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Charities’ recession recovery complete, shows NCVO Almanac

Charities have completed a long journey to recover their finances to pre-2008 levels, new data released by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) shows.

The sector’s total net assets - assets minus liabilities - hit £120.5bn in 2007/8, before crashing to £94.4bn in 2008/9. It took seven years for them to recover, with new analysis showing they surpassed their previous high by reaching £121.3bn in 2015/16 [1]. ( All figures adjusted to 2015/16 terms.) But NCVO cautioned the data suggests smaller charities have not managed to recover the value of their assets to the same extent as the sector on average.

The figures are contained in this year’s edition of NCVO’s UK Civil Society Almanac, the authoritative resource for information on the charity sector’s finances.

The sector’s income returned to above 2007/8 levels in 2013/14 and continued to grow since then, reaching a new high of £47.8bn in 2015/16, a 4% increase on the previous year.

Government income

However, income from government sources fell back slightly, declining 1% to £15.3bn this year, the same as its level two years prior. Government income to the voluntary sector has historically tracked government spending as a whole, and as 2015 saw the start of a spending review period with significant cuts in departmental spending planned, the following years may also turn out to have seen declines in government income.


The 2015/16 period covers the time of heightened concern about fundraising methods. The figures show that income from the public grew during this period, although in line with the longer-term trend, the growth was seen predominantly in earned income – payments for goods and services, such as membership fees or charity shop sales, rather than donations. Donations from the public showed slight growth of 1% to £7.8bn, while earned income from the public continued to show strong growth, increasing by 8% to £11.4bn.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

We can and should celebrate the fact that the UK voluntary sector continued to grow, doing more than ever for the people and causes it works for. But I know that aggregate numbers can disguise a great deal of variation in experience on the ground.

While some charities are going from strength to strength, others, smaller charities in particular, are struggling with the ongoing local government spending squeeze, or being pushed out of an increasingly competitive public services market.

Income from the public was strong in the year under examination, but many have suggested that the transition to a longer-term approach to fundraising methods and the impact of changes to data law could mean future fundraising returns will be lower in the short term.

The sector as a whole may have recovered from the impact of the recession, but there is clearly no shortage of risks out there for charities. The solutions, as ever, all come back to ensuring organisations have the strong governance needed to help them manage risks and to ensure they grasp opportunities.


NCVO uses data from a sample of thousands of charities’ annual accounts to produce the Almanac, the most accurate estimates available for charities’ finances. Published every year, it is used by the Office for National Statistics in their calculations of charities’ contribution to the economy.

  • The figures are for the financial year 2015/16 as charities have ten months from their year ends to submit their accounts to the Charity Commission. NCVO then analyses these accounts in order to produce estimates for the sector as a whole.
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