Metadata, categorisation, taxonomy, ontology, classification, filing labels…. A boring but necessary basis to being able to manage data and bring it together to create meaningful information. There appears to be a lack of any sector-wide effort to agree (electronic) standards. VolResource is concerned that this could put voluntary groups at a disadvantage in the future when coming up against public sector data standards which are getting increasingly sophisticated, or other funder monitoring requirements.

See Wikipedia for a definition and discussion of Taxonomy.

The data we have in mind is anything to do with keeping tabs on sector activity, whether that is case work, service delivery or member processes. Its use will go well beyond IT, so this subject should not be seen as just a technical issue.

Viewing the Sector

The most obvious need for some degree of standardisation is in voluntary sector research.

  • Johns Hopkins University Centre for Civil Society Studies Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project has developed, starting out from the existing International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC), an International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations (ICNPO) – check the Publications page. Evolved into the Global Civil Society Index. It has been pointed out that “for all its faults, this system does have the virtue of simplicity. Other more complex (including multi dimensional) systems, {[include} those developed and used in the UK have other advantages of course”.
  • The Canadian sector study, Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective (pdf format 348kb published March 2005, may still be available via Sector Source), has a modified version of ICNPO at pages 38 to 43.

Online directories and electronic databases of voluntary organisations is perhaps the usage that comes to mind from the term ‘metadata’.

Various local, regional and national sector umbrella bodies have of necessity worked on classification for their web based directories. Here’s some efforts we know about:

  • Northern Ireland’s Community NI site has asked the sector to feed into the development of the themes (activity/topics) navigation facility (there is also a geographical one). See bottom section of the left hand navigation area.

Scotland’s CVS network established a Data Management Consortium – but only known web link has gone. There was also a ShareIT Community Metadata Schema, in Manchester, but we believe funding cuts have hit what little activity there was.

Wales Council for Voluntary Action has/had a classification system with “46 categories which are a mixture of beneficiary types, activities and functions, and any one organisation can be coded in as many categories as seems appropriate”. (Unlike ICNPO which insists on just one box being ticked). The categories are grouped into 23 forums, the basis of the representative seats at the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council with the Welsh Assembly.

Frontline operations also have a need for relevant classification systems, for monitoring activity (reporting to funders, benchmarking against others), making information available online categorised for different service user needs etc.

  • 211 Taxonomy focuses on the telephone information line for human services operating in 31 states in the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. This includes nonprofit and capacity-building categories. Subscription to gain full access to the site appears to cost but there is a Volunteer Opportunities example, in pdf format, 217kb.


The following have been raised in various discussions on taxonomy issues.

  • Can, or should, library resources be classified in the same way as a web site?
  • Is it possible to create compatibility across local, regional or national approaches? And also work with public sector classifications?

Public sector

The public sector has been working on its electronic classification standards for some time. The Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary brings together three existing labelling mechanisms for electronic information: the Government Category List (GCL), Local Government Category List (LGCL) and the seamlessUK taxonomy. At 2013, see ESD Standards section. Also see other taxonomies (controlled lists or standards) maintained by ESD.



Terminology in any specialism can be confusing to the newcomer or those on the edge of the subject. The definitions here are intended to give insight rather than be the last word. Words in italics (unless titles of books) indicate that this is another entry in the glossary, bold indicates a related term.

Context: Words can have meanings specific to a context – for instance those working in local regeneration may have a different understanding of the boundaries of the voluntary sector from someone at a major national charity. This can be the cause of many crossed wires!

Abbreviations: elsewhere we use some acronyms for organisations, in particular umbrella bodies, without further explanation. See Support bodies page for info on NCVO, SCVO, ACEVO ….

Terms and Jargon

Accidental techie

Someone who doesn’t have any background in IT, database systems etc, but due to limited resources has ended up with the responsibility. Very common in small to medium size voluntary organisations.


Asset-Based Community Development. Nurture Development website says: ABCD demonstrates that local assets (people, physical assets etc.) and individual strengths are key to ensure sustainable community development, and that people have a life of their own choosing.

Area of Concern

This is VolResource’s own term, meaning the issues or field of activity in which a voluntary organisation is engaged.


Anyone who might benefit from the activity of a charity. Could, for instance, be receiving advice, care, financial support. One type of stakeholder.


Black and Minority Ethnic.

