Karl Wilding, Head of Research, Policy and Foresight, NCVO This year’s Almanac focuses on the size and scope of the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom. The Almanac uses data from 2010/11 – the latest data available on the finances of the sector. The financial year 2010/11 saw the economy continuing to struggle after the […]

About the Almanac

First published in 1996 as the UK Voluntary Sector Statistical Almanac, the 2012 edition is the reference publication for anybody interested in the voluntary sector and its role in civil society. Widely cited by the media, government policy makers and sector leaders, the Almanac offers a definitive overview of the voluntary sector’s scope and characteristics, enhanced by analysis of long-term trends.

Subsector profiles

These profiles allow logged in members to explore the subsectors that make up the voluntary sector. Culture and recreation | Education | Parent Teacher Associations | Playgroups and nurseries | Research | Health | Social Services | Scout groups and youth clubs | Environment | Development | Village Halls | Housing | Employment and training […]

Regional profiles

These profiles allow logged in members to explore the voluntary sector in English regions. North East | North West | Yorkshire and the Humber | East Midlands | West Midlands | East of England | London | South East | South West

What do we mean by the voluntary sector?

NCVO has been tracking change in the core voluntary sector since the early 1990s, but we have focussed our analysis on change over the last decade. The timeline below aims to help readers contextualise the latest elements of this change. [timeline src=”/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/vs_timeline.json” height=”430″ start_at_end=true title=”The UK Voluntary Sector 2004-2013″] Definition of the voluntary sector This section […]

How many voluntary organisations are active in the UK?

In our definition of the voluntary sector there were over 162,000 active organisations in the UK in 2010/11. Active organisations are those that have submitted an annual return in the last 3 years. In the UK there are 2.6 voluntary organisations for every thousand people. This is equivalent to one voluntary organisation for every 389 people. This estimate does not include […]

Why are our estimates lower than the Charity Commission’s figures?

Compared to the Charity Commission’s register, which covers England and Wales, we report more organisations but less income. To produce estimates of the size of the UK voluntary sector, we apply a “general charities” definition to the register of charities and similar registers covering Scotland and Northern Ireland. Developed by the Office for National Statistics, the […]

How big is a typical voluntary organisation?

The majority of the UK’s voluntary organisations are very small: just under 84,000 (52% of the ‘population’) have an annual income of less than £10,000, and we have categorised these as micro. Many are small: a further 52,000 (32%) have an income of less than £100,000. However, these small and micro organisations account for 5.4% of the sector’s total […]

What major voluntary organisations have we excluded from our analysis?

The Charity Commission’s register of charities contains 20,598 entities with a combined income of £22.5 billion that do not fall into our general charities definition (see question 10). The majority are excluded because they are independent schools or universities, or because they are religious organisations whose primary purpose is the promotion of religion. They include many organisations that the public […]

Is the number of voluntary organisations increasing?

Since the register of charities was launched in the 1960s, the number of charities has grown steadily, with at least 2,500 organisations registered every year. In 2011, 5,020 new general charities were registered. Both registrations and removals are unrelated to economic conditions: the peaks and troughs shown are the result of administrative action by the […]

Which are the largest voluntary organisations in the UK?

The sector’s spending power largely resides with large and major voluntary organisations: over three quarters of total current expenditure (£28.2 billion) is spent by 4,725 organisations (or 3% of organisations). The Wellcome Trust, with an expenditure of £770 million, is the largest organisation in our definition of the sector. Question 12 identifies the 10 largest […]

Are there more voluntary organisations in some parts of the UK than in others?

The map highlights the number of voluntary organisations per thousand people for local authorities in England and Wales. The geographies demonstrated here are complex and uneven, and voluntary organisations form only part of the civil society picture; other types of civil society organisation may have a different distribution. On average in England and Wales there […]

What activities does the voluntary sector undertake?

Voluntary organisations conduct a wide range of activities, which are often grouped into sub-sectors or industries. The International Classification of Non-profit Organisations (ICNPO) is designed for voluntary organisations and other non-profit groups, and so is the most useful for comparisons between groups of organisations. In reality many organisations undertake multiple activities (e.g. housing and advice), but […]

Who benefits from the work of the voluntary sector?

