What do voluntary organisations do?


Voluntary organisations carry out a wide range of activities across different subsectors

  • In the Almanac we use the International Classification of Non-profit Organisations (ICNPO) to describe the activities of voluntary organisations.
  • Organisations are classified into subsectors according 18 categories. Some of these categories are very broad, such as the social services category which includes various types of organisations, while others are focused on one particular type of organisation, for example parent-teacher associations (see table below).
  • This classification is not perfect. In reality, many organisations undertake multiple activities (eg housing and advice) while the ICNPO classification groups organisations into a single category based on their primary activity. However, it allows us to look at and compare discrete groups of voluntary organisations.
  • For more information see our page on the ICNPO classification.

By subsector

  • Social services remain the largest subsector in terms of both number of organisations and total income. There were 32,258 social services organisations in 2017/18, which made up 19% of all organisations in the sector and generated an income of £12bn.
  • Other subsectors with large numbers of organisations were culture and recreation (24,024 or 14%) and religion (15,139 or 9%).
  • For more information on the number of organisations, income and expenditure of each subsectors, see our page on ICNPOs.

The largest subsector is social services, both in terms of number of organisations and income

Top 10

  • Organisations in the health (including health research), children or international development subsectors dominate the list of the top 10 largest voluntary organisations by income. The sole exception is the National Trust, which works in environment and conservation.
  • The 10 largest organisations all work nationally or internationally and most are household names. In 2017/18, Save the Children International was the UK’s largest voluntary organisation (as it was in the previous year) with an income of £957m.

Voluntary organisations that work in health, children and international development dominate the list of the top 10 by income

By size

  • The majority of parent-teacher associations (99%), village halls (99%) and scout groups (94%) are micro and small. These organisations are also more likely to operate at a local level. This was a much higher proportion than for micro and small organisations in the sector as a whole (81%).
  • Health (10%) and umbrella bodies (8%) have the largest proportion of large, major and super-major organisations compared to 4% of those in other sectors.

Almost all parent teacher associations, village halls and scout groups are small and micro organisations

More data and research