership-based non-profit organization. Because the IETF itself does not have members, nor is it an organization per se, the Internet Society provides the financial and legal framework for the activities of the IETF and its sister bodies (IAB, IRTF, …). IETF activities are funded by meeting fees, meeting sponsors and by the Internet Society via its organizational membership and the proceeds of the Public Interest Registry.
In December 2005 the IETF Trust was established to manage the copyrighted materials produced by the IETF.