Voluntary organisations in the UK exist to assist a wide range of beneficiary groups, covering all demographic groups within the UK population, as well as the environment, animals and people across the world. The most popular beneficiary group is children and young people (50%); organisations that benefit them include the 27,400 playgroups, nurseries, scout groups […]

How do voluntary organisations work with those they support?

Voluntary organisations support their beneficiaries in a number of ways, from direct monetary aid, to provision of services or facilities, to enabling other organisations. One-quarter of the sector (25%) makes grants to voluntary bodies, which can then support their beneficiaries (more information on grant-making voluntary organisations). Similarly, 27% of the sector operates by providing services to their own beneficiaries. This is […]

What is the voluntary sector’s total income and expenditure?

The total income of voluntary organisations in 2010/11 was £38.3 billion (this figure includes £2.0 billion of grants from voluntary organisations which is arguably double counting), while total current expenditure in 2010/11 was £36.8 billion. Expenditure in 2010/11 was equivalent to 96.0% of income, (this figures includes depreciation – that is the annual wear and […]

How has the sector’s income and expenditure changed?

As the country moved from recession to austerity, the voluntary sector’s income was essentially flat – increasing by just under £50 million in real terms – or just 0.1%. Headline income for 2010/11 is £38.3 billion, the same as in 2009/10 when rounded to one decimal place. Over the longer term, the decade saw a […]

What is the impact of recession and austerity?

It appears that following the recession of 2009, and the subsequent “double-dip” that the UK has suffered a permanent decrease in economic output. The continued absence of a recovery means that the UK’s economic output remains below the peak recorded in the first quarter of 2008. As for the wider economy, 2007/08 also represents a […]

What is the impact of inflation on the voluntary sector?

Inflation is the general increase in the level of prices, which means that the value of money is eroded over time. Although the rate of increase has since fallen back to 3.3% in the latest available figures, inflation was particularly high during 2010/11, with the annual inflation rate as measured by the retail prices index […]

What is the voluntary sector’s contribution to the economy?

The contribution to the economy of different industries is measured by calculating their gross value added (GVA); which is an estimate of production or output, similar to Gross domestic product (GDP). It is important to note that contribution to GDP or GVA is not simply turnover, a mistake frequently made. Voluntary organisations are included in […]

What is the voluntary sector’s share of government grant and procurement spending?

The Whole of Government Accounts are the consolidated accounts of more than 10,000 public sector entities – from central government, the devolved bodies, and local councils, hospitals and schools. The latest set of accounts, published in October 2012, cover the financial year 2010-11, coinciding with the data we collect from charity accounts. The accounts provide […]

What is the voluntary sector’s income?

The total income of voluntary organisations in 2010/11 was £38.3 billion (this figure includes £ 2.0 billion of grants from voluntary organisations which is arguably double counting).

How is the voluntary sector’s income distributed?

The voluntary sector consists of a large number of small organisations, and a small number of large organisations. The 507 organisations with incomes of over £10 million that we class as “major” represent 0.3% of voluntary organisations, but account for nearly half of total income (47.4%) – £18.2 billion in total. Many of these organisation […]

What are the sector’s different sources and types of income?

>5% rise in income since 2009/10 Income relatively static since 2009/10 >5% fall in income since 2009/10  

What are the sector’s sources of income?

The voluntary sector’s largest source of income is the general public – the income from donations, legacies, the purchase of goods, and payment for services totalled £16.5 billion in 2009/10, representing 43% of total income. This percentage is higher than the 39% we reported in 2009/10 because it now includes goods and services sold to […]

Are smaller voluntary organisations more reliant than others upon particular sources of income?

Micro organisations – the smallest charities with incomes of under £10,000 – derive the largest share of their income from individuals. This public support, in the form of donations and gifts but also purchases such as membership fees, makes up 65% of income. This is in contrast to major organisations (with income of over £10m), […]

Do different types of voluntary organisations rely on different sources of income?

