UK Charity Activity Tags launch

Dr Christopher Damm is a research fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. His research specialises in the role of the voluntary sector in welfare services in the UK.

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new classification system for charities registered in the UK, developed by myself, David Kane (freelance data scientist) and NCVO. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded this project with the aim of helping researchers, umbrella bodies and others to make sense of the diverse range of activities charities undertake.

This new classification system – which we’re calling UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT) – adds tags to organisations. The aim is to help make clearer the work charities do and to identify subdivisions of the voluntary sector. You can find tags for food banks, for example, or for charities running social activities. In total, we’ve included over 250 tags and defined rules for attaching them to charities using keyword matching.

Part of our motivation was that we found the existing systems for classifying charities weren’t working well enough. Charities select some categories when they register with the Charity Commission but these are quite broad and don’t capture the breadth of charitable causes across the UK. The international classification, historically used by NCVO in the UK Civil Society Almanac can also miss the nuances of a UK context and includes too many catch-all categories.

We’ve explained our method in more detail in two blog posts:

You can view the results and download all the data, including a full list of UK charities with the classification system applied. There’s also much more detail on the project website.

It’s difficult to summarise such a wide-ranging system – but the language used in charities’ names and activities clearly points towards the language of education, association, religion, social welfare, leisure and the arts. The outline of a sector emerges which has developed over hundreds of years but remains central to the lifeblood of communities across the UK.

The results, however, are far from the last word on charity classification. The complexity and variety in the sector make our task a never-ending challenge – so we need your help to make the next version better. Our choices will also reflect our own experiences, biases, and lack of expertise in some areas.
We’d love to have your feedback. This could be on the tags themselves: what tags are missing, what’s the right term to use? Or on how the rules are applied to the charities using keyword searchers. Are we catching some charities that aren’t relevant? You can use our feedback form or email

With over 200,000 active registered charities in the UK, we won’t have got every decision right, or perfectly captured the makeup of the sector. But we hope that UK-CAT will provide a valuable tool for those who want to understand the voluntary sector better.

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