Where are organisations based?

Across the UK

  • Most voluntary organisations are based in England: There were almost 134,000 voluntary organisations in 2017/18 representing 80% of all UK voluntary organisations. This is broadly similar to population patterns, with 84% of people in the UK living in England. There are 2.5 voluntary organisations per 1,000 people in the UK.
  • With almost 20,000 voluntary organisations, Scotland has the highest density of organisations. For every 1,000 people, there are 3.6 registered voluntary organisations in Scotland compared to 2.4 for England. Wales has lowest number of organisations per 1,000 people, with 2.2.
  • Within England the distribution varies significantly. For example, London has 19% of all voluntary organisations and 16% of the population while the north-east has 3% of organisations and 5% of the population. The south-west has the highest number of organisations per 1,000 people with 3.1 while the north-east has the lowest with 1.7.

The distribution of voluntary organisations across the UK is broadly similar to the population distribution

Across England

  • Half of all English voluntary organisations are based in the south: 67,311 out of 133,704 organisations are registered in either London, the south-east or the south-west.
  • Although voluntary organisations registered in London make up only 19% of all organisations in England, they hold over two-thirds (69%) of all assets and almost half (48%) of all income. This is due to a few very asset-rich organisations being based in London, including the Wellcome Trust, which accounts for 17% of the assets in England alone.
  • It is worth noting that where voluntary organisations are based is not necessarily where their beneficiaries are or where they spend their money. For instance, while one in two voluntary organisations are based in the south of England, many work at a national level.

The majority of voluntary organisations with large assets are based in London


  • In 2017/18, London is home to almost a third (32%) of all organisations with an income of over £1m.
  • Most (63%) super-major organisations are based in London. Nine in ten of these organisations have their headquarters in London but operate at national or international level.
  • Larger organisations are also more likely to give grants to other voluntary organisations and these can be located outside London.

While big voluntary organisations are more likely to be based in the capital, they are active across the UK and overseas

Rural versus urban

Rural areas have more voluntary organisations per person, but these tend to be smaller

  • There is a clear rural/urban split in the distribution of voluntary organisations: In 2017/18, rural local authorities on average had 3.2 organisations per 1,000 people compared to 2.0 in urban areas.
  • Voluntary organisations in urban areas are on average more than three times larger in terms of income than their rural counterparts.

Area of operation

  • Smaller voluntary organisations are more likely to work locally. The vast majority of micro (78%) and small organisations (77%) do so, compared to just 9% of super-major organisations.
  • Super-major organisations have by far the largest proportion of organisations that work at a national level (67%) or overseas (20%). These figures are almost unchanged from the previous year.

Smaller voluntary organisations are more likely to operate solely in their local area

Spotlight: Voluntary organisations, voluntary action and deprivation

Two of the top three local authorities by voluntary organisations per 1,000 people are boroughs in central London. The City of London has 137.8 organisations per 1,000 people, followed by Westminster with 10.2. Some of this, however, is linked to the head office effect, with many voluntary organisations being registered in London while they are often working on a national or international level.

Research has suggested that more deprived neighbourhoods have fewer voluntary organisations. Almanac data appears to support this. The bottom three local authorities with the lowest number of voluntary organisations including Blackpool and Knowsley which, based on the latest Index of Multiple Deprivations, are among the most deprived in England.

Deprivation is also linked to lower levels of formal volunteering that happens within a group, club or organisation. According to Almanac data taken from the latest Community Life Survey, 14% were regularly involved in formal volunteering in the most deprived areas compared to 29% for the least deprived. However, differences are much smaller and reverse when looking at informal volunteering, everyday voluntary actions carried out on an individual basis and not through a group, club or organisation. In the most deprived areas, 26% informally volunteered on a regular basis compared to 28% in the least deprived.

More data and research