Differences in the funding mix of voluntary organisations are apparent when income sources are compared by sub-sector. Employment and training organisations received the highest proportion of their income from statutory sources – the 1,815 voluntary organisations in this category received 72.5% of their income from statutory sources. Parent teacher organisations was the subsectors that received […]

How diverse is the voluntary sector’s income?

Half of all voluntary organisations received the majority of their funding from individuals. This includes more than 33,000 organisations (20% of the sector) who received the majority of their income for donations from the public. A similar percentage of organisations relied on fundraising trading (11.4%) as fees for services (11.7%) – i.e. charging beneficiaries. 15,570 […]

How has the voluntary sector income mix changed over time?

The voluntary sector as a whole earns more income through trading – selling goods and services than it raises through giving – donations, legacies and grants. In 2010/11 earned income accounted for £21.4 billion, while voluntary income – that given freely in donations and grants accounted for £14.7 billion. This has been the case since […]

How have the components of earned income changed?

Earned income has increased by  more than £10 billion in the decade since 2000/01, an increase of 92%. The largest increase in earned income was as a result of increased trading with government. Income from statutory contracts more than doubled in this period – increasing from £4.5 billion in 2000/01 to £11.2 billion in 2010/11. […]

Are some sub-sectors more reliant on earned income than others?

The shift to earned income has been widespread across the sector – only three sub-sectors – international organisations, religious organisations and grant-making foundations – receive the majority of their income as voluntary grants and donations. The three sub-sectors that earn the largest share of their income through trading are all linked to education – employment […]

Where does the sector’s income from government come from?

Income from government totalled £14.2 billion in 2009/10. This includes resources from UK central, local and devolved administrations, international bodies, and overseas governments. Total income from government has increased by 56% in real terms from £9.0 billion in 2000/01. In cash terms, the increase is even greater (113%). Since 2000/01 income from government has increased […]

How have government grants and contracts changed?

Government funders transfer resources to voluntary organisations using a number of mechanisms, but such flows can be summarised as either voluntary income (grants) or earned income (contracts). Contract income from government was worth £11.2 billion in 2010/11, a real increase of £6.7 billion (151%) since 2000/01. Much of this growth took place in the second […]

Where does government funding go to?

Organisation size appears to be correlated with both the amount and relative importance of statutory income generated. Over four-fifths (83%) of the sector’s statutory income is received by 3,357 organisations with an annual income of £1 million or more. Major organisations received £7.3 billion in statutory contracts and grants whilst large organisations received £4.4 billion. […]

How are public sector spending cuts affecting the voluntary sector?

What cuts have happened so far? There is no one comprehensive source of information about the cuts so far. The Voluntary Sector Cuts website, a collaboration between 25 voluntary sector infrastructure organisations is one way for voluntary organisations to share their experience of cuts. Launched in January 2011, by January 2012, 509 cuts had been […]

How many voluntary sector organisations have a financial relationship with the state?

Three-quarters (75%) of all voluntary organisations do not receive any income from statutory sources. Conversely, 25% of the sector – 40,200 organisations – has a direct financial relationship with the state. Larger organisations are much more likely to receive funding from statutory sources. NCVO Policy Blog: “The truth about the voluntary sector and the state“

What proportion of people give to charity?

Giving to charity manifests itself in many different ways: from giving loose change to monthly direct debits; from giving to the homeless to international non-governmental organisations. Not all charitable giving is to charities. Donations might be made by individuals or collectively as families; donors could be children or adults. We capture some, though not all, […]

How much do people give?

The median donation given in a typical month in 2011/12 was £10 per donor. The median donation of £10 in 2011/12 decreased from £11 in 2010/11 and £12 in 2009/10; prior to that the median had remained stable at £10 for the previous five years. The median amount has returned to its more typical pre-2009 […]

What is the impact of high-level donors?

The percentage of donors giving £100 or more has fallen by 1% over the last year (from 7% in 2010/11 to 6% in 2011/12). However, this small drop has had a significant impact on the total amount donated by the population because higher donations generate a large proportion of the amount donated contribute. In 2011/10, […]

Who gives?

