How is the charity sector evolving?

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The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) recently published its UK Civil Society Almanac 2023, sharing the latest data on the voluntary sector’s size, finances and people.

This edition of the Almanac focuses on the years 2020/2021, demonstrating the impact Covid-19 had on the charity sector. As the report only covers the first full year of the pandemic, the next edition will provide further evidence of its ongoing affects. 

The purpose of this publication is to give those involved with running charities an idea of the emerging trends within the sector, so they can plan ahead more effectively.

Here’s our summary of some of the most interesting points from the Almanac


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

In 2020/21 there were around 164,000 voluntary organisations, representing a very minor decrease since 2019/2020.

The vast majority of these 164,000 are micro and small organisations, which seems to have been stimulated by the pandemic. However, the number of small and medium organisations has declined.

Positively, the number of charity closures during the pandemic years was lower than originally predicted, although the number of newly registered charities fell below average in 2021.

Since then, the cost-of-living crisis has contributed to an increase in charity closures, but initial data from 2023 seems to indicate that the rate of closures is slowing.


Almost half of income the voluntary sector receive is from the public, making this its largest source. Of this, small organisations receive a greater share than their larger fellows.

Just under half of all voluntary organisations rely on the public as their main source of income.

Another third of the income for the voluntary sector comes from the government.


Formal volunteering is giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.

Informal volunteering is giving unpaid help without being involved in a group, club or organisation.

The levels of formal volunteering dropped significantly at the start of the pandemic; however, this comes after period from 2015/16 to 2019/20 where the numbers were relatively stable. This rate of decrease has since slowed.

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

Informal volunteers are harder to track, but it’s believed that their number has dropped back to pre-pandemic levels following a rise earlier in 2020/21.


Voluntary organisations are generally spread evenly across the country, but most of the largest are based in London and the South.

In the least deprived areas people are twice as likely to have volunteered regularly and formally than those in the most deprived areas. This is demonstrated by higher levels of participation in the more affluent South of England.

Bigger organisations are more likely to be active nationally and internationally and in alternately smaller organisations are more likely to operate locally.

Those between the ages of 65 and 74 are most likely to volunteer regularly, both formally and informally. This age group have maintained consistent levels of formal volunteering since 2020/21, whilst participation from younger generations has decreased.


The voluntary sector has a paid workforce of about 925,000. This has dropped by 4% in 2022, in contrast to the previous year’s increase.

Since 2011, the voluntary sector workforce has grown by 24%. Although it is substantially smaller than the public and private sectors, this represents the fastest growth over the past decade.  

Women constitute 67% of the voluntary sector workforce – the majority.  

Further reading…

If you’re interested in diving a bit deeper into this report, we suggest you click the button below to review the NVCOs findings in greater detail, including specific graphics and statistics that support the conclusions above.

We hope this has given a broad overview of the key developments across the charity sector, so you can feel confident you’re moving with the times.

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