Capacity Building

Often taken to mean anything which will increase the capacity of the voluntary sector to provide services or take action, but also can be restricted to e.g. providing training in financial management and organisational issues, especially at a community level. See Sector Development page. Some varying definitions:
– “Skilling individuals to deliver services, to influence policy and to work inside organisations to meet the needs of their communities.” From research quoted in Voluntary Organisations and Social Policy.
– “The ability of nonprofit organisations to fulfil their missions in an effective manner”. Urban Institute (US) Building Capacity in Nonprofit Organizations.
– Is about ensuring that organisations have the skills, knowledge, structures and resources to realise their full potential. Hackney CVS.


Community Based Organisation. Appears more in international contexts.

Charity, charitable organisation

This is sometimes used as an alternative to ‘voluntary organisation’, but is probably more generally meant to cover just those bodies registered with the Charity Commission (in England and Wales), OSCR (Scotland) or Charity Commission NI. See Registration page. It may also include ‘excepted’ charities which are not obliged to register, such as those with annual income of £1,000 or less (unless they have permanent endowment or the use or occupation of land), some religious and armed forces charities. Also a third category of exempt charity, which cannot register, and includes many state schools, universities, some industrial and provident societies, and a number of national museums.

Civil Society

Increasingly being used in international discussions in place of NGO, distinguishing society interests from political or business perspectives. Hence Civil Society Organisation (CSO). Michael Edwards has proposed three dimensions to the term Civil Society – as associational life, as the good society and as arenas for public deliberation.

Communities of interest

Groups where members have common needs or characteristics (such as ethnic origin, disability, interest in open source software) as opposed to geographical communities (communities of place).

Community anchor

Multi-purpose, independent community-led organisations taking the long view. (See Locality website.)

Community Development

As defined by Northern Ireland Compact, Dec 98: a collective process whereby members of a community come together to effect change and to address the needs within the community based on principles of self help and inclusion. The Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) recognises it as ‘people working together, on issues they identify, to bring about change through collective action’.

CIC, Community Interest Company

A way social enterprises can register to become limited companies while meeting particular concerns such as protecting assets for community use. See Registering as a charity or company. NB: CICS – Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

CIO, also SCIO

(Scottish) Charitable Incorporated Organisation. A way to be registered as a company and a charity in one go. See Registering as a charity or company.

Community sector

Those organisations active on a local or community level, usually small, modestly funded and largely dependent on voluntary, rather than paid, effort. Can be seen as distinct from the larger, professionally staffed agencies which are most visible in voluntary sector profiles. Hence the phrase voluntary and community sector (VCS) to encompass the full range.


An understanding between government (national or local) and the voluntary sector (in the guise of its representative bodies or via wider consultation) on how relations between the two should be conducted (e.g. funding doesn’t prevent organisations from expressing views on policies). See Sector Development/Policy for links to national agreements.


There are various types of co-ops, including employee-based (worker co-ops), consumer based (retail/high street co-ops), and housing co-ops made up of tenants/joint owners. Usually seen as a part of the Social Economy, and almost by definition count as social enterprises (although the big Co-op retail societies can appear remote).


Continuous Professional Development. Some training courses are recognised as contributing to requirements laid down for professions such as lawyers, accountants to undertake a certain number of hours updating their knowledge.


Council for Voluntary Service. Could also be a VSC or CVO, and xyz Community/Voluntary Action is generally equivalent. The co-ordinating and support body for voluntary and community organisations in a geographic area, although actual structure and facilities vary immensely across the country. A Local Infrastructure Organisation (LIO).

Drain guidelines

Common name for ‘Guidelines for relations between volunteers and paid workers in the Health and Personal Social Services’, particularly relevant where trade unions are involved in a service delivery setting. May still be somewhere on Volunteering England website.


Directory of Social Change (the name is no longer that meaningful). An independent charity providing training and information (publications) for the voluntary sector. Offices in Liverpool and London – see relevant pages for contacts.


European Regional Development Fund.


European Social Fund. A source of funding for various projects within ‘deprived areas’.

Exempt charity

See Charity.


Freedom of Information. Important legislation for campaigning groups and some others to get material about decisions or research undertaken by a wide range of public bodies. See Lobbying page.

Foss, or Floss

Free (libre) open source software. See our software intro for a little more.

Hawthorne Effect

A fairly frequent term in American non-profit management: the presence of researchers affecting the outcome of the study (into productivity).


