Number of general charities

There were over 171,000 registered general charities in the UK in 2007/8 - equivalent to one voluntary organisation for every 350 people. There may be as many as 600,000 further "below the radar" small local groups and associations that are not registered charities. Since 1960, when the Charity Commission register in England started, there have been at least 2,500 new charities every year. In 2010 there were 6,676 new charities registered, and 6,303 removed from the register, so the net increase was small.

There is little evidence to suggest that the recession has had an impact on the number of charities - new registrations have historically been driven by changes to legislation, whilst administative action by the Charity Commission has lead to more charities being removed in recent years. It is not yet clear what impact the Big Society agenda will have on the number of general charities - new charities may form, but existing charities are being encouraged to collaborate or merge in order to bid for contracts to deliver public services.

What are the implications?

  • More competition within the sector.
  • Changes to levels and sources of income as the funding environment becomes more competitive.
  • Increased competition for volunteers.
  • The perception that there are growing numbers of duplicate or inefficient VCOs may lead to an increase in efficiency drives, and procurement practices that favour large charities.
  • A wider variety of providers giving users choice and creating a variety of services.  
  • Increased pressure on organisations to demonstrate their outcomes and the difference they make (see information on the VCS)
  • Increased public concern that there are too many charities, leading to negative perceptions of charities (see trust in charities).

Moving forward

In a more competitive sector, you may wish to think about your strategic position in relation to other players. Effective organisations with effective reporting of impact will be more likely to flourish in this environment.

  • Do you want to stay small and cover niche markets, or work towards targeting high volumes of clients to benefit from economies of scale?

Being clear about what you offer commissioners could put you at a competitive advantage. VCOs that are able to demonstrate the lasting benefits and distinctive value of what they do are more likely to secure funding.

  • Does your organisation need to improve how it assesses and demonstrates the changes it makes?
  • What strategies can your organisation put in place now to manage potential future changes in funding?

Efficiency drives are likely to push purchasers towards awarding fewer, bigger contracts.

  • How can your organisation develop its negotiating skills to improve your discussions with funders and potential funders in order to secure funding in a more competitive environment?
  • Do you have good systems in place to assess your outcomes, and the broader value you create (social, economic and environmental)?
  • Can you diversify your income sources or work in partnership with other organisations?

Collaborative working can be highly beneficial for your stakeholders and avoid a duplication of services.

  • Are there other organisations with different areas of expertise that your organisation could work with to complement your services?

Funders may increasingly require partnership bids in order to reduce duplication amongst services.

  • Do you need to reconsider your strategic position in relation to other players in your area?
  • What questions does your organisation need to consider before entering into a partnership with another organisation? (e.g. you may want to think about differences in organisational life cycles, cultures and aims).

Want to know more?

Income of Registered Main Charities In England & Wales

Published by: The Charity Commission – a regulatory body

Date: 2010 – however, the website updates with the most recent data being most visible

Format: Web

What is it? A statistical overview of the number of English and Welsh main charities and their incomes.

How useful is this?  Useful as a source of basic statistics.  Data is also available for each year from 1998 onwards though no comparison is made.

How many charities are there?

Published by: NCVO / David Kane

Date: 2009

Format: Web

What is it? A blog post describing how NCVO researchers measure the size of the charity sector in the UK.

How useful is it? It describes how NCVO derive their figures, and explains the difference between other estimates produced by the Charity Commission (which only covers England and Wales).

The UK Civil Society Almanac 2010

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2010

Format: Web

What is it? This page has links to a presentation outlining the key findings from the 2010 Almanac providing an overview of the changing nature of civil society.

How useful is this? The best source of statistics on the voluntary sector including details of large compared to small organisations and discussion of other organisations within civil society.

Other comments: The full 2010 edition with comprehensive analysis of the VCS is available for purchase.


Last updated at 15:48 Wed 30/Mar/11.

Recent comments

David's picture


NCVO Research Team

Of course, general charities are just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of other organisational forms make up the sector, including:

  • Registered non-general charities
  • Co-operatives
  • Trade Unions
  • Housing associations
  • Faith groups

(Estimates of the size of these groups vary wildly!)


There are these charities which are really businesses. I look forward to the application of the ‘public benefit’ rules to public schools.

If the public schools were to lose their charitable status (no appreciable public benefit), not only would Corporation Tax become an issue, but also VAT may be liable on their fees.

What would happen if this were to have a more general impact on the charity sector?

It is interesting - there are certainly a few charities that have been set up as a result of government/Conservative policy - Big Society Network, the Free Schools Network etc.

Not sure if there has been a groundswell of new charities though. The general stats are always quite hard to work out because the necessary pruning by the Commission removes charities from the register all the time - and they've got better at this recently.

Perhaps one place to watch is this twitter feed, announcing every new charity as it emerges on the Charity Commission website and is scraped by

New charities on twitter:

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