International Membership Markets are Multifaceted

By Paul Gordon – Experienced freelance international membership consultant and contractor

International membership markets are multifaceted…(just like the members of the Breakfast Club!)

It is quite common to see a membership body organise itself and its activities, including its staff, members, and volunteers, into two distinct categories:

A) those related to the home country

B) those related to everywhere else

I have worked for several leading membership organisations who all operated in this way.

The “everywhere else” often comes second in the thinking or is at worst an afterthought. The problem here is that the everywhere else can be a nuanced, multi-layered space which is not at all suited to being lumped together in one basket.

The distinction between home country and international is usually based on convenience, an over-simplification which fails to do justice to the fact that the world is a big and complicated place.

I was reminded of a well-known line from a favourite film I re-watched recently - the Breakfast Club

“you describe us in the simplest terms and the most convenient definition”.

International membership markets are, just like the members of the Breakfast Club, all different – a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal (bear with me here if you haven’t seen the film…)

When it comes to international, one size certainly does not fit all

The distinction between home country and international usually reflects a traditional, at times misguided, belief that they can offer a different level of service, and range of benefits to members, in the home country, above those who are based elsewhere.

But it also reflects an inherent belief that they are, in the case of those headquartered in the UK, a UK organisation with international members, as opposed to a truly international organisation. To lump all things ‘international’ into one basket betrays a local mindset.

The rapid expansion of remote working during the pandemic and the shift towards working in global teams has meant that the question of where a member is based has become less relevant. Virtual events have created a more level playing field by increasing the benefits which can be offered to members in remote locations.

Most industries are also international to one degree or another and operate outside of national silos. Most membership bodies tend to derive their relevance from industry. So, it can be counter-productive for them not to think internationally.

The pandemic has caused many organisations to adapt their business models and become more agile. Maintaining this distinction between home country and international may be holding them back.

It may be a bold move to treat all members in the same way, wherever their location. In an ideal world, a commitment to international should be ingrained and should run through the organisation, from top to bottom.

Certain international markets have things in common, and there are common regional characteristics. But there is also much nuance to set them apart. Political, social, economic and cultural factors must be considered. The regulatory environments and market conditions for membership bodies to operate will differ enormously.

Instead of A) home country and B) international, a better distinction might well be A) established markets and B) developing markets.

There is no such thing as a standard international market

The key message here is to accept that there is no such thing as a standard international market. What works, or doesn’t work, in one will not apply to all. There were 195 countries at the last count. Respect their individuality and don’t lump them all into the same basket!

Just like the characters from the Breakfast Club, each of them can be a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.

Paul Gordon is an experienced freelance international membership consultant and contractor, available for all types of membership projects. He can be reached at