An approach promoted by government’s ChangeUp capacity building/infrastructure framework, which ran to March 2008 – the development of hubs of expertise (and facilities), locally regionally or nationally, to support the sector. Some may still operate, if under a slightly different identity.


Information, Advice and Guidance, typically describing a service provided for some social grouping such as youth, elderly, refugees.


Information and Communication Technology (..ies).


International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations. See Taxonomy page.


Usually used in context of umbrella bodies, in reference to support to voluntary organisations. Infrastructure can operateat local, regional and/or national levels, and can be generic or sub-sectoral (cocnentrating on a particular part of the voluntary sector, such as childcare). Such support can also come from organisations outside the voluntary sector, such as local authorities , Business Link, funders, private sector training. See Sector Development page.


Local Area Agreement(s). To quote I&DEA LAAs “are made between central and local government in a local area. Their aim is to achieve local solutions that meet local needs, while also contributing to national priorities and the achievement of standards set by central government.” At summer 2005, there are just a few areas with them in place, but they are planned to expand. There is a danger that if voluntary organisations aren’t involved from the start that they will be marginalised, both in influencing and undertaking service delivery. See Working Relations.


Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes “local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money”.


Local Infrastructure Organisation – see Umbrella body.


Learning and Skills Council – agency closed at 2010.


Local Strategic Partnership. See Working Relations page.

Match funding

A requirement by funding agencies that any contributions they make towards programme or project costs should be matched by other funders, or by the applicants from their own resources. Some may allow in-kind contributions (e.g. the value of volunteer time) to count.

Mem and Arts

Memorandum and Articles of Association. The two parts to a company’s constitution. See Registration page.


Non Governmental Organisation. Usually equivalent to voluntary organisation; most often used in an international, development or environment setting. Also spotted BINGO – Business Initiated NGO!

Non-profit (NP)

The usual term for a voluntary organisation in the US – this often includes some groups we would see as on the edge of the sector in the UK.

Office for Civil Society

Part of the UK government’s Cabinet Office, with overview of charity issues.


Covers a wide range of possible relations. Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) helpfully describes different levels of partnership with a voluntary organisation as (increasing in involvement): Supporter, Agent, Adviser, Junior Membership, Joint Ownership, Community Ownership.

Patient capital

Long-term financial investment with greater flexibility in terms than usual, often used in connection with social enterprise. E.g. funds offered at low interest rates, interest-free loans, repayment (partly) through in-kind services or other non-standard arrangements.


Payment by results. In America they seem to use PFS – pay for success.

Peak (or apex) body

In Australia, an association of industries or groups; in this sector generally what we would term a support or umbrella organisation.

Pro bono

Providing (professional) services for free to good causes, on a regular or one-off basis.


Quasi-autonomous non governmental organisation. Bodies set up by government with a specific remit and their own governing body, although usually with appointments made by or via the government. Some may be registered charities, but tend not to viewed as part of the voluntary sector.


Refugee and migrant community organisation.


Registered Social Landlord, which largely equates with housing association, OR Restricted Service Licence, temporary permission for (community) radio stations to broadcast for a limited period or restricted by locality e.g. hospital or student radio stations (see Community Media Association).


Usually Search Engine Optimisation – making sure a website gets the best placing on from searches on Google etc. Could also be Social Enterprise Organisation.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A type of contract where (typically) a public body agrees to pay a set sum of money in return for a specified level of service, which may be quantified in terms like ‘number of clients advised’ in a given period, and to what standard. Charities may also have SLAs with their suppliers, such as around support of ICT, database systems. Complexity and issues dealt with will vary immensely depending on context. See Contracts on the Working Relations page.

Social Capital

Made up of networks, trust (shared values?) and civic institutions, according to Digital Futures. Contributes to economic and social development (OECD, 1998).

Social Economy

Usually encompasses any activity involving provision of services or goods in a commercial manner but to meet non-commercial objectives, such as area regeneration, community development, co-operative working. Can be seen as the same as Social Enterprise, although another view is that the latter is just one of three predominant forms of economic activity in the social economy, the others being self-help and altruism (which then implies that the social economy encompasses much of the voluntary and community sector).

See our Social Economy page for more.

Social Entrepreneur

“A different kind of social leader who identifies and applies practical solutions to social problems by combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity.” Schwab Foundation via Dr. Trilok Kumarjain

Social marketing

Using marketing and other techniques to achieve specific behavioural goals, for a social good, according to National Social Marketing Centre.

