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.

  • In this chapter, we focus on the beneficiaries directly in receipt of support, based on the information voluntary organisations provided the Charity Commission when registering. However, we acknowledge that the public also benefits from the voluntary sector in a range of other ways (see economic contribution).

Types of support

  • Voluntary organisations support their beneficiaries in a range of ways, from direct monetary aid to the provision of services and facilities, as well as through supporting other voluntary organisations or community groups.
  • According to the Charity Commission classification, service provision is the most common type of support provided. More than a third (37%) of organisations say 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 frequent types of support provided.

Service provision is the most common type of support provided by voluntary organisations


  • Voluntary organisations support a wide range of beneficiary groups, covering all demographic groups in the UK and 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 (30%).

The most common beneficiary group of voluntary organisations are children and young people

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 three in ten (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