– 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.The Camping and Caravan Club600,000
11.The Wildlife Trusts572,000 (46 Trusts)
12.Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF)572,000
13.The Labour Party552,000
14.Girlguiding UK538,247
15.The Woodland Trust500,000
16.The Scout Association492,000
17.Royal College of Nursing (RCN)435,000
18.University of the Third Age424,000
19.Supporters Direct (via 163 clubs)419,000
20.Royal Horticultural Society400,000
21.British Gymnastics320,000
22.The National Trust for Scotland310,000
23.United Grand Lodge of England250,000
25.Boundless (CSMA)230,000
26.Royal British Legion230,000
27.Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)208,000
28.The Women’s Institute (WI)208,000
29.United Lodge of Great Britain200,000
30.Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust200,000
31.Historic Scotland200,000
32.The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)192,000
33.Confederation for British Industry (CBI)188,000
34.Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)185,000
35.Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales)169,000
36.Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)168,000
37.British Medical Association (BMA)160,000
38.Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)150,000
39.Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)150,000
40.British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC)150,000
41.Association of Accounting Technicians140,000
43.The Conservative Party130,000
44.The Tate Museum128,000
45.Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors125,000
46.The Art Fund122,000
47.Scottish Nationalist Party118,000
48.Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)117,000
49.Royal Yachting Association110,000
50.Chartered Management Institute (CMI)105,000
51.The Ramblers104,000
52.British Horse Society104,000
53.Liberal Democrats101,000
54.Institution of Civil Engineers92,000
55.Chartered Insurance Institute87,000
56.British Mountaineering Council85,000
57.British Computer Society (BCS)82,000
58.Countryside Alliance81,000
59.British Psychological Society75,000
60.Royal Airforce Association74,000
61.Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE)74,000
62.Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS)66,000
63.Cycling UK65,000
64.Coeliac UK64,000
65.Chartered Society of Physiotherapy58,000
66.English Bridge Union54,000
67.Institute of Physics51,000
68.The Pony Club50,000
69.Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)50,000
70.Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)50,000
71.British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)48,000
72.Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)47,000
73.St Johns Ambulance45,500
74.Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)44,000
75.Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)44,000
76.Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)40,000
77.National Landlords Association (NLA)40,000
78.Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment40,000
79.British Canoeing36,000
80.Royal College of Occupational Therapists34,000
81.Chartered Banker Institute33,000
82.Institute of Directors (IoD)32,000
83.Institute and Faculty of Actuaries31,000
84.Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE)31,000
85.Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)30,000
86.Forestry Commission England30.000
87.Chartered Banker Institute30,000
88.Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)29,000
89.Ski Club of Great Britain29,000
90.York Museums Trust26,000
91.Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)25,000
92.UK Independence Party (UKIP)23,000
93.Association for Project Management (APM)22,000
94.Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA)22,000
95.Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology22,000
96.Energy Institute22,000
97.Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland21,000
98.Chartered Quality Institute (CQI)20,000
99.Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX)20,000
100.Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)20,000

(Updated: 15/01/2019)

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).

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

2019-01-15T20:05:11+00:00Tuesday, 15 January, 2019|Categories: Trends|0 Comments

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