– By Richard Gott
– Membership Sector Influencer & Thought Leader


The MemberWise Network represents over 5,000 professionals employed by leading membership organisations and associations in the UK, European Union (EU) and beyond. In this article I provide an overview of the estimated scale, reach and value of our sector. We also start to build the first ever list of up to 100 of the largest UK membership organisations and associations.

Organisations represent a wide range of trades and professions, special interests and hobbies, governmental/regulation, political parties, charitable membership organisations, trade unions, commercial and consumer focused bodies, coalitions/federations, activist groups and cooperative groups.

Key questions I regularly get asked:

– How big is the UK/EU Membership and Association Sector?
– How many people or organisations belong to it or in it?
– Which membership organisations are the biggest?
– What is the real value of these organisations to society and the economy?
– How many membership organisations does the average person belong to?
– Can a financial figure be attributed to the work/outputs the membership sector?

In response I am writing this article as a ‘starter for ten’ to see if we can truly quantify our sector. My expectation is the content will evolve and I welcome your input!

How many membership organisations and associations are there in the UK?

I estimate there are over 8,000 membership organisations and associations based in the United Kingdom (with memberships of over 1,000 individuals/organisations). The figure for smaller organisations (including local sports clubs and societies) is likely to be far higher at approximately 50,000 individuals.

Over 80% of membership organisations based in the UK are located in Central or Greater London and it is assumed that many (particularly those representing professions/trades and/or responsible for lobbying activity) are based there due to a traditional requirement to be close to central government.

The UK has an estimated population of 66.5 million citizens and it is estimated that at least 53.2m belong to some kind of membership organisation/association either:

– Retail (e.g. loyalty card)
– National (e.g. The National Trust
– Local (e.g. local church/library)

My calculations indicate that some 14 million British citizens belong to over 450 professional membership organisations (of which 145 are Chartered Bodies) and there are 160 trade unions representing an estimated 8 million individuals (5.6 million are members of unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress).

How many membership organisations and associations are there in the European Union?

I estimate there to be over 50,000 membership organisations and associations based in the European Union. Over 1,500 are based in Brussels alone. The figure for smaller organisations is likely to be far higher at approximately 250,000.

How many membership organisations do people belong to these days?

Back in 1996 the average Briton belong to six membership organisations and according to a YouGov poll in 2006 this number increased to an average of 17. The poll also indicated that the fastest expanding membership organisations are online communities (with growth from 2.8 million to 72 million in just one year) and that the average adult belonged to 8.

The YouGov poll also indicated that the average adult belonged to two community organisations (e.g. local public library and a faith group) and three retail organisations (e.g. Nectar, Tesco Clubcard, the AA and Boots Advantage Card). The biggest of these entities being the AA and the Boots Advantage Card scheme which have memberships of approximately 14.6 million members.

Who are the biggest membership organisations in the UK?

This is the big questions everyone asks the network, so we have co-curated the following list of 50 membership organisations and associations to highlight the largest based in the UK. Please see below.

Have all of these organisations seen growth during the past decade?

Based on the diversity of the organisations that feature on our list most have seen increases, however some have seen decline.

On average our list shows a 10% increase (averaging 1.25% growth per annum), however there are some that have seen significant decline.

For example in 1979 UK trade union membership topped 13.2 million members, however this number has declined to 6.23 million members over the past 4 decades. The knock-on effect of this drop has seen membership of the Trade Unions Congress (3rd largest membership organisation on our list) decline by over 50% (from 12.2 million members to 5.7 million members).

Membership of the main political parties (most featuring in our list) have seen a 25% decline since 1964.

Our list was generated by network members and was correct in January 2019. It is expected this list will be updated and the list does not yet feature commercial subscription organisations, cooperatives and/or social media hosted groups (e.g. Facebook/LinkedIn).

