What we know about Britain’s biggest charities

Each year, when we publish the Civil Society Almanac, we focus on answering top-level questions. For example: how many people volunteer? how much income do charities receive from the public? But there are plenty of other areas that are worth exploring in more depth.

With that in mind, we have been taking a closer look at what the Almanac calls ‘super-major’ charities – those with income over £100m. These charities have grown in number in recent years and include many household names. We wanted to understand more about who they are and how they compare with other charities.

You can read the full research briefing here (pdf, 380KB), but below are some of our main findings.

Many super-major charities have an international focus

Super-major charities are more likely to be involved in international activities than other charities. 18% of them operate in this area compared to 4% of all others. Also, some charities who are classified as working in other subsectors – such as the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation which sits within the grant-making foundations subsector – also have an international focus.

Super-major charities are also more likely to be based in London and the south than other charities. However, this often reflects the location of their headquarters and does not capture the fact that many will operate throughout the UK, working with local communities and organisations.

Their number and income are both growing

The number of super-major charities has been increasing, from 26 to 45 between 2008/09 – 2015/16, and this has been matched by a growth in income from £6.4bn to £9.4bn over the same period. Super-major charities’ share of the sector’s total income has also increased over this period, from 15% to 20%.

The largest growth in numbers and total income came between 2012/13 and 2013/14. Income rose by £1.7bn and the number grew from 33 to 40. The average income of super-major charities also rose from £198m to £205m during this time.

Like other charities, they receive the greatest proportion of their income from individuals

Super-major charities share some similarities with other charities when looking at the sources of their income. For example, both receive the greatest proportion of their income from individuals­ – 45% and 47% respectively – and the same proportion (7%) from investment.

However, there are some areas where the income of super-major charities differs. They receive a slightly lower proportion of their income from government (27%) compared to all other charities combined (33%). They also receive a greater proportion from the voluntary sector (14%) than all other charities (7%).

Government income contributed to some charities’ growth

For the 10 super-major charities who have seen the biggest percentage income increases since 2009/10, increased income from government accounted for most of the growth for four of them. Only two saw a decrease in income from government between 2009/10 and 2015/16, despite income from government decreasing in the voluntary sector as a whole from £16bn to £15.3bn.

However, despite overall government income increasing for super-major charities since 2009/10, and super-major charities receiving a growing share of the sector’s total income from government, this aggregate change hides significant variation by subsector. For example, between 2013/14 and 2015/16, income from government increased by 72% for super-major charities in the ‘international’ subsector, while it decreased by 5% for super-major charities in other subsectors.

Super-majors spend a similar proportion as others on charitable activities

84% of super-major charities’ spending goes towards achieving their charitable aims, almost the same proportion as all other charities (86%), however super-major organisations spend a greater proportion on grant making (22% of total spending compared to 14% for other charities).

Super-major charities account for a third (33%) of the sector’s spending on grants, which are distributed to other voluntary organisations, but also to individuals, universities and government bodies. Nine of the ten largest grant-makers in the sector are super-major charities. It’s worth noting, however, that some of this grant making is distributed to other super-major charities. For example, Cancer Research UK provides core funding for the Francis Crick Institute.

Super-major charities are an important feature of the voluntary sector, accounting for a significant proportion of total income and providing important grant income to other charities. We will continue to report on charities of all size, including super-majors, in next year’s UK Civil Society Almanac, which will be published in spring 2019.


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John Davies John is a research assistant at NCVO. Previously John worked in the research team of an education consultancy called The Key, mainly focused on multi-academy trusts and school governance in his research.

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