How many charities are there?

It’s the most basic question we get asked about the voluntary sector: how many charities are there? It’s pretty easy to answer: “Looking at our latest Almanac, published in February 2009, there are 170,905 charities.”

An easy answer. But there’s a follow-up question: “But the Charity Commission’s website says there are only 168,000 charities. Where did you get an extra 2,000 from?”

Understanding the difference between the two sources is a key part of understanding how we put the Almanac charity figures together.

We start with the Charity Commission register of charities, which covers England and Wales. We remove subsidiary charities from this list – the activities of these are reported within the accounts of their parent charities, so we don’t need to look at them separately.

We then apply our “general charities” definition. This definition is a key reason for the difference in the figures. We exclude some registered charities from our analysis one of for the following three reasons:

  • Some organisations are excluded because they are inactive or duplicates of other organisations.
  • Some organisations are excluded because they belong to other parts of civil society. These include faith groups, trade associations, mutuals, housing associations and independent schools.
  • Some organisations are excluded because they are not part of civil society. These include charities that are owned by the government or the NHS.

The other important difference is that the Almanac covers the UK, whilst the Charity Commission covers only England and Wales. Our sister organisations SCVO and NICVA provide data from Scotland and Northern Ireland, which we add to England and Wales to produce figures for all four nations.

So that’s how we apply the general charities definition, and why our figures are sometimes different to other estimates of the size of the sector. If you want to find out more about why we use a general charities definition then our methodology is available online.

general_charities

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David Kane David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.

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