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Are there too many charities?

This is one of seven fact sheets in a series about reporting on charity issues. It provides context for accurate reporting and details of where to get more information.

Other topics in the series are:

  1. How can I tell how effective a charity is?
  2. Why do charities have paid staff?
  3. How much money goes on running costs?
  4. Why do charities fundraise?
  5. Why do charities deliver public services?
  6. Why do charities campaign?

Download this fact sheet as a PDF (50KB)

Context

Some people think the sector would be more efficient if there were fewer charities. They believe it would be a good thing if donations weren’t spread so thinly and that it could be easier to hold a smaller number of charities to account.

There are few ‘facts’ in this area. But here are some comments ‘for’ and ‘against’ the proposition that there are too many charities.

Arguments for there being too many charities

Duplication

There are hundreds of charities often working in the same area. For example, there are over one thousand five hundred charities working on issues to do with cancer in England and Wales. Some would argue that we do need this many charities working on cancer issues.

Inefficient

There are a lot of average charities that are taking resources away from the best charities, creating needless competition for resources. This increases the cost of generating income and leads to less going to the frontline.

Impact

If charities were to pool their resources they could focus on those activities that have the biggest impact. This would lead to better outcomes for beneficiaries and the public.

Arguments against there being too many charities

Specialism

Many charities operate in niche areas where it is important to have organisations with expertise. One big charity can’t be as focused on these issues as lots of smaller organisations. For example, There may be one thousand five hundred charities working on issues to do with cancer, but cancer is a complex area with big differences between different types of cancer as well as between service delivery charities, research focused charities and awareness raising charities. Lots of charities working on the same issue will operate only in one local area. There is little to be gained from merging a local wildlife charity in Devon with one in Durham.

Mergers

The efficiencies to be gained from merging charities are often over-estimated. If charities are still doing all the same work, they will still have many of the costs, even if they merge. NB – lots of charities are very localised. You wouldn’t gain much efficiency from merging a charity in Stockport with one in Southampton.

Setting up charities

It’s already the case that if you want to register a new charity, the Charity Commission will ask you to consider alternative options, not least because running a charity is a major responsibility. But if you prevented people setting up a charity because there was already another similar one, you’d stifle potentially innovative and exciting new organisations. Some of Britain’s best-known charities started out as kitchen-table endeavours created by a few committed people. If someone had told them they shouldn’t start because there was already a charity working in that area, we wouldn’t have Oxfam or Help for Heroes, for example.

Variety

Some variety is a good thing. It means you have some choice over which charity you donate to. Different organisations bring different strengths and perspectives. They focus on different areas.

Freedom of association

One of the core values of our country is the right for people to come together to solve issues which affect them and their communities. Placing a limit on the number of charities or putting barriers in the way of setting up charities infringes upon this right. 

It is also important to remember that in practice, charities frequently collaborate on their work. 

And charities often do merge when they think it would be the best thing to do for their cause. Recent examples include Help the Aged and Age Concern and Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. 

Useful press contacts

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

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  • Telephone 020 7520 2413
  • Out of hours 07714 243 942
  • @NCVO

Charity Finance Group

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  • Telephone 020 7871 5477
  • Out of hours 07889 129 971
  • @CFGtweets
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