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Charity membership remains steady at around a fifth of UK adults

Melanie May | 24 January 2023 | News

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Charity membership has remained relatively steady over time, with around a fifth of UK adults paying members, according to nfpResearch.

nfpResearch’s latest Membership & the Charity Sector report, written by Sarah Eberhardt and Tim Harrison-Byrne, shows that 23% say they are currently paying members, with some types of charity more popular than others. Charities that provide support, advice or outreach services for members, such as Scope and NCT come top, followed by charities that campaign for causes, such as RSPB and Amnesty International.

Of the 232 respondents who reported being a paying member of a charity in April 2022, 38% identified as being a member of a support/advice charity, 32% a member of a campaign charity, 28% a member of a cultural / heritage charity and 23% a charity that offers a special interest group, society or club.


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Men were more likely than women to be members of cultural and heritage charities and special interest groups, whilst women were more likely to be members of campaigning charities. However, the research shows that, overall, women are less likely than men to be members of all the types of organisations, except for the hobby or special interest group category.

Motivation for membership

Examining people’s motivations for being members of charities, the research found that most did it to support ‘a worthy cause’, selected by 49% of campaign charity members and 42% of cultural/ heritage charity members) and ‘to make a difference’ (selected by 47% of special interest charity members).

‘Gaining the benefits’ of being a member was also important, particularly for members of cultural/heritage charities (42%) and special interest charities (38%). Enjoying feeling part of an organisation and a sense of loyalty was most important to members of special interest charities (40%), and cultural / heritage charities (34%).

Significant proportion of income

nfpResearch also looked in detail at 25 large membership charities and their schemes, using publicly available information and data taken from charities’ websites, annual reports and financial statements. It found that the top 10 all have over 300,000 members, ranging from 309,000 for National Trust for Scotland, up to 5,460,000 for the National Trust at the top. For many, membership accounts for a significant proportion of income. The charity with the most members, the National Trust, got 53% of its annual income from membership in 2020/21, while for British Horse Society, it accounted for 81%. Overall, membership accounts for more than a third of income for half of the top 25.

nfpResearch’s report includes a number of recommendations for charities, including considering how schemes can be inclusive and accessible, and benchmarking against other organisations.

The report is available as a free download from the nfpResearch site.