It is a cliché that the voluntary sector’s strength lies in its diversity, but it is also true. The voluntary sector hosts a staggering array of organisations. These organisations vary in size, location, aims, motivation and activity, but they all share common characteristics that allow them to be grouped into a single “sector”.

Included in our definition are those registered charities that meet the following criteria: formality, independence, non-profit distributing, self governance, voluntarism and public benefit. In this Almanac we look only at the “voluntary sector”, and not the wider “civil society” definition that we have previously used. Civil society remains an important concept though, and we will return to it in future years.

Registered charities and general charities

Applying this definition is a difficult task given the blurred boundaries of the sector. Our definition starts with registered charities – specifically those registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW), the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)[1]. Data for Northern Ireland comes from NICVA‘s research. We expect to work with NICVA to produce figures using the newly-formed Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) register when it is more complete.

We then exclude a number of registered charities from the full list of registered organisations to produce the “general charities” definition. This excludes charities that are independent schools, housing associations, government bodies, mutuals, faith groups and some others. More details on the definition.

Applying this definition means that the figures we report are different to the numbers reported by the Charity Commission. In 2012/13 there were 163,400 charities registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales. A further 25,900 subsidiary charities do not need to be included as their financial details are consolidated into their parent organisations. After excluding 25,500, we are left with 137,900 in England and Wales that meet our general charities definition.

We then include a further 18,200 organisations from Scotland and 3,900 from Northern Ireland to produce a total of 160,045 general charities in the UK.

voluntary organisations in the UK in 2012/13

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Large organisations account for the majority of economic activity

Voluntary organisations vary by size, from very large household name charities to small organisations. Throughout the rest of the publication we explore the economic landscape by looking at the size of organisations.

Larger organisations are small in number, but are large in terms of economic activity; between them the largest 5,000 organisations (those with income greater than £1 million, account for 78% of the sector’s total income. The 577 charities with income greater than £10 million account for nearly half of the sector’s income and spending.

Proportion of number, income, spending and assets of organisations, by size, 2012/13 (%)

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The Lloyd’s Register Foundation is the largest general charity

Largest general charities in England and Wales by spending, 2013/14
Charity NumberNameIncome (£m)Spending (£m)
1145988Lloyd's Register Foundation*951.4905.3
210183Wellcome Trust281.5872.3
1076822Save the Children International559.1555.7
1089464Cancer Research UK665.4540.3
205846The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty460.3467.9
225971British Heart Foundation275.1312.8
213890The Save the Children Fund342.6308.9
220949The British Red Cross Society228.4231.7
265543Marie Stopes International211.9203.3
207544Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind199.7200.4
222377Royal Mencap Society201.2192.5
261017Macmillan Cancer Support189.7181.1
1104951St Andrew's Healthcare189.4168.9
1097940Action for Children179.7168.5
214779The Salvation Army196.1167.0
207994Marie Curie Cancer Care154.8164.9
1128267Age UK166.6159.7
1146792Canal & River Trust164.6156.7
700520Sheffield City Trust163.0155.9
218186Leonard Cheshire Disability154.6153.5
209603The Royal National Lifeboat Institution191.0152.9
207076Royal Society for the Protection of Birds127.0126.8
326568Charity Projects114.2126.4
216401The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children125.9124.5
219279The Royal British Legion124.6122.5
226227The Royal National Institute of Blind People118.6120.6
219099Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals121.2117.4
1021457Genome Research Limited113.9115.4
1079327Crime Reduction Initiatives116.8115.1
211775Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation114.0114.3
215174The Salvation Army Social Work Trust104.6108.0
287785The Shaw Trust Limited107.9106.2
224223The Royal National Theatre124.1103.4
519996Community Integrated Care99.7100.5
1105851Christian Aid103.6100.4
1091043The Children's Investment Fund Foundation (Uk)99.998.1
1077265The Priory of England and the Islands of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem91.497.1
1048355The Orders of St John Care Trust99.697.0
269425The National Autistic Society98.394.1
1052076Sue Ryder90.389.9
208217The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals87.287.6
328158Islamic Relief Worldwide82.887.3
209617The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association74.985.3
289868Sense, the National Deafblind and Rubella Association81.882.6
229476International Planned Parenthood Federation82.580.5
1015988Royal Voluntary Service71.079.9
1072612The United Kingdom Committee for Unicef79.178.3
1065972International Rescue Committee, U.K83.676.9
265249United Response77.076.8
296645Alzheimer's Society84.474.7
257516The Grace Trust78.573.0
227523Dogs Trust76.671.2
313069Hf Trust Limited98.870.9
285908World Vision UK66.770.4
279057The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux77.269.8
313757Voluntary Service Overseas68.768.2
1014851Hospice UK66.567.0
1107737Fusion Lifestyle68.566.5
1079675The Prince's Trust60.663.5
327816The Extracare Charitable Trust68.963.3
1135111Medical Emergency Relief International62.362.6
222879The Royal Horticultural Society71.962.6
263710Shelter, National Campaign for Homeless People Limited57.559.8
212481The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon61.759.0
1081247Wwf - UK60.058.6
210760The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association - Forces Help58.257.2
1124127Catch 22 Charity Limited54.955.4
276035Plan International UK52.955.3
1099776Malaria Consortium54.555.1
1144106The Energy Saving Trust Foundation55.054.3
288371The Leverhulme Trust73.954.2
1008587Alternative Futures Group Limited56.353.8
285776Catholic Agency for Overseas Development51.351.5
1085314Tate Foundation36.351.2
802052Bbc Children in Need47.550.7
230260Garfield Weston Foundation44.250.1
298028Victim Support50.250.0
326550Sustrans Limited49.649.2
271028National Schizophrenia Fellowship48.548.5
1093861International Medical Corps (Uk)50.648.4
221124Church of England Children's Society49.647.2
802559Jewish Care54.047.2
1016972The Royal Collection Trust55.046.7
1090163Thera Trust46.946.6
801571The Brandon Trust47.546.3
208728The Zoological Society of London52.145.7
251988The Gatsby Charitable Foundation15.445.7
250840Macintyre Care45.945.4
1092193Bre Trust45.245.1
702632Autism Initiatives (Uk)45.144.8
803716Anthony Nolan44.744.6
800797The Disabilities Trust46.543.9

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Source: Charity Commission, NCVO
Note: Figures are for the 2013/14 financial year. Some organisations may have published more recent accounts.
* Lloyd's Register Foundation are included here with their full published amount, which include consolidated activities of their trading subsidiaries. For the purposes of the Almanac analysis these amounts are excluded from the economic totals.

Charity registration over time

Trends in charity registration show a gradual growth in the numbers of registered charities until around 2008 and then a plateau since then.

Number of registered charities and Community Interest Companies, 1960 to 2015 (thousands)

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Charitable Incorporated Organisations

Newly registered charities (England and Wales) by company form, 2013-2015

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Focus on types of organisations


We are indebted to our sister organisation SCVO for their data and research into charities in Scotland, and for their help in navigating the data.
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UK Civil Society Almanac 2015 / The Voluntary Sector /The Big Picture

Published: 02-06-2015