Who benefits from the voluntary sector?


Voluntary organisations contribute to society in many different ways

  • Voluntary organisations are set up for different purposes supporting a range of beneficiaries, including people, organisations and the environment. As such they make a difference in a wide range of ways.
  • Research by Johns Hopkins University provides a useful framework to help improve understanding of the sector’s different contributions to society. It highlights five key roles:
    • service delivery
    • innovation
    • advocacy
    • self-expression and leadership
    • community building.
  • This research involved a comparative study across different countries. It found that the service role is the most commonly expected contribution of voluntary organisations, followed by the innovation role.

Types of support

  • When looking at the type of support voluntary organisations provide, service provision is the most common function. More than a third (36%) of organisations said they provide some kind of service.
  • Just under a third of organisations provide buildings and facilities (30%) or make grants to organisations (29%).
  • Acting as an umbrella body (9%), undertaking research (8%) and providing other financial support (6%) are the least common functions.

Service provision is the most common function of voluntary organisations


  • Voluntary organisations exist to support a wide range of beneficiary groups, covering all demographic groups within the UK population and people across the world, as well as the environment.
  • The most common beneficiary group is children and young people, which 59% of organisations support. They were followed by the general public (46%) and the elderly (29%).

Children and young people are the most common beneficiary group of voluntary organisations

The public

  • Research by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) shows that the use of voluntary organisations is widespread. Nine in ten UK households have used a voluntary organisation at some point, and around three quarters (74%) have used a service provided by a voluntary organisation in the last 12 months.
  • Households which use voluntary organisations perceive a wide range of benefits from doing so. Most commonly this is having an enjoyable experience (17%) or receiving emotional support or counselling from a voluntary organisation (15%).
  • People are often not aware they are using a voluntary organisation. Almost 3 in 10 (29%) were unaware that the service they or someone in their household had used was provided by a voluntary organisation.

Voluntary organisations are widely used by households

More data and research