What do voluntary organisations spend their money on?


  • Voluntary sector spending stands at £56.9bn in 2019/20. This is a £1.9bn (3.5%) increase from the previous year. Given the smaller increase in sector income (£1.8bn or 3.3%), the gap between income and spending narrowed – with spending worth 97% of all income.
  • The biggest type of spending is on charitable activities at £40.3bn or 71% of all voluntary sector spending, followed by £8.8bn (15%) on grants and £7.7bn (13%) on activities for raising funds.
  • Compared to the previous year, the cost of charitable activities rose by £1.3bn (3%), activities for raising funds fell by £466m (-6%) and grants rose by £1bn (13%).
  • It is likely that next year’s Almanac, covering 2020/21, will include spending changes including emergency grants, adapting workplaces through purchasing PPE and measures to allow social distancing. This would also include remote working and online service delivery costs such as digital devices, software, and broadband and data allowances.

Most voluntary sector spending is on charitable activities, followed by activities for raising funds

Over time

  • Overall spending rose from £34bn in 2000/2001 to £56.7bn in 2019/20 - a 68% increase.
  • By 2010/11, voluntary sector spending rose to £47.2bn.  Spending declined slightly in 2011/12, likely due to the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and government austerity, then rose again steadily from 2012/13.
  • For types of spending, activities for raising funds more than doubled from £3.5bn in 2000/01 to £7.3bn in 2019/20. Charitable activities almost doubled, rising 85% from £21.7bn to £40.3bn in the same period. Grants rose from £6.2bn to £8.8bn. However, governance costs fell from £2.6bn to £595m, falling more than three-quarters.

Spending has risen consistently since 2000/01, but the rate of spending growth has been greater than the rate of income growth in recent years

By subsector

  • The highest spending subsector is social services (£12.1bn) followed by culture and recreation (£6.3bn) and health (£6.1bn).
  • Employment and training organisations spent the largest proportion on charitable activities (87%) while the grant-making foundations spent the least (38%).
  • Organisations in development spent the most on activities for generating funds (27%) while village halls spent the lowest (6%).
  • Grant-making foundations spent the largest proportion on grants (50%) followed by parent-teacher associations (47%) and research (40%), while the lowest proportion was done by education (5%).

Employment and training organisations spent the highest proportion on charitable activities. Parent-teacher associations spent a large percent on grants

More data and research

By size

  • Major and super-major organisations (income over £10m) account for over half (55% or £31.1bn) of all voluntary sector spending.
  • Micro and small charities (income less than £100,000) made up 80% of all voluntary sector organisation, make up only 5% (£2.8bn) of all spending.
  • Micro and small organisations spent a lower proportion on activities for raising funds (6%) and charitable activities (64%) than super-major organisations (12% and 71% respectively) and more on governance (7% to close to 0%).

Larger organisations spend a larger proportion on charitable activities and activities for raising funds while the smallest organisations spend a larger proportion on grants and governance

Notes and definitions


The Financial Reporting Standard FRS102 requires voluntary organisations to assign their spending to one of three categories. Each of these then include all costs related to that activity, including staff costs, management and administration.

Expenditure on raising funds includes the costs of:

  • Fundraising trading, for example costs for organising events, lotteries or running charity shops
  • Generating voluntary income or fundraising costs with direct marketing, seeking grants or contracting agencies to seek funds on behalf of the organisation
  • Investment management costs, eg obtaining investment advice, rent collection, property repairs etc.

Expenditure on charitable activities includes the cost of:

  • Money spent delivering the work that the organisation was set up to do, including governance costs

Other expenditures include expenditures that fit in neither of the above categories.

Fundraising ratio

There are different ways of considering the effectiveness of fundraising. While the spending on raising funds as a proportion of an organisation’s total spending is often used as an indicator of efficiency, it doesn’t measure return on investment.

In the Almanac we use the following fundraising ratio:

(Voluntary income + income from activities for raising funds) / (spending on raising funds – cost of managing investments)

This ratio considers all voluntary income and the income from activities for raising funds, over the total amount spent on raising funds minus the amount spent on managing investments. We believe this provides a good overall indication of fundraising performance by capturing the full range of fundraising income and costs.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 October 2022