In 2011/12, as in all previous years of UK Giving survey, women were more likely to give than men: 58% of women donated money to charity monthly, compared with 52% of men. Women continue to give higher average amounts than men, but only marginally so this year (with a median donation of £11 per month […]

What causes do people give to?

In 2011/12, as in all previous years of the UK Giving survey, medical research was the cause supported by the largest proportion of donors (33%). Over the past eight years, the next two most commonly supported causes have been hospitals and hospices (30%) and children and young people (23%). Religious causes attracted the largest donations […]

How does Gift Aid contribute to the sector’s income?

Gift Aid is part of a wider system of charitable tax reliefs worth £3.85 billion in 2011/12. £2.85 billion of this was claimed by voluntary organisations, through tax repayments, national non-domestic rates, VAT and stamp duty/land tax. The remainder (£1 billion) was claimed by those giving to charity. Although Gift Aid is the most widely […]

How much lottery income does the voluntary sector receive?

Our analysis of the accounts of voluntary organisations found £483.1 million of income from Lottery distributors in 2010/11. This accounts for 1.3% of the sector’s total income – the same percentage as in 2009/10. Medium sized organisations (with incomes between £100,000 and £1 million) receive the largest share of their income from lottery funding with […]

How much does the voluntary sector receive in legacy income?

Legacies can be defined as “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will”. Charitable legacies provide a vital and significant, if volatile, income stream for voluntary organisations in the UK. The voluntary sector received £1.7 billion in legacy income in 2010/11, 4.5% of total income. Overall, just under 6,000 organisations (4.2%) […]

What are the trends in investment income?

The relative importance of investment income to the voluntary sector has declined markedly since 2007/08, when it amounted to £3.2 billion in 2010/11 prices – compared to just £2.3 billion in the 2010/11. Income from investments now represents 6% of the sector’s total income. Looking at investment income in more detail shows that more than […]

How much does the voluntary sector spend?

The voluntary sector’s total current expenditure in 2009/10 was £36.3 billion. Expenditure is split between four main activities: charitable activities, grant-making, the cost of generating funds and governance.

How do voluntary organisations report their expenditure?

The charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP 2005) requires organisations with incomes over £100,000 to report their expenditure using activity-based costing and accrual accounting. Smaller charities mostly prepare receipts and payments accounts, and choose their own reporting categories. This means that comparing them with larger organisations is not perfect: different accounting treatments may therefore account […]

Do large and small voluntary organisations spend money on different types of activity?

Medium sized voluntary organisations, spend the largest proportion on charitable activities, with charitable activities accounting for nearly four-fifths (79%) of expenditure. These average figures reflect the distribution of grant-makers (a small number of large foundations and numerous small ‘pots of money’) and mid-sized ‘operating’ charities. Major organisations – the group that contains the large fundraising […]

How is the voluntary sector’s expenditure distributed?

The delivery of social services accounts for a major proportion of the sector’s spending – 31,100 organisations spent £8.8 billion in 2009/10, an average of £236,000 per organisation. Research organisations (including large medical research funders like Cancer Research UK) had the highest average expenditure, of £709,000, spending £3 billion in total. The smallest sub-sectors by […]

How much does the voluntary sector spend on charitable activities, excluding grant-making?

Voluntary organisations spent £27.2 billion in 2010/11 carrying out their charitable activities, a figure which does not include grant-making. Expenditure on charitable activities has been relatively static since 2008/09. This figure has in face decreased slightly since 2009/10 by just under £900 million. This suggests that spending could not keep up with rising cost in […]

How much does the voluntary sector spend on grant-making?

The voluntary sector spent £4.3 billion in 2010/11 (12% of its total expenditure) making grants to other voluntary organisations, individuals and statutory organisations. The level of grant making dropped sharply by 26% in 2008/09, but recovered by 5% over the next two years by 2010/11, although it was still £1.3 billion less in real terms […]

How much does it cost the voluntary sector to raise funds?

