Executive summary

There has been a slight decrease in the number of voluntary organisations in the UK

In 2020/21 there were 163,959 voluntary organisations, a very small decrease since 2019/2020. The vast majority of voluntary organisations are micro and small.

The pandemic appears to have encouraged the growth of micro organisations in 2020/21, but with a decline in the number of small and medium organisations.

As this report only covers the first full year of the covid-19 pandemic period, the next Almanac edition will provide further evidence of the ongoing impact.

Charity closures during the pandemic years were lower than predicted, although the number of newly registered charities fell below average in 2021.

In 2022 when inflation rose to 11%, charities were forced to their limits during the cost of living crisis and the number of charity closures rose, but initial data from 2023 suggests the rate of closure may be slowing once again.

Just under a fifth of voluntary sector organisations work in social services

Voluntary organisations carry out a range of different types of work. Social services – a relatively broad category – is the largest voluntary subsector, representing just under a fifth of the sector by size.

Voluntary organisations that focus on social services, research and international development make up most of the top 10 voluntary organisations by income.

Almost all parent-teacher associations, village halls and scout groups are micro or small organisations with an annual income of less than £100,000.

Voluntary organisations are spread fairly evenly across the country, but most of the biggest organisations are based in London and the south

The majority of voluntary organisations with the biggest assets are based in London and the south.

Larger organisations are more likely to be active nationally and internationally, while smaller voluntary organisations are more likely to operate locally.

Across the four nations, Scotland has the highest rate of voluntary organisations per population (3.6 per 1,000 people), followed by Northern Ireland (3.4), England (2.4), and Wales (2.3).

Almost half of the population volunteered their time informally to help others at least once in 2021/22, back down from the increased levels seen in the earlier stages of the pandemic, while the rate of decline in formal volunteering rates slowed considerably, but remained lower than pre-pandemic

While levels of formal volunteering had remained largely unchanged from 2015/16 to 2019/20, they dropped sharply at the start of the pandemic in 2020/21, but the rate of decline has now slowed.

An estimated 14.2m people (27% of people) volunteered through a group, club or organisation in 2021/22. This is down from 16.3 (30%) million in 2020/21, and 20m (37%) in 2019/20.

Volunteering at least monthly was maintained at 16%, with little further decline in 2021/22 after the sharp drop from 23% in 2019/20 to 17% in 2020/21.

Informal volunteering (which includes giving unpaid help without being involved in groups, clubs, or organisations) is less visible.

In 2021/22, 46% of the population (an estimated 25m) volunteered informally at least once and 26% (14.2m) did so at least once a month.

The level of informal volunteering has dropped back to pre-pandemic levels following a rise earlier in the pandemic in 2020/21 (54% at least once, 33% at least monthly).

Older people, and those in less deprived areas are relatively more likely to volunteer formally with women and disabled people more likely to volunteer informally

People aged between 65 and 74 are the age group most likely to volunteer, both formally and informally, on a regular basis. Formal volunteering for this age group is twice the rate of those aged between 25 and 34.

People aged over 65 have maintained their levels of formal volunteering since 2020/21, while participation in all other age groups has dropped.

Those living in the least deprived areas are twice as likely to have volunteered formally at least monthly than those in the most deprived areas, reflected in higher levels of regular volunteering in the more affluent south of England.

Volunteering participation varies by ethnicity, but different data sources tell different stories. Women and disabled people are relatively more likely to volunteer informally, with no differences by gender or disability for formal volunteering.

The voluntary sector’s workforce has declined by 4% over the last year, reversing the increase seen in 2022; despite this, it is has still grown faster than the public and private sectors over the last decade

The voluntary sector has a paid workforce of about 925,000, which is down 4% in 2022, reversing the previous year’s increase. The voluntary sector workforce has grown by 24% since 2011.

While substantially smaller than both the public and private sectors, it has seen the fastest growth over the last decade. A majority of voluntary sector employees work in smaller organisations with fewer than 50 paid staff members.

The voluntary sector workforce is distributed around the UK in a pattern relatively close to the population distribution, although London and the south, and Scotland are slightly over-represented.

