What is the future of membership?

It's an important question for many voluntary and community organisation. This page pulls together some of our research and thinking on membership and what's driving change for members and membership organisation.

About The Future of Membership Project

NCVO Third Sector Foresight have been working with the RSA and a coalition of leading membership organisations (listed below) to undertake new research into what membership means and what motivates people to become members. This project was run from March 2009 - March 2010.

The Future of Membership project aimed to understand the different challenges, strengths, purposes and models of membership and to understand why people become and remain members.  The project also mapped the most important drivers for membership and membership organisations over the next decade, and developed scenarios and strategies for membership organisations in 2020.

The project was conducted through a combination of desk research, focus groups and consortium workshops.  The full research findings have been shared amongst those organisations participating in the project.  The project findings are accessible to other organisations and individuals through the content on this website and the Future Focus guide, published in March 2010 and available as a PDF here.

The project grew out of the Membership Project, which sought to examine implications of developments in social media for membership organisations, (access the discussion here) and was also informed by the NESTA-funded RSA Networks project, which explored new ways of engaging with and working together with Fellows (members).

Project Partners

Action for MENational Autistic SocietyRNLIRoyal Academy of Arts
The Scout Association Supporters DirectNational TrustWorkers' Educational Association
RamblersNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesAmnestyNational Children's Bureau

Find out more and get involved


  • Find out more about the Future of Membership Project below, and take part in the discussion on where to take it next.
  • Read the Future Focus guide to membership, analysing key challenges and opportunities for membership over the next five years and details potential strategic responses.
  • Read and comment on the blog posts summarising implications of news stories, research and other developments relevant to membership.  You can see a list of links to entries on the left of this page or see them in full detail on Katherine’s page.
  • Read, save and annotate the drivers that are particularly relevant to membership organisations (such as Changing attitudes to participation and The commodification of membership) listed at the bottom of this page (this list will be expanded over the summer of 2010).
  • Follow Third Sector Foresight or Katherine on Twitter for updates and news. Spread the word – use the hash tag #3s4FoM.
  • Take part in the discussion on the NCVO website around ‘21st century membership’. This group for all those involved in running or developing a membership or supporter scheme in the voluntary sector allows you to view and respond to what your colleagues are struggling with and their tips for success – as well as giving you access to presentations from the most recent NCVO membership conference. (Please note: you need to log in to the NCVO website to access this forum).


Brought together below are drivers that are relevant to membership organisations in general.  There are two drivers specific to membership. There are also a number of generic drivers which also are very relevant.  These have descriptions of why they are likely to affect your organisation or to your membership in their notes (available August 2010).

You may also need to consider drivers that are not on this page.  These include:

Drivers relevant to all organisations, such as:

Drivers specific to your particular organisation, such as:

  • The field you work in (eg. if you work with older people you might want to consider our section of specialist drivers on this demographic).
  • Drivers affecting the geographical area you work in (for example, The EU Agenda)
  • Drivers dependent on what services you offer (e.g. if you deliver public services, you will need to look at drivers such as Personalisation of services and Procurement practice).

If you have paying members, you will also need to think about what is driving their ability to pay

You can make notes on drivers and collect the most relevant ones by saving them to your profile.

Other relevant drivers

Feeling overwhelmed?

As you can see, there are many drivers that are shaping the future of voluntary and community organisations. The good news is that you can put most of them to one side in your own strategic planning.

Read our introduction to strategic analysis and find out how to sort and prioritise drivers. The guide takes you through the five stages of strategic analysis and there are templates to download to help you organise your thoughts.

An introduction to strategic analysis