Voluntary organisations spent £4.5 billion on generating funds in 2010/11. £2.9 billion of this was spent on fundraising and publicity costs (and other costs of raising earned income). £1.2 billion was spent generating voluntary income – the cost of asking for donations. The remainder was spent on managing investments (£395 million). Overall, organisations spend 12% […]

What can the sector’s balance sheet tell us about its financial health?

A simplified overview of assets, liabilities and funds Is the voluntary sector in good financial health? The aggregate balance sheet shows the value of cash, property and investments organisations hold, taking into account loans and other debt to provide a snapshot of the total net worth of the sector. Many organisations hold assets, either to […]

How has the voluntary sector’s net worth changed?

For much of the last decade the voluntary sector grew, both in terms of the number of organisations and the level of expenditure. This was reflected in the growth in net assets, which between 2000/01 and 2007/08 typically represented three times annual expenditure. This has changed following the financial crisis – in 2008/09 net assets […]

Is asset ownership in the voluntary sector widespread?

Over 55,000 voluntary organisations own some kind of fixed asset – this is 40% of the sector. Like income, assets are concentrated in the largest organisations. Four organisations hold assets valued at more than £1 billion, and between them, they control 19% of the sector’s wealth. The top 500 organisations by assets account for just […]

How much does the voluntary sector hold as reserves?

What are reserves? There is no rule about how much charities should hold as reserves; indeed, where organisations have a reserves policy, they may not be able to generate surpluses in order to implement it. The recession has again highlighted the issue, though the focus of debate has shifted from whether organisations are holding too […]

What are the different types of asset that voluntary organisations hold?

Organisations hold two main classes of asset: fixed assets (£92.5 billion) and current assets (£27.2 billion). Fixed assets include tangible fixed assets – the buildings and equipment owned by organisations to enable them to fulfil their mission, and investment assets (such as shareholdings or investment property), which organisations hold to generate income. Three-quarters (74%) of […]

Who owns buildings and equipment?

The voluntary sector’s holdings of tangible fixed assets – buildings and equipment with a substantial value – were worth £23.6 billion in 2010/11. This only includes property held for charitable purposes, and is thus an underestimate which excludes the value of investment property. The average value of tangible fixed assets is £690,000. A third of […]

What are the voluntary sector’s liabilities?

Voluntary organisations carry both short and long-term liabilities on their balance sheet, with the largest organisations in particular also carrying provisions for future liabilities. These are primarily for pension fund commitments. Liabilities are valued at £18.6 billion in total, nearly half of which (48%) are long-term in nature.

Is the voluntary sector a significant investor?

Although much of the wealth invested by the voluntary sector is concentrated in a small number of organisations, the returns generated from investments are crucial to endowed charities and grant-making organisations and the many smaller charities that rely on grants to fund their work. How much are the voluntary sector’s investments worth? The sector’s investment assets […]

How many people work in voluntary sector?

According to our analysis of the Labour Force Survey, an estimated 732,000 people were employed in the voluntary sector in the UK during 2011. This figure represents a significant decrease of 33,000 since the previous year. Nonetheless, it remains 34% greater than in 2001, an increase of around 185,000 employees. The sector now employs around […]

Who works in the voluntary sector?

In 2011, 501,000 women and 231,000 men were employed in the voluntary sector, meaning that more than two-thirds (68%) of the voluntary sector workforce were women. A similar ratio was found in the public sector (65%). Both sectors lie in stark contrast to the private sector (39%). Voluntary sector employees are slightly older than those […]

Where are the voluntary sector staff located?

Skills Effect The page was produced in partnership with Skills Effect and the Third Sector Research Centre as part of our joint employment research programme. More than a third (36%) of voluntary sector workers lived either in London or the South-East in 2011. The private and public sectors were also concentrated in these regions but […]

What type of work is undertaken in the voluntary sector?

