Executive summary

The total number of voluntary organisations remains relatively stable, but there is notable growth among bigger organisations

There are 166,854 voluntary organisations in the UK. While total numbers have been relatively stable, the number of organisations with more than of £100m have grown from 45 to 51, accounting for 0.03% of organisations and for 22% of the sector’s total income. The majority of those organisations work on national or international level and are responsible for 30% of the sector’s grant making. Despite the growth in bigger organisations, the voluntary sector is dominated by small organisations that operate locally. Eight in ten organisations have an income of less than £100,000.

The public and government remain the largest income sources for the sector, however in 2016/17 overall growth was driven by grants and investments

In 2016/17, the voluntary sector’s economy continued to grow. Total income went up by 2% to £50.6bn, while spending and assets also increased. The public and government remain the largest income sources for voluntary organisations, but both of them plateaued. Growth in total income was instead due to increases in grants (£588.8m) and investments (£602.6m).

The way in which the sector receives money from the public is showing signs of change

The public remains the largest income source for the sector, accounting for 45% (£22.9bn) of its total income. For the first time in six years, there was a fall in earned income from the public, generated through fees paid for goods and services, membership subscriptions, sales from charity shops or fundraising events. At the same time, donations fell slightly by 2% from the previous year while legacies continued to rise.

The amount of income from government remained stable but has fallen as a proportion

Government remains the second largest income source totalling £15.8bn. Over the last four years the amount of income from government has remained fairly stable, but it has fallen as a proportion of total income. It made up 37% of the total income in 2009/10 but dropped to 31% in 2016/17.

A good year for grant making

In 2016/17, spending on grants grew by 5% to a new record high of £7bn. Over half (57%) of the money spent on grants stays within the voluntary sector, but notable amounts also go to individuals and other types of organisations like public sector bodies and universities. International development organisations receive by far the largest share (37%) of grant making from the sector.

Net assets continued to grow marking a new record high

The sector’s net assets grew by 4% to £131bn in 2016/17, marking a new record high. The continued growth is mainly a result of strong investment performance. Total liabilities were up by 12% reaching their highest levels with most of this due to rising pensions across organisations of all sizes.

The voluntary sector workforce is highly educated and less likely to experience skills gaps

The number of people working in the voluntary sector fell slightly to the previous year, but has grown by 11% since 2010. In 2018, a total number of 865,916 people worked for voluntary organisations. More than half of the sector’s workforce is educated to degree level or higher. At the same time, voluntary organisations reported the lowest incidence of skills gaps compared to organisations in other sectors.

Volunteering rates are stable, but diversity remains an issue

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. However, involvement varies for different backgrounds: formal volunteers are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups.

The reach and impact of voluntary organisations is wide-ranging

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. In 2016/17, the sector contributed a total of £17.1bn to the UK economy, equivalent to the GDP of a small country such as Honduras. The value of volunteering was estimated at £23.9bn in 2016.