SORP, charity SORP

Statement of Recommended Practice. The accounting standard to which registered charities in England and Wales should conform – also recommended practice in Scotland and Northern Ireland. See Finance Resources, or Charity Commission website for how to obtain a copy.


In sector terms, this usually refers to anybody who has an interest in the work of an organisation: member, volunteer, staff, management, board member, funder or contracting body, client, ‘community of interest’ such as locality or grouping of people who might benefit (beneficiaries). See Working Relations page.


Tenants and Residents Association. See Issues: Housing page.

Third Sector

See Voluntary Sector, although sometimes used specifically in relation to Co-operatives or Social Enterprises. TSO – Third Sector Organisation.


See our Governance page. A member of the governing body of a charity (or pension fund or other position where resources are held in trust). The board of trustees could also be known as management committee, board of directors (if also a limited company).

Umbrella body

An organisation which supports others operating in a particular area (geographic, activity or function). Often, but not always, the supported organisations are members of the umbrella. Also known as second tier, intermediary or infrastructure organisation. Also see peak/apex body. Start at Professional Bodies page to locate.


Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector. Yikes, another variation on the theme (see below).


Voluntary and community organisations – see Voluntary sector.


Someone working for an organisation without expectation of payment, beyond re-imbursement of expenses. Can include members of the management committee/board, although when the term is used by staff it usually doesn’t. See Volunteer Management page.

Further definitions of volunteering:

From Compact code on Volunteering, via Greater London Volunteering “any activity which involves spending time, unpaid, doing something which aims to benefit someone (individuals or groups) other than or in addition to close relatives, or to benefit the environment.”

From Scottish Executive Volunteering Strategy 2004:

Formal Volunteering: Volunteering is the giving of time and energy through a third party, which can bring measurable benefits to the volunteer, individual beneficiaries, groups and organisations, communities, environment and society at large. It is a choice undertaken of one’s own free will, and is not motivated primarily for financial gain or for a wage or salary.

Informal Volunteering: Informal volunteering, which can be one component of social capital, refers to a wide range of different kinds of mutual help and co-operation between individuals within communities, for example babysitting for a friend or checking on an elderly neighbour.

Voluntary Sector

There are many definitions and refinements of this term, with often a wide and a tight/core version. One approach is by reference to what the other sectors cover e.g. private/commercial, state/public and informal (family, friends) – what is left is voluntary! That gives the derivation of the term ‘third sector’ too (the informal tending to be ignored). Another issue in defining the sector is that although many feel voluntary organisations are distinctly different from private and public ones, the boundaries actually are unclear – for example where would you put universities? It is more of a continuum than a set of discrete boxes.

A definition used by SCVO states that a voluntary organisation is: non-profit distributing, non-statutory, autonomous, may be charitable. Also see Community Sector re Voluntary and community organisation.

Hence VSO – Voluntary sector organisation (only seen in government documents) – more usually taken to mean Voluntary Service Overseas.


Voluntary Welfare Organisation. Term used elsewhere in the world (Asia?).

Research Resources

Info on a range of UK-based bodies carrying out or reporting research into various aspects of society, economics etc. We tend to focus on those of particular interest to our target audience.

Also see: Issue-based support organisations.


Local and Regional resources

Neighbourhood statistics ONS, the government’s statistical service, has closed its  Neighbourhood Statistics service (2017).

YorkshireFutures Regional Intelligence Network provides stats, policy analysis, research.


PolicyLibrary is more of a pointer to public policy research.

ARK is a source of social and political information for Northern Ireland (joint project of Queen’s University Belfast and University of Ulster).

Bevan Foundation “the social justice think tank for Wales”.

Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is an independent charity that engages with the worlds of research and policy, practice and campaigning.

Centre for Economic Policy Research Reports include titles such as The New Economics of Rising Inequalities (with OUP).

Centre for Effective Services Irish organisation which focuses on “implementation science” – see their  implementation resources page.

Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) – thinktank established by the labour movement in 2012 to act as a centre for left debate and discussion.

Centre for Local Economic Strategies Works in ‘the area of local economic regeneration … and serves a network of local authorities, Training and Enterprise Councils etc’. Services and information available on a one-off or subscription basis. Barclay House, 35 Whitworth Street West, Manchester, M1 5NG, phone 0161 236 7036.

