What reserves and assets do voluntary organisations have?

Over time

  • In 2017/18, the sector’s total assets were worth £164.4bn while money owed to creditors and other liabilities amounted to £22.4bn.
  • Fixed assets make up the majority (84%) of the sector’s total assets, valued at £139.2bn. They include investments assets (£110.9bn), tangible fixed assets (£28.1bn) like buildings and equipment, and intangible fixed assets (£202m) like intellectual property.
  • In 2017/18, the sector’s net assets or net worth of the sector (ie total assets minus liabilities) grew by 4% to £142bn, marking another record high. This was due to continued growth in fixed assets and falling liabilities.

The sector’s net assets continued to grow due to growth in investments and falling liabilities


  • The majority of assets are held by a minority of organisations: large, major and super-major voluntary organisations represent 4% of organisations but own 87% of the sector’s assets.
  • About 93% of voluntary organisations own some form of asset. But asset ownership is dependent on size, with smaller organisations less likely to hold assets, in particular fixed assets.

The vast majority of the sector’s assets are held by a small number of bigger organisations

Fixed assets

  • Tangible fixed assets made up 17% of the sectors’ total assets and amounted to £28.1bn in 2017/18.
  • About a quarter (23%) of all voluntary organisations own buildings or equipment, but larger organisations are much more likely to do so. Only 13% of micro and small organisations own some form of property in contrast to 100% of super-major organisations.
  • The average value of tangible fixed assets for those who own them is £723,778 but ranges remarkably by size, from £38,066 for micro and small organisations to £99m for super-major organisations.

Only a small minority of organisations with an income under £100,000 own buildings and equipment


  • In 2017/18, investment assets made up two-thirds (67%) of the sector’s total assets and amounted to £111.6bn. Investment income stood at £4.1bn.
  • Growth in investment assets was slightly lower this year (+4%) compared to the last four years. At the same time investment income fell by 6%. However, levels are almost at the same level as before the financial crisis in 2008/09.
  • Investment assets are not evenly distributed: almost half (48%) of investment assets are held by just 10 organisations with more than £1bn investment assets each. The Wellcome Trust owns a quarter (24%) of all investment assets.

Growth in investment assets is slowing down

Investment management costs

  • Costs of managing investments include the costs of obtaining investment advice, managing the portfolio and, for investment property, rent collection and maintenance cost.
  • In 2017/18, the total costs of managing investments remained relatively stable at £563m slightly up from £536m in the previous year. They also remained the same as a proportion of the sector’s spending, representing around 1% of total expenditure.

The costs of managing investments has remained stable


  • In 2017/18, the sector held reserves worth £63.5bn up from £58.4bn the year before, reaching pre-crisis levels again of £63.2bn in 2007/08.
  • About one quarter (23%) of voluntary organisations don’t hold any reserves.
  • The level of reserves can also be expressed in terms of the number of months of expenditure they would cover. On average, voluntary organisations hold reserves of around 14.8 months, but only around seven months when grant-making foundations are excluded.
  • The level of reserves differs notably by subsector: Organisations in research hold on average 71 months (more than five years) of reserves, while at the other end of the scale village halls hold just two months. The Wellcome Trust, which falls under research, accounts for 34% of the sector’s reserves alone explaining why this subsector comes out at the top.

The level of reserves differs notably by subsector

More data and research

Notes and definitions

Definitions of terms used:

  • Net assets: Net assets, or total funds, represent the net worth of a charity and is calculated by using the total assets minus all liabilities.
  • Current assets: Assets that can be converted into cash within a year (ie cash in bank, petty cash, money owed to organisations, short term investments, goods for sales).
  • Fixed assets: Assets held on a long-term basis. They can be either fixed assets for charitable use (which include buildings and equipment) or investments. They also include intangible fixed assets which is things like intellectual property.
  • Liabilities: What organisations owe to creditors, either long-term (payable after 12 months) such as loans or pension provisions, or short-term (payable within the next 12 months).
  • Reserves: That part of a charities income funds which are freely available.