There has been a recent revival of the thorny subject of what to charge UKIPers by way of membership fees. A report is currently being prepared on this for presentation to the NEC, so, in this article, rather than offer a solution, I tend to hopefully provide a framework and context to aide meaningful discussion.
The most important point is that membership involves a “consideration”, and forms a contract: we provide services, and the member has obligations. This does, of course mean that it is possible to be an extremely generous donor, whilst not becoming a member as a result of the donation. And some people choose this route. There have also, in the past been parties with no membership dues whatsoever – the most famous recent example was the Referendum Party, which contented itself with “supporters” – but then Sir James Goldsmith, their founder, was very rich, (Private Eye didn’t call him the “Marmite Millionaire” for nothing) and could afford to bankroll the whole operation as his personal passion.
Once you decide to have members forming a paid contract with the party – useful when you need to invoke discipline, for example – then the thorny questions of how much, and what for arise.
The following rate structure is currently in place:
- Branches recruiting a member:
- Charge what they like for the first year, and keep it, switching to:
- Armed Forces: £1/ year
- Under 22: £2/ year
- Normal: £30/ year
- 5-years £125
- Discount £15+ per year
- YI Patron: £25/ month
- Patron: £1000 +/year
(For comparison, Tory dues – https://www.conservatives.com/join – range from £1 to £25).
The dues thus raised need to fund various items, including:
- Magazine issues.
- People at Lexdrum to answer the phone and process paperwork.
- Annual NEC elections.
- Ranking elections, e.g. Welsh Assembly lists.
- Mailshots by post.
- Periodic leadership elections – Diane’s leadership election could well have cost in the region of £25-30K when hustings etc. are taken into account.
Bear in mind that we can’t rely on big donors – many of whom hypothecate, i.e. pay for their pet interests, rather than making a general donation (think one of long term donors and their wish for billboards) – where the money for that never passed through UKIP coffers, and that for the last three years we have had the European Elections, General Election and Referendum to keep interest, members’ fees & donations high. Some people won’t donate, but will loan, and some will loan with the expectation of converting to a donation long-term (assuming they don’t suddenly drop dead, get divorced, or whatever!). This is a real headache for the NEC on a regular basis. Going forward, therefore, it is likely to be lean pickings until 2020, in the worst-case scenario.
Clearly, moving elections online and reducing headcount at Lexdrum can help – but that only goes so far. And what about Independence News, when we produce it – shouldn’t the default option be an electronic copy, with people paying a surcharge to cover printing and postage if they want a physical copy? Many members would disagree, as they leave their leftover copies lying around as recruiting tools.
Some people have pointed to the success of Labour over the last year – but they have a reliable funding source from the unions, and how many people joined just to make mischief and keep the “Lamentations of Jeremiah” going? Are they all serious Labour supporters?
Another model is Beppe Grillo and chums in Italy. Nigel is a fan. The Five Star Movement is very successful, but operate almost entirely online – UKIPDaily readers, and former UKIP Forum members night be happy with that, but would the bulk of the party be happy doing away with branches etc.? I don’t think so…
Anyway, the real problem, which no one ever discusses at length, is not so much recruiting new members, but retaining them. This is known in the business as churn. If a branch can pull people in for £5, and they are happy with that for their coffers, then great, but what happens when members are asked to pay the full rate a year later?
And what about “obvious” wastage? Should a Leader who effectively resigns by signing her acceptance forms “Vi Coactus” (at gunpoint) be presented with the bill for the rerun?
It is easy to say “Charge £2 and the membership rate will rise”, but will these members be more committed and hardworking than say, £30ers? What happens to the £30ers the year after? Will they resign and re-join at the £2 rate, or stump up anyway with a sense of resentment that creates second-class citizens? Our constitution says we are non-discriminatory, including “class and social status”. Should that not mean the same membership rate for all, with those who can, helping out more by donations?
So before we talk about setting membership dues, we need to be clear about what we are expecting to pay for in lean donor periods, how much we are prepared to accept as online resources, remembering not everyone likes computers, and what we realistically expect the party to provide. Remember the People’s Army can’t march on empty stomachs. Once we have a clear and settled understanding of that, we can then review what it should cost.