How affordable is it to join a professional body for someone just starting out in their career?

Short answer: a huge variation, with my own professional body, the CIPR, being far and away the most expensive in the month-one, up-front payment required of a newly-joining full member, when  compared to ten others I randomly selected for this study.

up front month one payments required to join eleven UK professional bodies

Just to be clear what I am comparing here: not the annual fee for full membership (which varies a good amount, and on which the CIPR is far from the highest), but how much is actually required in the very first payment to join.  Some are higher because (like the CIPR) they include a one-off joining fee in the order of £55.  Most are lower,  because they allow you to spread the year’s membership fee (including for new members in their first year) over 4 quarters, or 10-12 months in direct debits or standing orders.  Although the CIPR does offer a monthly direct debit option, it does not offer that to new members joining in their first year, and instead requires them to pay the full year’s fee plus one off joining/admin fee all in the first payment.

It costs a new member of CIPR £270 to join, all required up front – made up of £215 membership fee, plus £55 one-off joining fee.  Actually, the basic cost is £290, made up of £235 membership fee plus the £55, but a £20 discount is offered if the new member signs up by annual direct-debit on day one.  I’ve shown £270 in the graph, to give the benefit of the doubt.  Occasionally there is a special offer code to waive the £55 joining fee, but I can’t find one at present, so have quoted the full price as advertised on the CIPR website membership page.

There are hundreds of different professional membership bodies in the UK, and they each operate in their own ways, albeit with many common characteristics, and fewer substantial differences.  Those like my own – the Chartered Institute of Public Relations – enjoy a Royal Charter, awarded by the Privy Council – that have further layers of formality and legality built-in.

One thing that nearly all seem to have in common (unsurprisingly!) is that they like to catch people early in their careers – most having student-level grades.  They then like their members to progress through various grades throughout their career, with full-membership grades and often a fellow-level grade for the most advanced practitioners.  Many also have retired-practitioner memberships (with fewer benefits, but much lower fees).

Some of these bodies have (by definition) 100% membership of those eligible, where membership is a recognised requirement to be able to practice in that profession – like solicitors practicing in England needing to be members of the Law Society.  Others, like my own, have only a share of those working in the field, as professional membership is neither required by law nor by commonly accepted industry practice.

It’s even more important therefore that professional bodies who have to work hard to get practitioners to join get their members in early, and quickly show them the value of membership so that they consciously choose to stay.  I think that compared to the ONS census of how many people work in PR, CIPR has maybe one member out of five working in the field.

One factor – amongst many others – in persuading someone to join as a full member at the start of their career, once they’ve landed their entry-level job, is surely to make it affordable.  If you earn £20-25k as a first jobber, you might have how much left after tax and deductions: £1,000-1,500 a month to pay your rent, travel, food etc.?  £270 is an awful lot to find out of that in a single month.

In a spare weekend hour, I looked at the websites of 10 UK professional bodies to compare the up-front affordability of joining with that of my own, the CIPR.  I chose nine other Chartered Institutes, and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) as it operates in the same field as the CIPR, and to some degree is therefore a direct competitor where the others generally are not.

My research was only drawing from what was written on the websites; I did not follow this up with phonecalls to membership departments to double-check.  So although I accept that my findings may contain error, please accept that these are innocent errors, and are errors based by me taking the copy on their various websites at face value (including availability of spreading payments by direct debit or standing order).

In the recent CIPR Presidential election, the issue of membership fees became a bit of an issue.  The winning candidate, Mandy Pearse, argued for the one-off joining fee (currently £55) to be removed.  There’s currently a Strategy Review underway within CIPR looking at 2020-2024, so I for one am hopeful that we might see this situation changed fairly soon.  At the very least, I would hope for a change in policy so that the monthly direct debit option can be extended to new members in their first year, thus slashing the up-front payment required of someone joining afresh.

I think it’s fair to expect a professional person in our industry to make sacrifices and pay for the membership of a professional body, on the principle that people need to give in, not just take out.  CIPR membership – active CIPR membership – has helped my career, and contributed substantially I am sure to me earning a really good living.

But why my professional body would make it so expensive up front for new members to join at the start of their career makes no sense to me.

Fingers crossed this will soon be changed.  If and when that happens, let me be the first to welcome it and applaud those responsible.

Oh – and to anyone who wants to have a pop at me because a post like this might embarrass our Institute, then I say that any such embarrassment has been earned by the fee charging policy in question, and the lived experience of our membership, and not by me shining a light on it, when all the facts are in the public domain anyway.  And anyone who thinks it somehow ungenteel of me to want to discuss these things with our wider membership – in public, being the only way I can do that – rather than in the closed circles of CIPR Council (of which I am an elected member) or CIPR Board (of which I am not), then I say that I’d rather be ungenteel in generating a front-line member debate and reaction than just trust to the closed circles who would have had the power to introduce this policy in the first place, and the power to remove it at any time since.  #changeCIPR

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