Centre for Policy on Ageing Promotes informed debate about issues concerning older people.

Centre for Policy Studies is an independent centre-right think tank.

Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh.

Centre for Scottish Public Policy.

Centre for the Study of Public Policy at University of Strathclyde.

Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, aims to “deepen public understanding of the legal, institutional and moral framework that makes a free and democratic society possible”. A useful European think tanks list, too.

Countryside and Community Research Institute at University of Gloucester.

Demos ‘is an independent think tank and research institute based in London. Launched in 1993, its role is to help reinvigorate public policy and political thinking and to develop radical solutions to long term problems.’

Economic and Social Research Council ‘is the UK’s leading research funding and training agency addressing economic and social concerns’. An academic body – find others via UK Research and Innovation.

Eurostat European statistics of all types.

Foreign Policy Centre is ‘committed to revitalising debate about foreign policy in an age of increasing global interdependence.’ Mezzanine, Elizabeth House, 39 York Road, London, SE1 7NQ, phone 020 7401 5350.

Foundation for Information Policy Research studies the interaction between information technology and society.

Institute of Economic Affairs Mission is ‘to improve public understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society, with particular reference to the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.’

Institute for Fiscal Studies Mainly on economics and taxation issues, but includes consideration of impacts on/of society. Have done some research with CAF. From site redesign winter 04/05, charity related publications are no longer grouped, so do a search on Charities as keyword. Phone 020 7636 3784, email:

Institute for Public Policy Research Influential centre-left think tank, aim is to promote and contribute to a greater understanding of key social, economic and political questions. With their web site now accessible its now well worth checking out. 30-32 Southampton St, London, WC2E 7RA, phone 020 7470 6100.

Institute of Race Relations ‘conducts research and produces educational resources which are at the cutting edge of the struggle for racial justice in Britain and internationally. It seeks to reflect the experience of those who suffer racial oppression and draws its perspectives from the most vulnerable in society.’

Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services Promoting positive outcomes for people who use Scotland’s social services.

Institute for Social Banking International organisation based in Germany.

Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation Do a wide variety of research on issues which matter to the sector, including volunteering, housing, social welfare. Website includes links to other sites with research information, as well as having much of their own available online.

Local Area (previously Authorities) Research and Intelligence Association (LARIA) A good links page. Of most relevance to areas of work in which councils are prominent (e.g. care, housing).

National Centre for Social Research ‘is the largest independent social research institute in Britain. It conducts social research among members of the public to provide information on a range of social policy issues in Britain.’ 35 Northampton Square, London EC1V OAX, phone 020 7250 1866, email:

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Office of National Statistics The government’s agency, giving ‘the latest comprehensive range of official UK statistics and information about statistics as well providing free access to a selection of recently released publications in downloadable pdf format.’

PIRC Independent provider of research on corporate governance and corporate responsibility issues for shareholders (full name is Pensions Investment Research Consultants). See also Ethical Investment – Resource Extra

Policy Studies Institute ‘conducts research which will promote economic well-being and improve quality of life’ and is a wholly owned educational charity subsidiary of the University of Westminster. Quarterly academic journal Policy Studies, published by Carfax (now part of Taylor and Francis). Also produce the influential Cultural Trends.

Research in Practice for Adults (takes over from Centre for Evidence-Based Social Services?) – research utilisation organisation for adult social care.

Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House is an independent research and membership organisation working to promote the understanding of key international issues.

Runnymede Trust UK-based independent think tank on ethnicity and cultural diversity, working ‘to challenge racial discrimination, to influence anti-racist legislation and to promote a successful multi-ethnic Britain’. 133 Aldersgate Street, London, EC1A 4JA, phone 020 7600 9666, email:

Scottish Universities Insight Institute “promotes collaboration and engagement between researchers and wider society”.

Social Market Foundation. Established 1989 to provide a source of innovative economic and social policy ideas.

Social Policy Association, amongst other things produces Journal of Social Policy, and Social Policy and Society

Social Research Association Exists ‘to advance the conduct, development and application of social research’.

Society Central “a social policy news website aiming to forge better connections between academic researchers and those involved in the policy-making process”.

Socio-Legal Studies Association produces newsletter, annual conference as well as information on research areas.

