How much do voluntary organisations get from the public?


Almost half of voluntary organisations’ total income comes from the public

  • In 2017/18, income from the public remained the largest income source, amounting to £25.4bn or almost half (47%) of total income.
  • Half of the money from the public (50%) is voluntary income in the form of donations, such as bucket collections or direct debits, and legacies – money that people give to voluntary organisations in their wills.
  • The other half comes from what we call earned income, where people get something in return. It encompasses:
    • ‘income from charitable activities’ which includes fees paid for goods and services such as rent for accommodation, membership subscriptions or fees for training courses depending on the charitable purpose of the organisation
    • ‘activities for raising funds’ which include sales from charity shops or admission fees for fundraising events.

Over time

  • In 2017/18, the amount of money from the public increased by £1bn (+4%) to £25.4bn after a dip in the previous year when it fell slightly (-1%) for the first time since 2012/13.
  • Both voluntary and earned income from the public grew. Voluntary income increased by £630m to £12.7bn, however solely due to increases in legacies. At the same time, earned income from the public rose by £403m to £12.6bn.
  • Income from the public also increased as a proportion of the sector’s total income. It now makes up 47% of all income compared to its lowest level of 40% in 2007/08. Meanwhile, income from government as a proportion of the sector’s income has been shrinking (from 37% in 2008/09 to 29% in 2017/18).

Income from the public grew in real terms, and as a proportion of the sector’s income

Voluntary income

  • Donations from the public amounted to £8.8bn representing 16% of the sector’s total income. After a period of growth between 2011/12 and 2015/16, it has almost remained unchanged. However, although donations have stayed stable overall, they fell across all income bands except for super-major organisations.
  • Legacies have seen a notable increase of 19% (amounting to £4.0bn) and were up across organisations of all sizes. They accounted for 61% of the total growth in income from the public.
  • Two large individual values (a £435m gift to the Capricorn Foundation and a £120m legacy for the Heart of England Forest) were responsible for most of the increase in legacies.

Legacies continued to grow while donations have remained stable

By size

  • The public are the largest income source for voluntary organisations of all sizes. Micro and small organisations receive 58% of their income from the public, while this proportion is lower for bigger organisations (45%–49%).
  • Although legacy income has grown overall, micro and small voluntary organisations are least likely to receive legacies. Only 6% of the money received from the public was in form of legacies for micro and small voluntary organisations, compared with 10% and 12% for medium, large and major organisations.
  • Legacies made up 32% of income from the public for super-major voluntary organisations due to two large one-off values.

Micro and small voluntary organisations are the least likely to receive legacy income

By subsector

  • Income from the public is the largest income source for more than half of all subsectors (10 out of 18).
  • Some subsectors are particularly dependent on income from the public, including the three sectors with the highest proportion of micro and small organisations (parent-teacher associations, village halls, scout groups). Income from the public makes up more than two-thirds of the total income of environmental organisations (71%) and parent-teacher associations (67%).
  • Voluntary organisations that are the least dependent on income from the public are umbrella bodies (31%) which have a more diversified income base, and organisations working in employment and training (31%) and law and advocacy (29%) which generate the largest share of their income from government.

The public is the largest income source for most subsectors

Putting it into context

Income from the public is given either voluntary – through donations and legacies – or earned through trading activities such as charity shops or by providing charitable services.


In 2018, donations from the public have seen a slight drop after three years of growth while they have stagnated this year. Some have been quick to link this drop with falling levels of trust in voluntary organisations[1]. However, other factors shouldn’t be overlooked:

  • People are being asked less. With the implementation of GDPR, voluntary organisations everywhere have done a huge amount of work to clean and update their supporters databases, with occasional or lapsed donors the supporters most likely to have been removed.
  • The way people are doing good is changing. For example, the market for ethical goods and services has grown rapidly over the last two decades and the rise of fundraising platforms and individuals asking directly for support has in some cases removed the role of voluntary organisations as an intermediary, trusted or otherwise

Legacy income

Over the last five years, the sector has seen continuous growth in legacy income with the biggest jump in recent years. Projections from Legacy Foresight for the next 25 years suggest legacy incomes will almost double again. This year’s significant growth is due to two very large legacy values including a £435m gift to the Capricorn Foundation and a £120m legacy for the Heart of England Forest. Even without those values, legacy income was up across all income bands.

Earned income

In the past, the growth in the sector’s total income has been largely driven by earned income from the public. In 2016/17, earned income from the public saw a drop for the first time in six years but grew again in 2017/18. Growth in earned income was due to increases in income through fees for services that charities provide to the public as part of their charitable activities.

While the Charity Retail Association reported a continued growth in charity retail in 2018, our data indicates a drop in income from the public through raising funds. Those differences in trends could be explained by different data sources – the Charity Retail Association is working with a sample of their members – and definitions. The category reported in the Almanac is wider than just sales of goods in charity shops and also includes fundraising by organisations where benefit is received in return, sales of merchandise, raffles and lotteries and fees for fundraising events.

More data and research

Notes and definitions

Income from the public is split into four types:

  • Fees for services: Income earned through voluntary organisations providing charitable services – examples include tuition fees for training, micro-credit schemes, selling equipment and services.
  • Fundraising: Earned income from providing other services. Examples include the selling of goods in a charity shop.
  • Donations: Income given freely by the public, mainly charitable donations.
  • Legacies: Money that people give to voluntary organisations in their wills