How are people employed in the voluntary sector?

By work pattern

  • Voluntary organisations continue to attract employees seeking part-time work, with 37% of voluntary sector employees working part-time compared to 29% of public sector and 25% of private sector employees.

Voluntary organisations have a higher proportion of part-time employees than organisations in other sectors

By contract length

  • 92% of voluntary sector employees are on permanent contracts and 8% on temporary contracts. This is a slightly higher proportion than for the public and private sectors where fewer people are employed on a temporary basis (7% and 5% respectively).
  • While the voluntary sector still has the highest proportion of employees on temporary contracts, the proportion has started to fall (from 9-10% between 2015 and 2018, to 8% in June 2019). Bigger fluctuations in prior to 2015 might reflect the limitations of the small sample size (see methodology).

The voluntary sector has the highest proportion of temporary contracts compared with other sectors, but the proportions has started to fall

Temporary contracts

  • Most employees on a temporary contract in the voluntary sector are on a fixed-term contract. This is higher than any other type of temporary contract combined.
  • The voluntary sector is less likely to employ people through ‘temping agencies’ than the public or private sectors, as well as offer casual types of work.

Most temporary employees in the voluntary sector are on a fixed-term contract

By occupation level

  • Overall, there has been little change in the breakdown of occupation level across sectors over the last nine years.
  • The voluntary sector, like the public sector, relies on lower managerial positions more than any other occupation level, with 46% of the sector workforce made up of these positions. This is comparable to the public sector (42%) but much higher than the private sector (23%).

The composition of voluntary sector employees is similar to the public sector – both relying more on lower managerial positions than the private sector

Spotlight: Pay in the voluntary sector

There has been a lot of interest in charity sector pay in recent years but the evidence is patchy. Salary surveys should be handled carefully, as they can contain outliers, missing data and are often based on low sample numbers. While administrative data should in principle be more reliable, not all charities report pay data in a consistent way in their accounts, and the data is not available digitally. In addition, pay data on charities often seems to be skewed by specific kinds of charities, eg universities.

NCVO research on high pay in the charity sector analysing data from financial accounts, estimated that less than 1% of charities in the UK employ a member of staff earning £60,000 or more. Further analysis found that the majority of those earning £60,000 or more were employed in ‘non-general charities’.[1] According to a widely used benchmarking survey, salaries for charity chief executives are estimated to be 30% lower than comparable roles in the private sectors. While high pay is often the focus of media attention, research on low pay in charities found that about a quarter (26%) of employees in the charity sector earn less than the living wage. However, this finding is based on very low sample numbers and should be treated with caution. Over 1,800 charities have been certified by the Living Wage Foundation and are now a paying the Living Wage as a minimum employer.

Charities have a lower gender pay gap compared to other sectors. On average, women working in charities earn 7% less than men. The difference between pay for men and women is much smaller than in both the private (12%) and the public (11%) sectors. In addition, when looking at only general charities, the difference between the two is even smaller. General charities have an average gender pay gap of 2%, considerably lower than for non-general charities (16%). Many of the charities with larger pay gaps in favour of men are schools, colleges or universities. Although there is some evidence on other pay gaps, eg the ethnicity pay gap or the disability pay gap, there is no data currently available for the charity sector.

More data and research


  1. At NCVO, we use the ‘general charities’ definition for much of our research. This definition covers organisations that meet a number of criteria, and excludes organisations like independent schools, government-controlled bodies or housing associations. It gets us closer to what most people think of when they think of charities.