Around a third work at least partially remotely: 28% work from their own home and 10% work from different places with home as a base. Over a third of the voluntary sector workforce are employed in social work.

The voluntary sector is disproportionately staffed by women, and its workforce has an older age profile than the private sector

Women make up the majority of the voluntary sector workforce at 67%. After a dip in 2018, the number of men working in the voluntary sector has remained stable at 33%.

The voluntary sector workforce has a similar age profile to the public sector but is older than the private sector. There has been a steady increase year on year in the number of older people (aged 50 and above) and disabled people working in the UK voluntary sector, with this increase continuing in 2022.

The voluntary sector is less ethnically diverse than the private and public sectors, with 90% of its staff identifying as white, compared to 86% for the public and 87% for the private.

The proportion of global majority, otherwise referred to as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in the voluntary sector is low compared to the other two, and has not changed in the last eight years.

The growth of voluntary sector income and expenditure has been partially reversed in 2020/21

Income and spending had increased consistently since 2000/01, but the rate of growth had slowed by 2019/20, and both fell in 2020/21, the first full year of the pandemic: income fell by 6% with spend decreasing by 8%.

The sector spends most of its £56.9bn annual income on charitable activities. Compared with 2019/20 expenditure, in 2020/21, the only type of spending that did not decline was grants.

Even though the number of all micro organisations declined in 2020/21, over the longer term, larger organisations have received an increasing amount and share of the sector’s total income.

In the same year, the income of smaller organisations is shrinking at a much faster rate than that of larger organisations. Major and super-major organisations are responsible for over half the sector’s expenditure, similar to their share of income.

Income from the public and investment have fallen in 2020/21, reversing the previous pattern of increase, while income from the government has risen

Almost half of voluntary sector income is from the public (the largest source) followed by close to a third from the government.

Reversing the pattern of increase seen in the past few years, income from the public decreased by 14% to £26.5bn, while investment income decreased by 15% to £4.5bn from 2019/20. Most other sources of income increased, most notably government income (up 6% to £5.9bn).

Smaller organisations receive a larger share of income from the public than larger ones. Environmental and parent-teacher organisations in particular depend on the public for more than two thirds of their income.

Just under half of all voluntary organisations rely on the public for the majority of their income.

Government income has broadly plateaued over the last decade while falling proportionally over time, but there has been a small uptick in both amount and proportion in 2020/21

Government funding is the second largest income source for the voluntary sector, behind the public. There was a slight increase in the amount of government funding for the sector in the year to 2020/21, reversing the previous year’s decrease.

In the longer term, government income has broadly plateaued over the last decade, while falling as a proportion of total income, as organisations have increased their funding from alternate sources.

Over the last decade, central government funding has been relatively steady while local government funding has declined steadily. In 2020/21 there has been an uptick in central government funding, and a halt to the decline for local funding.

Larger organisations receive much more income from government than smaller ones. The social services sector in particular receives a large amount of funding from government, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of income.

2022 saw a UK-wide candidate-driven job market. Increased vacancies and fewer candidates resulted in a decrease in demand for jobs, driving salaries up

This is the first year that NCVO has included data on charity vacancies and salary levels, produced in partnership with CharityJob.

2022 saw a UK-wide candidate-driven job market. Increased vacancies and fewer candidates resulted in a decrease in demand  for jobs, making it harder for charities to recruit.

Average salaries increased from £30,800 in 2019 to £32,200 in 2022, with increases in average salary over this period at all experience levels, except for senior executive roles, for which salaries have decreased on average.

Medium charities pay the least on average at all experience levels, even when compared to micro and small charities, although there has been a slight decrease in salaries for micro and small charities since 2019.

The pandemic has changed the way charities work, with a significant increase in remote and hybrid opportunities. As on-site working has been displaced, average salaries for remote and hybrid roles have increased, with on-site salaries stable since 2019.

The voluntary sector contributes about £20bn to the UK’s GDP

The voluntary sector contributed about £18bn to the UK’s economy, or 0.8% of GDP.

The social services subsector contributes the most, worth £3.4bn, followed by culture and recreation, and the international subsector, each with £2.3bn and health with £2.1bn.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 12 October 2023