Sociological Research Online ‘publishes applied sociology, focusing on theoretical, empirical and methodological discussions which engage with current political, cultural and intellectual topics and debates.’ Quarterly (last days of Feb, May, Aug, Nov). Has a full list of useful links. Individuals should be able to get access to most info on-screen, but in theory at least there are restrictions around the Archives for networked organisations.

Third Sector Knowledge Portal is an online library and web catalogue, developed by the Third Sector Research Centre to promote and preserve evidence, research and analysis of the ever-changing work of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors. See our page for further voluntary sector research bodies.

The Young Foundation undertakes research to identify and understand unmet social needs and then develops practical initiatives and institutions to address them. Includes Institute of Community Studies?

Other Sources

Alliance for Useful Evidence promotes useful evidence in decision making across social policy. A network of individuals and organisations from across government, universities, charities, business, UK and wider.

Social Science Research Network Well-connected worldwide resource.

Online editions of newspapers and magazines are providing a useful source if you can only find the right site and section. We suggest trying:

Opinion pollsters major players includes Ipsos MORI (has Charities Research Team which helps charities to maximise their fundraising efforts, connect with key audiences or heighten media coverage).

UN Statistics Division – Social Indicators.

Doing it

Secret Services A Handbook for Investigating Local Quangos, Local Government Information Unit, ISBN 1-8979-57-10-0. Published 1995, 192 pages. How to investigate quangos, including how to obtain and use financial, policy and other information from health authorities and trusts, housing associations, Training and Enterprise Councils, Urban Development Corporations etc. Also includes criteria for monitoring the activities and performance of quangos. Available from LGIU, 1-5 Bath Street, London EC1V 9QQ Price: £25.00

Social Research Association has a number of resources and publications,  including on research ethics.

Charities should check out the Charity Commission guidance intended for any charity that carries out, or funds others to carry out, research.

  • ARVAC promotes the use of research by small/local/community organisations (see Sector Development page).
  • Bradford Community Statistics Project appears to have ended – check Bradford Resource Centre just in case.
  • Community University Partnership Project from University of Brighton aims to help local/regional community and voluntary organisations develop their work through research.
  • Interchange is a charity based at University of Liverpool that “facilitates research by social science HE students for the benefit of local voluntary & community groups”.
  • National Centre for Research Methods Has pointers to training sources, publications etc on improving methodolody and capacity. Academically based.
  • Opinion Research Services is a public sector specialist based at University of Wales Swansea.
  • Radical Statistics (RadStats) believes that statistics can be used as part of campaigns for progressive social change.
  • Science Shop from Queens University Belfast and University of Ulster. Students can assist Northern Ireland voluntary and community groups with research projects on social science research, health science issues or policy, environmental and geographical questions, historical research, educational issues, information technology.
  • The American Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits has a section on Basic Research Methods. Their pages are generally ‘library links’ but looks well organised. Another US source: Resources for Methods in Evaluation and Social Research.

Sector Development, Research, Statistics

The collecting, sharing and use of data to improve performance across voluntary organisations is on Knowledge and data sharing page.

See Research Resources for help with doing your own research.


NB. This section was previously a separate page, with data put together when sector stats were hard to find on the web.

Scoping the sector is a developing field. There is no single definitive source, or a definitive definition of what the voluntary sector covers (see Glossary for some suggestions).

For instance, ‘registered charities’ will not cover all the small community organisations which aren’t registered in any way, or not-for-profits which don’t fall within the charitable definition (e.g. because their primary aim includes campaigning).

Key sources of charity statistics


Specific topics, regions

  • Sector bodies in English regions, and counties, have undertaken a variety of studies. See Local contacts for where to go to find out latest position.

Sector Development

RSA Project 2001 This ran pilot projects in Yorkshire and London, supporting voluntary organisations “in providing a quality learning experience for volunteers, committee members and staff”. The resulting report Making it Work – Learning and Accreditation in the Voluntary Sector, (Mar 01) costs £5 including p&p from 020 7451 6833.