Around 441,000 people, over six out of ten employees in the voluntary sector, were employed in the ‘health and social work’ employment category. Within this broader category, almost 39% were employed in ‘social work activities without accommodation’, amounting to 281,000 people. Voluntary sector employees account for 32% of the overall UK workforce within ‘social work […]

How secure are jobs in the voluntary sector?

In 2011, just under nine of every ten (89%) voluntary sector employees were on permanent contracts. Both the private and public sectors had a higher proportion of employees on permanent contracts (95% and 92% respectively). More than six out of every ten (62%) temporary workers within the voluntary sector were on a fixed-term contract. This […]

What skills are required in the voluntary sector?

Voluntary sector employees were highly qualified in 2011, with more than one-third (38%) holding a degree level qualification or higher. This is slightly lower than employees within the public sector (41%) but higher than employees within the private sector (23%). Overall more than seven of every ten (72%) voluntary sector employees held an A-Level qualification, […]

What training opportunities are there in the voluntary sector?

The majority of voluntary organisations (56%) provided both on-the-job and off-the-job training in their organisation however just under one-fifth (18%) provided no training at all. Over half (59%) of all voluntary sector employers that had provided training over the last year train staff of all grades, however managers are significantly more likely to receive training […]

What are working patterns like in the voluntary sector?

In 2011, 292,000 people were working part-time in the voluntary sector, amounting to two fifths (40%) of the sector’s workforce. This proportion is much larger than those of the public and private sectors (30% and 25% respectively). The number of part-time workers in the voluntary sector decreased by 37,000 between 2010 and 2011. However, the […]

What is the state of pay in the voluntary sector?

Gross weekly pay in the voluntary sector amounted to an average of £373.65 in 2011, lower than in both the private and public sectors (£457.52 and £477.53 respectively). Median gross weekly pay in the voluntary sector was £356. Gross hourly pay within the voluntary sector was £12.02, less than the both the private (£12.60) and […]

How much does the voluntary sector spend on staff?

Expenditure on staff costs can be identified through the accounts of voluntary organisations. Staff costs cut across the range of expenditure categories within the accounts as organisations employ staff to undertake a range of activities, from income generation to service provision. Staff costs can include: the costs of employing staff who work for the charity […]

How many people regularly volunteer in the UK?

During August 2012 to January 2013, 44% of adults in England said that they had formally volunteered at least once in the previous 12 months and 29% of people reported that they formally volunteered at least once a month. This equates to 19.1 million people in England formally volunteering at least once a year and 12.6 million people in […]

What do volunteers do?

Volunteers support different types of organisations in a range of fields. The most popular fields for regular volunteers who formally volunteer at least once a month are sports and exercise (54%); hobbies, recreation, arts and social clubs (42%); and religion (36%). By far the most common activities undertaken by regular formal volunteers are ‘organising or […]

Has the number of people volunteering changed over time?

The proportion of people formally volunteering at least once a month in the last 12 months prior to being into interviewed is significantly higher than in 2010/11 (29% compared to 25%) and in all years from 2007-08. The proportion of people who formally volunteered at least once a year over the same period has also […]

Who volunteers in the UK?

Participation in formal volunteering differs by employment status, age, ethnicity, disability and region. People in employment are more likely to volunteer than those who are economically inactive (48% and 40% respectively, with a rate of 34% for people who are unemployed). Those living in the South West (52%), South East (51%) and East of England […]


This Almanac is based on data from a wide range of sources. Due to the number of civil society areas covered and the variety of methods used, only a brief outline of the methodology can be given here. Voluntary sector Voluntary sector definition As in previous Almanacs, the general charities definition is used within this […]

The authors

David Kane leads the quantitative analysis of data for NCVO’s work on the size and scope of civil society, and was an author of the UK Civil Society Almanac 2008, 2009 and 2010 and the UK Voluntary Sector Almanac 2007. David leads NCVO’s research to classify voluntary sector organisations and on its work on the […]


Our database of charities has been developed in partnership with, and funding for data entry from, the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC). This data forms the basis of our analysis of UK general charities. TSRC acknowledges the receipt of financial support from ESRC, the Office for Civil Society, and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The sampling frame for data capture was designed in consultation […]