Criteria for entry on to the list:

– A headquarters based in the United Kingdom
– Membership is optional and charged for directly via an annual membership fee

Call to action: Can you see a membership organisation or association that is missing? Contact [email protected] to submit an update suggestion as this is an evolving list:

RankMembership OrganisationMembers (2019)
1National Union of Students (NUS)7 Million (700 Student Unions)
2The National Trust5.75 Million
3Trades Union Congress (TUC)5.6 Million (50 Affiliated Unions)
4Unison1.37 Million
5English Heritage1.34 Million
6Unite1.31 Million
7Rotary International Britain & Ireland1.2 Million
8Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)1.1 Million
9Caravan and Motorhome Club1 Million
10England Golf740,000
12The Camping and Caravanning Club600,000
13The Wildlife Trusts572,000 (46 Trusts)
 Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF)572,000
15The Labour Party540,000
16Girlguiding UK538,247
17The Woodland Trust500,000
18The Scout Association492,000
19National Education Union462,000
20Royal College of Nursing (RCN)435,000
21Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW)430,000
22University of the Third Age424,000
23Supporters Direct (via 163 clubs)419,000
24Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)400,000
25British Gymnastics320,000
26The National Trust for Scotland310,000
27National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers286,000
28United Grand Lodge of England250,000
29Boundless (CSMA)230,000
 Royal British Legion (RBL)230,000
32Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)208,000
33The Women’s Institute (WI)208,000
34Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust200,000
 Historic Environment Scotland200,000
36Communication Workers Union (CWU)196,000
37The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)192,000
38Confederation for British Industry (CBI)188,000
39Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)185,000
40England Athletics170,000
41Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales)169,000
42Institution of Engineering and Technology (The IET)168,000
43British Medical Association (BMA)160,000
 Civil Service Sports Council (CSSC)160,000
45Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)150,000
 Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)150,000
 British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC)150,000
 British Cycling150,000
49England Hockey145,000
50The Wine Society141,000
 Prospect (Union)141,000
52Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)140,000
54The Tate Museum128,000
55Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)125,000
 Scottish Nationalist Party125,000
 The Conservative Party125,000
 Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)125,000
59The Art Fund122,000
60University and College Union (UCU)120,000
61Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)117,000
62Royal Yachting Association (RYA)110,000
63British Horse Society (BHS)106,000
64Chartered Management Institute (CMI)105,000
65England Netball103,000
66The Liberal Democrats99,000
67Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)92,000
68Chartered Insurance Institute (CII)87,000
69Countryside Alliance81,000
70British Mountaineering Council75,000
 British Psychological Society (BPS)75,000
72Royal Airforces Association74,000
 Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE)74,000
74British Computer Society (BCS)82,000
75Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS)66,000
76Cycling UK66,000
 Coeliac UK64,000
79Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP)58,000
80The National Farmers Union (NFU)55,000
81English Bridge Union54,000
 Historic Houses54,000
83Educational Institute of Scotland51,000
 Institute of Physics (IoP)51,000
85National Childbirth Trust (NCT)50,000
 Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)50,000
 The Boys’ Brigade50,000
 The Pony Club50,000
 Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)50,000
90British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)48,000
 Badminton England48,000
92Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)47,000
93British Judo46,000
94St John Ambulance45,500
95Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)45,000
96Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)44,000
 Royal Institute of British Rou (RIBA)44,000
98England Table Tennis42,000
99Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)40,000
100National Landlords Association (NLA)40,000

(c) MemberWise 2019 (Updated: 12/07/2019)

Where are these Membership Organisations and Associations located?

We thought it would be interesting to explore where these organisations are located, so in partnership with MemberWise Advocate, Dan Bailey, we generated this interesting map:

What is the role and purpose of the MemberWise Network?

As the leading free professional network for membership and association professionals we support 5,000+ professionals working in over 2,000 medium/large membership organisations and associations. 2/3rds of our members work within medium/large professional bodies (individual membership) and 1/3 represent leading trade associations (corporate membership).

The network enables membership and association professionals (at all levels and career stages) to:

– Increase new member acquisition
– Improve existing member retention
– Optimise and develop member engagement
– Enhance member value
– Facilitate greater member participation
– Enable sustainable long-term growth

This is achieved via practical tools and resources including our comprehensive website (www.memberwise.org.uk), our growing programme of conferences and seminars, our thriving online community (MemberWise Connect), the MemberWise Video Channel, MemberWise Recognised Supplier Directory, membership sector research reports & publicationsmonthly newsletter and Jobs Board.

These resources are supplemented by a range of advisory, consultancy and membership focused training services (view membership body case studies/clients).

Join our free and growing professional network today!

Quality Assurance Partners:  Sue Froggatt (Trainer and Consultant), Steve Grieve (Membership Plus) and Kerrie Fuller (Associate Director of Engagement, MemberWise Network).

(c) 2018 – MemberWise Network (all rights reserved)