Are Membership Organizations in Post-Recession Decline?

May 1, 2014; IUPUI Newsroom

An Indiana University report has found that, at least in Indiana, membership organizations like trade unions and business associations appear to be shedding staff faster than charitable nonprofits after a period of growth pre-recession. The study covers the period from 1995 to 2011.

Between 2007 and 2011, Indiana-based membership organizations lost more than 1,000 staff members and over $15.6 million (adjusted for inflation). According to the chart on page 2 of the summary, the decline appears to have occurred in 2008 and 2009. Prior to 2007, these groups had been growing.

The rate of employee loss is high relative to many charitable nonprofits. Healthcare nonprofits, for instance, showed steady growth, from 126,000 employees in 2007 to 138,000 employees in 2011. Arts and recreation nonprofits, however, showed even a higher rate of employee loss than membership groups, although the raw numbers were smaller.

Kirsten Grønbjerg, a professor at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, observed, “While grantmaking and social advocacy organizations saw very little loss of employment during the Great Recession, employment in business and professional organization has been on a downward spiral since the previous recession in 2001.”

Interestingly, the report did not look at whether the public’s engagement with these membership organizations had actually declined. NPQ would love to hear from its readers in membership organizations about whether these findings resonate with what you have experienced. —Ruth McCambridge