Sunday, June 28, 2009

National Secular Society has fewer than 10,000 paid up full members

Interesting article on the BBC Website about doctors re-affirming their rights to talk about faith. But it gives only 27 words to Cancer specialist Dr Bernadette Birtwhistle, who clearly knows what she is talking about, and 96 words to Terry Sanderson who clearly does not. Despite massive plugging in the Media the National Secular Society seems to be a tiny organisation, which is very reluctant to disclose its membership numbers.

In 2007 the President claimed to have "around 7,000" members, and their "Annual Report" doesn't disclose membership numbers. However looking at their financial statements filed at Companies House their income from "Subscriptions and Donations" in 2008 was £160k (up from £125k in 2007). Assuming that 80% of this is Subscriptions then these will be about £130k. We observe that the subscription rates are £29 for single adults,£17 for Concessions and £30 for two adults at the same address. Thus the average rate is about £20 per person and there are about 6,500 paying members. There are life memberships available but the income from these was £2.7k (up from £1.1k in 2007) which equates to about 6 life members joining in 2008. Thus we are talking about a paid-up membership of probably a bit under 7,000, and almost certainly not over 10,000. This BTW is a membership costing only £20 pa with no other commitments.

PS Quite nice though journalistic article about the survival value of faith here.


dmk said...

That's very interesting, I wondered why the NSS were so reluctant to publish membership figures and this is perhaps why. They punch well above their weight with media coverage, perhaps because the BBC (especially) know they'll always come up with a quote which disagrees with, say, the Church of England (membership 950,000).

starcourse said...

They didn't respond to my email of the 28th June asking about their membership - I have sent another and cc'd George Pitcher - let's see what happens.

Dan said...

There's something creepy about this focus on the smallness of the National Secular Society compared with the established church.

The NSS doesn't release membership figures because membership figures are irrelevant to its campaigning. By rejecting the anti-secularist and anti-democrat notion that minorities have no right to be heard, it helps make sure that debates take place on the issues, rather than on the size of particular orgnisations.

The NSS, unlike the Churches, is not in the business of demanding privileges on the basis of how many members it has. So why would anyone care how big it is?


starcourse said...

The NSS keeps trying to argue that the UK is a secular society. It is highly relevant to debate that their membership is less than 0.01% of the UK population and less than 1% of the electoral rolls of the CofE - which involves a much greater commitment than paying an annual subscription.

DJB said...

That's quite simplistic, as well as based on a fairly fundamental misunderstanding.

The NSS is campaigning FOR a secular state, not defending one.

The UK is quite secularized, in a sociological sense, and the NSS does often point this out. However, there is no necessarily positive link between the secularization of society and the size of secularist organisations. If anything, you might expect secularization to affect religious and secularist organizations in similar ways.


starcourse said...

Having very few members doesn't invalidate what the NSS says, but it does put it into context.

I don't see why it matters that it is campaigning for - in a democracy the number of supporters of a campaign is highlt relevant.