– By Richard Gott
– Membership Sector Influencer & Thought Leader


The MemberWise Network represents over 6,000 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 and feature our popular list of the 100 largest UK membership bodies (The Influence 100).

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 we 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 to 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.

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 (with over 1,000 members) 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 14.4 million members.

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.

Who are the biggest membership organisations in the UK?

This is the big question everyone asks the MemberWise Network, so in response we have developed a list of the largest UK membership bodies (The Influence 100) below. Our list features the names of these organisations and the number of members (correct as per the latest list update – outlined beneath the table below).

Our current criteria for entry on to the list is that membership bodies should have a UK Headquarters and membership is optional in return for a membership fee.

– 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.

The Largest 100 UK Membership Bodies (Influence 100) List

Rank Membership Organisation Members (2019)
1 National Union of Students (NUS) / 700 Student Unions 7 Million
2 The National Trust 5.75 Million
3 Trades Union Congress (TUC) / 50 Affiliated Unions 5.6 Million
4 Unison 1.37 Million
5 English Heritage 1.34 Million
6 Unite 1.31 Million
7 Rotary International Britain & Ireland 1.2 Million
8 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) 1.1 Million
9 Caravan and Motorhome Club 1 Million
10 England Golf 740,000
11 The Camping and Caravanning Club 720,000
12 GMB 631,000
13 The Wildlife Trusts (46 in total) 572,000
Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) 572,000
15 The Labour Party 540,000
16 Girlguiding UK 538,247
17 The Scout Association 492,000
18 National Education Union 462,000
19 Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 435,000
20 Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) 430,000
21 University of the Third Age 424,000
22 Supporters Direct (via 163 clubs) 419,000
23 Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) 400,000
24 British Gymnastics 320,000
25 Oddfellows 310,000
26 The National Trust for Scotland 310,000
27 National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers 286,000
28 United Grand Lodge of England 250,000
29 Royal British Legion (RBL) 237,000
30 Boundless (CSMA) 230,000
31 Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) 208,000
32 The Women’s Institute (WI) 208,000
33 Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust 200,000
Historic Environment Scotland 200,000
35 Communication Workers Union (CWU) 196,000
36 The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)s 192,000
37 Confederation for British Industry (CBI) 188,000
38 Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) 185,000
39 The Law Society of England and Wales (TLS) 180,000
40 The Woodland Trust (moved from 500k as not all paying members) 179,000
41 England Athletics 170,000
42 Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) 169,000
43 Institution of Engineering and Technology (The IET) 168,000
44 British Medical Association (BMA) 160,000
Civil Service Sports Council (CSSC) 160,000
46 Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) 151,000
47 Chartered 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 Cycling 150,000
48 England Hockey 145,000
49 The Wine Society 141,000
Prospect (Union) 141,000
51 Greenpeace 130,000
55 Chartered Management Institute (CMI) 130,000
56 Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) 129,000
57 The Tate Museum 128,000
58 Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) 125,000
Scottish Nationalist Party 125,000
The Conservative Party 125,000
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) 125,000
62 The Art Fund 122,000
63 University and College Union (UCU) 120,000
64 Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) 117,000
65 The Ramblers 114,000
66 Kew Gardens and Wakehurst 111,000
67 Royal Yachting Association (RYA) 110,000
68 British Horse Society (BHS) 106,000
69 England Netball 103,000
70 The Liberal Democrats 120,000
71 Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) 92,000
72 Countryside Alliance 81,0