How many voluntary organisations are there?
- Our analysis of the voluntary sector is based on our ‘general charities’ definition that allows us to compare Charity Commission figures from year to year. Under that definition, there were 163,959 voluntary organisations in the UK in 2020/21.
- As trends often vary for organisations of different sizes, the Almanac groups organisations into six different income bands (see table below).
- Based on these categories, 80% of organisations earned under £100,000 and 96% earned under £1m in 2020/21. This included:
- micro organisations (those with an income under £10,000)
- small organisations (those with an income between £10,000 and £100,000)
- medium-sized organisations (those with an income between £100,000 and £1m).
- Organisations which earned over £1m (large, major and super-major) made up about 4% of the entire sector.
In 2020/21 there were 163,959 voluntary organisations – a large majority are micro and small
- From 2000/01 to 2007/08, the voluntary sector grew significantly from 146,429 organisations to a peak of 171,074. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, this fell to a low of 161,202 in 2012/13. Rising once again in 2013/14 to 166,334, this remained relatively stable until 2018/2019 when the number of charities fell back slightly to 163,150. While this recovered slightly in 2019/2020 to 165,758, this has dropped back to 163,959 in 2020/21. This is most likely reflecting the impact of the pandemic.
- From 2000/01 to 2020/21, the total number of voluntary organisations has increased by 12%. At the same time, the total number of micro-organisations (income of less than £10,000) has steadily decreased each year and shrunk by 9% in the past 20 years.
- Micro and small organisations (organisations with an income of less than £100,000) have declined as a proportion of the sector, from 88% in 2000/01 to 80% each year since 2018/19. Organisations with over £1m in income have more than doubled from 1.6% of organisations in 2000/01 to 4.1% in both 2019/2020 and 2020/21.
- The pandemic increased demand for micro and small community voluntary organisations. This may explain the increase of 4% in the number of micro organisations since 2019/2020, although the number of small organisations has fallen by 7% over that time. In broader terms, the total number of large, major and super-major organisations decreased by 2%. Micro, small and medium voluntary organisations increased by just under 1% in 2020/21 from the previous year.
- The impact of the pandemic can be seen on income as voluntary sector income decreased by 6% from £60,538m in 2019/20 to £56,891m in 2020/21.
- London and the south-east have the largest number of micro charities at 10,230 and 11,251 in 2020/21.
- In 2020/21, despite the overall increase of 4% in the number of micro charities, the number in Wales decreased by 4% while there was an increase of 10% in Scotland.
Finances by size
- Micro and small organisations (income less than £100,000) make up 80% of voluntary sector organisations. However, those with over £1m in income (4% of all voluntary sector organisations) account for 83% of the sector’s income, 82% of spending and 86% of assets.
- In comparison, micro and small organisations have 4% of income, 4% of spending and 4% of assets.
- 15,229 charities have zero income in 2020/21. Organisations with zero income increased during the pandemic year from 14,982 in 2019/20.
- The median income of a micro charity is £9,365 in 2020/21, a small charity is £106,040 and a medium charity is £499,862. In comparison, the median income of a large charity is £1,703,705, a major charity is £15,578,034 and a super major charity is £91,615,265.
While the vast majority of voluntary sector organisations are smaller, larger organisations account for most income, spending and assets
- Covid-19 impacted larger organisations. In 2019/2020, the number of larger organisations continued to grow, as it had done every year for more than a decade. However, the pandemic decreased the number of large, major and super-major organisations in 2020/2021 (up to £10m income, up to £100m income and more than £100m respectively).
- The number of major charities – those with an income between £10m and £100m – decreased by 5% from 782 in 2019/20 to 743 in 2020/21. Similarly, the pandemic also shrank the number of super-major charities – those with an income upwards of £100m, by almost 5%.
- Of the larger charities, the income of super-major charities saw the greatest decrease of 11% from £14,220m in 2019/20 to £12,671m in 2020/21.
- 59 out of 61 super-major organisations are based in England, while 2 are in Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland do not have super major charities in 2020/21:
- England has 642 major charities
- Wales has 25
- Scotland has 71 and
- Northern Ireland has 5 in 2020/21.
The number of organisations earning over £10m has declined for the first time in 2020/21
Charity closures during the pandemic
- Expectations that the covid-19 pandemic would see a rise in the number of charity closures were proved false, according to research by Third Sector Research Council.
- According to the Charity Commission for England and Wales, there were not substantially more charities removed in 2020, 2021 or 2022 than there had been in 2019. 5,566 charities were removed from the Charity Commission register in 2019 compared with 5,623 were removed in 2020 and with slightly lower removals of 4,281 charities 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 again went up to 5,542. There had been some initial scepticism from charities about meeting increased service demands due to the cost of living crisis. However, the latest data, with inflation returning to single digits, is now a reason for quiet optimism 5 for charities about the long-term.
- In total, 2,213 charities were removed from the register in the first half of 2023. While this looked on course to be lower than in 2023, there is a time lag in updating the register, so the number may yet increase. For charities removed with an operating loss of at least £10k in their final accounts, the number of closures in 2022 was 612 compared to 331 in the first half of 2023.
- Charity registrations, averaging above 5,000 from 2015 to 2019, were 5,713 in 2020 – a similar level to 2019. In 2021 registrations fell sharply to 4,302 (though numbers started to rise again by the end of the year).
- The reasons for lower levels of closures are unknown. They could include:
- charities not alerting the Charity Commission of closure
- targeted government support and other funding
- cuts to charity spending
- more flexible funding arrangements.
Charities closures during the pandemic were lower than originally thought, though the number of new charities fell below average in 2021
Learn more about this in the Financial Vulnerability in UK Charities under Covid-19: An overview report by the University of Birmingham
Putting it into context
When considering the total number of voluntary organisations by size over time, it is important to remember that the changes shown are the net change in numbers, as illustrated for super-major organisations.
In any particular year, a number of new voluntary organisations are registered. Some are closed, and for others the annual income has changed, resulting in them moving to another income band.
As a result, some trends in terms of numbers and financials are affected by the movement of organisations between income bands.
For more information, see the reports listed below. These reports unpick some of the financial trends for organisations of different sizes in more detail.
Some of the growth in larger organisations is linked to a natural expansion of income bands due to inflation.
For instance, an organisation with an income of £90,000 in 2000/01 would have an income of about £159,400 in 2020/21. This would move the organisation from the small income band to the medium income band.
We used a RPIX (equivalent to the all items Retail Price Index (RPI) excluding mortgage interest payments) conversion rate of 1.771 (April 2021).
More data and research
- Report on the impact of the pandemic which features data on charity closures and foundations during the covid-19 pandemic completed by the Third Sector Research Council.
- Navigating Change – an analysis of financial trends for small and medium-sized charities commissioned by the Lloyds Bank Foundation.
- The Too Small to Fail report explores how small and medium-sized charities are adapting to change and challenges carried out by The Progressive Policy Think Tank (IPPR).
- The Value of Small research exploring the distinctive features of small charities.
Notes and definitions
Voluntary sector definition
- The Almanac analysis is based on ‘general charities’, which includes most but not all (83%) of organisations registered with the Charity Commission and recognised as charitable in law.
- As discussed in the section on the definition of the voluntary sector, general charities exclude a number of registered charities that do not meet our criteria. For example, non-departmental public bodies, housing associations or universities.
Micro and small organisations
- The categories of micro organisations (income of less than £10,000) and small organisations (income of £10,000 to £100,000) are used in the sampling and checking stages of our work on the Almanac dataset. These are then combined for analysis purposes since there are too few micro-organisations in the sample to provide separate estimates.