– 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 (2018)
1.National Union of Students7 Million (700 Student Unions)
2.Trades Union Congress5.6 Million (50 Affiliated Unions)
3.The National Trust4 Million
4.Unison1.37 Million
5.English Heritage1.34 Million
6.Unite1.31 Million
7.Rotary International Britain & Ireland1.2 Million
8.Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)1.1 Million
9.Caravan and Motorhome Club1 Million
10.England Golf740,000
11.The Camping and Caravan Club600,000
12.The Wildlife Trusts572,000 (46 Trusts)
13.Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF)572,000
14.The Labour Party540,000
15.Girlguiding UK538,247
16.The Woodland Trust500,000
17.The Scout Association492,000
18.Royal College of Nursing (RCN)435,000
19.University of the Third Age424,000
20.Supporters Direct (via 163 clubs)419,000
21.Royal Horticultural Society400,000
22.British Gymnastics320,000
23.The National Trust for Scotland310,000
24.United Grand Lodge of England250,000
26.Boundless (CSMA)230,000
27.Royal British Legion230,000
28.Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)208,000
29.The Women’s Institute (WI)208,000
30.United Lodge of Great Britain200,000
31.Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust200,000
32.Historic Scotland200,000
33.The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)192,000
34.Confederation for British Industry (CBI)188,000
35.Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)185,000
36.Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales)169,000
37.Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)168,000
38.British Medical Association (BMA)160,000
39.Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)150,000
40.Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)150,000
41.British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC)150,000
42.The Wine Society141,000
43.Association of Accounting Technicians140,000
45.The Tate Museum128,000
46.Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors125,000
47.British Cycling125,000
48.Scottish Nationalist Party125,000
49.The Conservative Party125,000
50.The Art Fund122,000
51.Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)117,000
52.Royal Yachting Association110,000
53.Chartered Management Institute (CMI)105,000
54.British Horse Society104,000
55.The Ramblers104,000
56.England Netball103,000
57.The Liberal Democrats99,000
58.Institution of Civil Engineers92,000
59.Chartered Insurance Institute87,000
60.British Mountaineering Council85,000
61.British Computer Society (BCS)82,000
62.Countryside Alliance81,000
63.British Psychological Society75,000
64.Royal Airforce Association74,000
65.Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE)74,000
66.Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS)66,000
67.Cycling UK65,000
68.Coeliac UK64,000
69.Chartered Society of Physiotherapy58,000
70.The National Farmers Union55,000
71.English Bridge Union54,000
72.Institute of Physics51,000
73.British Mountaineering Council51,000
74.Royal College of General Practitioners50,000
75.The Boys’ Brigade50,000
76.The Pony Club50,000
77.Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)50,000
78.British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)48,000
79.Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)47,000
80.British Judo46,000
81.St John Ambulance45,500
82.Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)44,000
83.Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)44,000
84.England Table Tennis42,000
85.Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)40,000
86.National Landlords Association (NLA)40,000
87.Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment40,000
88.The Green Party39,000
89.British Canoeing36,000
90.Royal College of Physicians36,000
91.Royal College of Occupational Therapists34,000
92.Industrial and provident Society33,896
93.Chartered Banker Institute33,000
94.Basketball England33,000
95.Institute of Directors (IoD)32,000
96.Institute and Faculty of Actuaries31,000
97.Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE)31,000
98.Society and College of Radiographers30,818
99.Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)30,000
100.Forestry Commission England30.000


(Updated: 18/03/2019)

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).

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