Where are voluntary organisations based?

Across the UK

  • Most voluntary organisations are based in England. There were 129,120 voluntary organisations in England in 2018/19 representing 79% of all UK voluntary organisations. This is broadly similar to population patterns, with 84% of people in the UK living in England. There are 2.3 voluntary organisations per 1,000 people in the UK.
  • However, these figures are down compared with last year. The number of voluntary organisations has shrunk by 3% and there are now 4% fewer charities per 1000 population.
  • With almost 21,000 voluntary organisations, Scotland has the highest density of organisations. For every 1,000 people, there are 3.8 (+6%) registered voluntary organisations in Scotland compared to 2.3 (-4%) for England. Wales has the lowest number of organisations per 1,000 people, with 2.2 (the same as last year).
  • London has 19% of all voluntary organisations and 16% of the population while the north-east has 3% of organisations and 5% of the population. The south-west has the highest number of organisations per 1,000 people with 3.0 while the north-east has the lowest with 1.6.

The distribution of voluntary organisations across the UK is broadly similar to the population distribution

Across England

  • Over half (51%) of all English voluntary organisations are based in the South: 65,113 out of 129,120 organisations are registered in either London, the south-east or the south-west.
  • Although voluntary organisations registered in London make up only 19% of all organisations in England, they hold over two-thirds (68%) of all assets and almost half (47%) of all income. This is due to a few very asset-rich organisations being based in London, including the Wellcome Trust, which accounts for 18% of the assets in England alone.
  • It is worth noting that where voluntary organisations are based is not necessarily where their beneficiaries are or where they spend their money. For instance, while one in two voluntary organisations are based in the south of England, many work at a national level. This is often called the ‘headquarter effect’.

The majority of voluntary organisations with large assets are based in London


  • In 2018/19, London is home to over a third (39%) of all organisations with an income of £1m and over.
  • Most (62%) super-major organisations are based in London. More than nine in ten (95%) of these organisations have their headquarters in London but operate at national or international level. This represents an increase of 5 percentage points since 2017/18.
  • Larger organisations are also more likely to give grants to other voluntary organisations and these can be located outside London.

While big voluntary organisations are more likely to be based in the capital, they are active across the UK and overseas

Rural versus urban

Rural areas have more voluntary organisations per person, but these tend to be smaller

  • There is a clear rural/urban split in the distribution of voluntary organisations: In 2018/19, rural local authorities on average had 3.0 organisations per 1,000 people compared to 2.0 in urban areas.
  • Voluntary organisations in urban areas are on average more than three times larger in terms of income than their rural counterparts.

Area of operation

  • Smaller voluntary organisations are more likely to work locally. The vast majority of micro (78%) and small organisations (77%) do so, compared to just 5% of super-major organisations. Since 2017/18, the proportion of super-majors operating locally has decreased by 44% (9% operating locally in 2017/18, 5% operating in 2018/19).
  • Super-major organisations have by far the largest proportion of organisations that work at a national level (73%) or overseas (20%).

Smaller voluntary organisations are more likely to operate solely in their local area

More data and research

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 September 2021