Where are voluntary organisations based?

Voluntary organisations across the UK

  • There are 163,959 voluntary organisations across the UK, most of which are broadly spread across the nations.
  • England is home to 130,588 (80%) of all UK voluntary organisations, which is slightly less than its population (84% of the UK). This is a decrease of about 928 organisations from 2019/20. The charity closures could possibly be explained by the pandemic affecting charity finances. However, it is not a significant decrease.
  • There are 2.3 organisations per 1,000 people in England, which is similar to the average for the UK (2.4 per 1,000 people).
  • Scotland has 19,947 organisations. This is 12% of the UK’s total number of organisations compared to 8% of the UK population. This shows the highest rate of organisations in the UK (3.6 per 1,000 people) are in Scotland.
  • Northern Ireland has 6,415 charities or 4% of the UK's total number of voluntary organisations. Similar to Scotland, it has a higher ratio of charities (3.4 per 1,000 people).
  • Wales has 7,009 charities or 4% (2.3 organisations per 1,000 people). This is similar to England’s ratio of charities per 1000 people.

Voluntary organisations are broadly spread in a similar pattern to population distribution across the UK

By English region

  • A little over half (51%) of all English voluntary organisations are based in London and the south.
  • London (24,991) and the south-east (24,177) have a similar number of organisations.
  • In England, 81,968 (63%) voluntary organisations are based in London, the south-east, the south-west and the east of England. The highest ratio is for the south-west with 3.0 organisations per 1000 people.
  • 27,405 organisations (21%) are based in the north (north-west, north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber). The lowest proportion is in the north-east with 1.6 organisations per 1000 people. The north-east also has the lowest percentage (3%) of charities and voluntary organisations in England.
  • The midlands (east and west) have 21,215 charities (16%) - a combined ratio of 2.0 organisations per 1,000 people – lower than the English average (2.3).

Within England, there are disproportionately more charities in the south than in the midlands and north.

By size

  • 69% of all large, major and super-major organisations (those with an income over £1m) in England are based in London, the south and east of England, including:
    • 39% based in London
    • 14% in the south-east
    • 9% in the south-west and
    • 7% in the east of England.
  • The south is also home to 50 of the 59 (85%) super-major organisations (those earning over £100m), which includes 34 (58%) based in London.
  • The north has 19% of all large, major and super-major organisations. Around half of these (9%) are based in the north-west, along with the only four super-major organisations in the north. 12% of larger organisations are in the midlands.
  • The north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber have no super major voluntary organisations (meaning no voluntary organisations with an income over £100m).
  • However, it is worth noting that where these voluntary organisations are based is not necessarily where their beneficiaries are or where they spend their money. For instance, many of these larger organisations work at a national level. This is often called the ‘headquarter effect’. This explains why larger organisations seem to be concentrated in London and the south-east.

Larger organisations in England are disproportionately based in the south

Finances by region

  • Voluntary organisations that are based in London account for £23.5bn (47%) of all English income and £99.2bn (or 66% of assets).
  • Southern-based organisations (London, south-east, south-west, east of England) have a combined 76% of income and 84% of assets in England.
  • Organisations located in the northern regions hold 15% of income and 10% of assets, and organisations from the midlands have 10% and 6% respectively.
  • Again, the ‘headquarter effect’ means that this does not necessarily mean that assets, income and spending are exclusive to where a charity is based, especially for larger, national voluntary organisations.

Organisations based in London and the south hold most of the income and assets

By level of operations

  • Smaller organisations overwhelmingly operate in their local area. Almost 75% of micro (income less than £10,000) and 72% of small organisations (between £10,000 and £100,000) operate only on a local level.
  • In contrast, 44 (72%) of the 61 super-major organisations (over £100m) and 41% of major (between £10m £100m) operate nationally (but not overseas). 16% of super-majors operate overseas only – almost three times that of micro or small organisations.
  • There is also a clear rural/urban split. In 2020/21, rural local authorities on average had 3.1 organisations per 1,000 people compared to 1.9 per 1000 people in urban areas.

Larger organisations are more likely to be active nationally and internationally while 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 12 October 2023