Executive summary

The total number of voluntary organisations remains relatively stable

In 2017/18, there were 166,592 voluntary organisations in the UK, a slight drop from the previous year. Organisations with more than £100m income account for 0.03% of all organisations and for 23% of the sector’s income. Most of those organisations work on a national or international level and are responsible for 30% of the sector’s grant making. However, the majority of organisations are small and operate locally. Eight in ten organisations have an income of less than £100,000.

The make-up of the sector is changing but the real picture is more complex

The overall make-up of the sector appears to be shifting towards bigger organisations, with the number of charities with an income of more than £100m increasing in recent years. However, the detail behind the top-line data is more complex. Some of the growth in bigger organisations is linked to a natural expansion of income bands. Income-band classifications have stayed the same, however organisations’ incomes have grown with inflation resulting in movement between income bands. At the same time, some public-sector bodies have moved into the sector and other organisations have grown out of mergers. Even though the share of the sector’s income going to smaller and medium-sized organisations is shrinking, the actual amounts have remained relatively stable since 2012/13, largely due to the growth of bigger organisations.

Voluntary sector income and expenditure are growing, but more slowly than in previous years

Both total income and spending of the voluntary sector grew in 2017/18, however growth is slowing down. Income was up by £1.2bn to £53.5bn, representing a 2% increase. This is the same as the previous year, but lower than income-growth rates of 3–6% between 2013/14 and 2015/16.

The public is driving overall income growth

In 2017/18, the public continued to be the largest income source for the sector, representing almost half (47%) of its income. Income from the public grew by £1bn to £25.4bn, accounting for 83% of all income growth. But this includes an increase of £629m in legacies, accounting for half of the increase in total income, which was largely due to two individual legacies. At the same time, other donations from the public remained stable, amounting to £8.8bn. Earned income from the public, including fees for services such as membership subscriptions and trading activities such as charity shop sales, grew by 3% to £12.6bn.

Government income as a proportion of total income is at its lowest point

The amount of income from government, £15.7bn in 2017/18, has remained largely stable in recent years. But with income from other sources growing at the same time, income from government as a proportion of the sector’s total income has fallen almost continuously. Like the previous year, it is at its lowest-ever point of 29% of overall income since the start of the time series.

The growth of investment assets is slowing down

Net assets grew by 4% to £142bn, marking another record high. Investment assets make up two-thirds (67%) of the sector’s total assets. Although they continued to grow (+4%) and accounted for most of the growth in total assets, the increase is smaller than in the last four years when they grew on average by 7%. The sector’s level of reserves amounted to £63.5bn, reaching pre-2007/08 financial-crisis levels for the first time. On average, voluntary organisations hold reserves worth seven months of spending (excluding grant makers). About a quarter (23%) of organisations do not hold any reserves.

The sector’s workforce has reached 900,000 for the first time

Since 2010, the number of people working in the voluntary sector has grown almost continuously. In 2019, a total of 909,088 people worked for voluntary organisations, representing almost 3% of the total UK workforce. Spending on staff costs makes up 38% of the sector’s total expenditure. The largest number of voluntary sector employees are working in social work (37%), 15% more than the previous year.

Volunteering rates remain largely unchanged, with those aged 65–74 most likely to volunteer on a regular basis

Overall levels of volunteering have remained stable. More than one in five people volunteered at least once a month for a group, club or organisation. People aged 65–74 years old are the age group most likely to formally volunteer on a regular basis; more than a quarter (28%) volunteered at least once a month compared to 15–24% for all other age groups. Less regular volunteering is more evenly spread across age groups.

The sector contributes more than £18bn to the UK economy

Nine in ten UK households have accessed services provided by voluntary organisations at some point, with children and young people remaining the most common beneficiary group. It is difficult to measure the value of the voluntary sector, and figures are often an underestimate. It is estimated that the sector contributed a total of £18.2bn to the UK economy in 2017/18, equivalent to almost 1% of the total GDP. The last estimate by the Office for National Statistics for the value of volunteering was £23.9bn in 2016.