Charity in the UK

Size of the sector

  • There are 162,440 general charities in the UK.
  • The Charity Commission had 180,909 charities on its register in December 2010. This includes charities in other categories, for example, universities, housing associations, religious organisations and ‘quangos’, such as the British Council.


  • Charities received £52 billion in 2009/2010, more than double the income of 1999/2010
  • An increased share of money is going to a small group of the very largest charities. Just 833 of 160,515 charities generate 54% of the sector’s income

Source: Charity Commission Facts and Figures.

  • In 2007/2008, three-quarters (133,074 organisations or 78%) of charities received no government funding at all and income from individuals remains the single most important funding stream for the entire voluntary sector, accounting for £13.1bn (37%) of its total £35.5bn annual income
  • Legacies accounted for £2bn of the total annual income
  • The total expenditure of voluntary organisations in 2007/08 was £35.8bn compared to £535.6bn total government expenditure.

Source: NCVO Voluntary Sector Almanac 2010

Individual giving

  • Charitable giving remains widespread. In 2009/10, 56% of adults living in households in the UK donated to charitable causes. The typical amounts given per donor per month in 2009/10 were £12, measured by the median, and £31 measured by the mean. The total amount given to charity in 2009/10 by all such individuals is estimated at £10.6 bn. In addition, donations from individual legacies are estimated to provide at least a further £2bn (the latest estimate, based on 2007/08 figures).
  • High-level donors have the greatest impact on the total amounts given. The share of total donations coming from high-level donors (those making donations of more than £100), has increased slightly, from 6% in 2005/06 to 8% in 2009/10.
  • The proportion of people giving increased slightly, after decreasing between 2007/08 and 2008/09 at the time of the recession. The typical (median) amount given also increased, from £10 in 2008/09 to £12 in 2009/10, whereas the mean amount given increased only slightly over the same period from £30 to £31. The overall amount of £10.6bn given to charity was an increase in real terms of £400m compared to £10.2bn in 2008/09 (once adjusted for inflation). However, the total amount given has not recovered to 2007/8 levels.
  • The popularity of overseas causes increased in 2009/10. Almost one quarter (24%) of donors gave to overseas causes, compared with 15% or 16% in the previous three years. It is possible that the well-supported Haiti appeal contributed to this greater popularity of overseas causes. Otherwise the types of causes that people give to remain remarkably stable; medical research continues to be the most popular cause in terms of the proportion of donors giving (32%) whilst religious causes continue to attract the largest median typical donations (£15).
  • The patterns of who gives and how they give remained much the same as in previous years. Women aged 45 – 64 continue to be the most likely group to give (68%) and young men aged 16 – 24 the least likely (31%). People in managerial and professional occupations are the most likely to give (69%) and they also give larger median amounts on average (£19).
  • Giving by cash remains the most common method of donation, used by half of all donors (50%) in 2009/10. After increasing between 2005/06 and 2008/09, the proportion of donors using direct debit now remains fairly steady at 29%. Those giving larger amounts tend to use cheque/card and direct debit so these methods continued to account for the largest shares of charitable giving, 29% and 22% respectively in 2009/10.
  • Use of the Gift Aid scheme appears to be levelling off. Gift Aid was used by 40% of donors in 2009/10, a similar proportion to 2008/09. Before that there had been a gradual increase in Gift Aid usage. People who donate larger amounts are more likely to use Gift Aid; in 2009/10 Gift Aid was used by 73% of those giving higher-level donations (£100+) but only by 20% of those giving donations of £10 or less.

Source: NCVO/CAF UK Giving 2010

Very wealthy individuals gave 100 donations of £1 million or more in 2008/09 (the latest year for which information is available), with a combined value of £1.0 billion.

The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report 2010 (Breeze, 2010)


UK Giving compared to other countries

In an ambitious global study, the United Kingdom was identified as one of the countries with the highest proportion of adults giving money. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of UK adults reported giving in the last month, lower than Malta (83%) and the Netherlands (77%), and slightly greater than Ireland (72%), Australia (70%) and New Zealand (68%).

World Giving Index 2010 (CAF, 2010)

Charitable giving by family foundations

The largest 100 family foundations are making a substantial and growing contribution. Family foundation giving has shown resilience in the face of the economic downturn.

  • Family foundations gave around £1.4bn to charitable causes in 2008/09.
  • Their giving represented 9% of all private giving.
  • Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the amount given increased by 40%.
  • This represented an average 9% per year in real terms, significantly outpacing growth in
  • the economy.
  • While family foundations’ asset values fell by a real 12% in 2008/09, their giving fell by
  • just 0.2%.

Source:         Family Foundations Giving Trends

  • There are around 8,800 independent trusts and foundations in the UK
  • The majority are involved in grant-making; few are engaged in operational activities
  • The top 500 trusts and grant-making charities (by grant-making expenditure) gave funds of around £3.3bn in 2006, a 17% increase on 2005
  • This represents around three-quarters of the value of all charitable grantmaking and around 10% of the UK voluntary sector’s income. It is broadly comparable with central government spending of £2.5 billion (2005 figure)


Top 10 charitable grant-makers, 2005/06

The top ten grant-makers account for over half of the top 500’s grantmaking expenditure, which indicates that in the UK there are a small number of very large trusts and other charitable grant-makers. The table includes trusts and
grantmaking charities that offer services.

Charity name Grantmaking expenditure (£ million)
Big Lottery Fund (The)/ Community Fund 336.4
Wellcome Trust (The) 324.7
Big Lottery Fund (The)/ New Opportunities Fund 243.4
Cancer Research UK 128.1
British Heart Foundation 85.4
Football Foundation (The) 58.9
Christian Aid 55.2
Action Aid 53
Macmillan Cancer Support 50.7
St Bartholemew’s 47.5
Top 10 total 1,383.3
Top 500 total 3,267

Source: Charity Trends 2007

Charitable giving by community foundations

Community foundations are charitable trusts that support local community causes. Their role is to manage donor funds and build endowments as well as make grants to charities and community groups, linking local donors with local needs.

  • There were 51 active Community Foundations in 2005/2006.
  • They distributed funds of £71 million.

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