What do voluntary organisations contribute to the economy?

Gross Value Added (GVA)

  • Government data can be used to measure the value of different sectors to the economy, from which we can estimate the economic contribution of the voluntary sector.
  • Based on the method developed by NCVO and ONS, the voluntary sector contributed £20.2 bn to the UK economy in 2019/20, or 1% of total GDP.
  • The percentage of GDP has been relatively stable since 2016/17 than in the preceding four years, although it is fractionally lower than last year.
  • To put this figure in context, the contribution of the sector to the UK is less than the GDP of El Salvador (£21.1 bn, ranked 101) and slightly more than Cyprus (£20.2b n, ranked 102).

The voluntary sector contributed about £20.2bn to the UK’s economy, or 1% of GDP

GVA of subsectors

  • The same method can be used to calculate the Gross Value Added of different voluntary subsectors.
  • The biggest subsector was social services at £3.7bn followed by international at £3.1bn, health at £2.5bn and culture and recreation at £2.2 bn.
  • Further analysis is limited by the small size of the Almanac subsector samples.

The social services subsector contributes the most, worth £3.7bn, followed by the international subsector with £3.1bn and health with £2.5bn


More data and research

Notes and definitions


Data on this page comes from multiple sources using the latest data available. For example, the information about the voluntary sector workforce covers a more recent period (2020) than the financial data used in the Almanac (2017/18).

Calculation of economic contribution

The contribution to the economy of different sectors is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) based on their production or output (GVA), similar to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Note that contribution to GDP or GVA is not simply equal to turnover.

Although voluntary organisations are included in ONS estimates as part of ‘Non-Profit Institutions Serving Households’ (NPISH), NPISH is not synonymous with the voluntary sector. NCVO and ONS therefore developed a method of estimating the voluntary sector’s GVA, in the early 2000s. Although it has its limitations, we judge it provides the best indication of the economic value of the sector. The method calculates GVA as follows:

Staff costs + Expenditure on goods and services - Income from sales of goods and services

Economic contribution of subsectors

The Almanac sample is stratified first by size and region, and then by subsector (ICNPO classification). A review of the Almanac design in 2016 concluded that only eight of the 18 ICNPO subsector categories had sufficiently large samples of organisations of different sizes to be representative of their ICNPO subsector.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 31 October 2022