Research Bodies, Think Tanks

  • ARVAC (Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector) aims to increase effectiveness through research, and provide researchers with a supportive network. Acts as a resource for people interested in research in or on community organisations.
  • CAF Research Programme Has Charity Trends website, with research and analysis of data on the sector. This includes: payroll giving, gift aid, income from central government and health authorities, trends in individual giving, local/community income. Free printed copies from CAF Research, phone 01732 520125, email: research@caf.charitynet.orgCAF does/supports various other research. Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4TA, phone 01732 520000.
  • Centre for Government and Charity Management, London South Bank University. Extends to social enterprise; current and recent masters dissertations on various charity topics available.
  • Voluntary Action Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University. Undertakes contract research for organisations.
  • Civil Exchange “is a think tank that exists to help government and the voluntary sector work better together”.
  • DANGO (Database of Archives of Non-Governmental Organisations) was tackling the availability of records relating to non-governmental organisations and pressure groups active in the UK since 1945, to help assess the impact of such bodies on society. Ended 2007 – see NGOs in Britain below.
  • EMES European Network studies third sector, social enterprises etc.
  • European Research Network on Philanthropy.
  • The Evidence Library has been set up by Scottish umbrella body SCVO to “provide a resource for discovering new research, finding out the latest facts and figures and stimulating ideas”.
  • The Galileo Group (not the international investment company) is an independent scholarly community of academics and practitioners whose main interest is to explore the way in which theories can be developed and applied to problems of organisation and management in the voluntary sector.
  • HistPhil is a web publication on the history of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, with a particular emphasis on how history can shed light on contemporary philanthropic issues and practice.
  • Institute for Jewish Policy Research has undertaken studies on governance, resources etc. within the jewish voluntary sector.
  • Institute for Voluntary Action Research, developed out of Aston Centre for Voluntary Action Research, Aston Business School.
  • Institute for Volunteering Research.
  • nfpSynergy, a commercial business, aims to “provide ideas, insights and information to help not for profit organisations thrive in a changing world.”
  • NGOS in Britain (Non-Governmental Organisations UK 1945-1997 – also this link) at Centre for Modern and Contemporary History. Project was due to run to 2011.
  • Third Sector Research Centre (government/ESRC funded 2008-14).
  • The Royal Irish Academy did have a Third Sector Research Programme but no sign on the website from spring 2013.
  • UK Voluntary Sector Research Group (UKVSRG) brings together the researchers of the four national sector bodies (see Support Bodies page). Wales – WCVA supports sector research and networking. Scotland – try SCVO’s Evidence Library.
  • Voluntary Action History Society aims to advance the historical understanding and analysis of voluntary action, charitable and voluntary organisations and to build a network of academics, students and practitioners working in this field.
  • Voluntary Sector Studies Network “provides a virtual and actual meeting point for scholars and researchers both outside and within the voluntary (third or non-profit) sector(s), with a shared analytic interest in this set of institutions.” Publishes Voluntary Sector Review journal – see Magazines.
  • Various regional statistics have been produced for the sector. See our Local/Regional contacts page.

International (mainly American)

Research Projects and Reports

Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives – website run by run by the British Academy Research Project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ . A five year project (2014-19) which aims to support voluntary sector archives in the preservation and digitisation of their archives and to promote archives as part of the voluntary sector’s wider public benefit responsibility.

Third Sector Impact, a research project bringing together over thirty researchers from 10 European universities and more than 100 stakeholders, was launched January 2014. It aims to understand the scope and scale of the third sector in Europe, its current and potential impact, and the barriers hindering the third sector to fully contribute to the continent’s welfare.

Charity Law and Policy Unit, University of Liverpool. Some publications:

    • Charities and the Contract Culture. Report, July 99, on a year-long research project to identify problems of a legal nature which have arisen for charities as a result of the ‘contract culture’.
    • Legal Issues in Charity Mergers Report, Jan 01, on a year-long research project to identify the legal issues arising in charity mergers and the different responses to them, and to consider the most appropriate solutions to commonly experienced problems.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation carries out some research of relevance. Published 12/3/01: ‘The role and future development of black and minority ethnic organisations‘. This mapping exercise looks at the role of black and minority ethnic-led voluntary and community organisations in England and Wales.

Public Management Foundation Wasted Values: harnessing the commitment of public managers (Nov 99), available from their online book store. A report on research into the goals and motivations of senior public managers. It concludes that public sector managers and their private sector counterparts are motivated by very different things. In June 99, the Foundation undertook a nationwide survey of 400 of the UK’s top public, private and voluntary sector managers. Asked about their goals and about what motivates them to do their job well, managers in the three different sectors gave some revealingly different replies. Voluntary sector managers show a mixture of public and private sector views.

Also see Training – professional development as most of the higher education establishments listed run research programmes to some extent.