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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

About the sector

The ‘voluntary sector’ or ‘third sector’ is an essential part of our society. Our sector is made up of thousands of charities, social enterprises, community organisations, and more. The voluntary sector exists alongside the ‘public sector’ and the ‘private sector’.

Some people also call us not-for-profit sector, charity sector, social enterprise sector, NGOs (non-government organisations) or civil society.

The Scottish voluntary sector encompasses over 46,500 organisations that contribute to the well-being of people and communities across Scotland. Many of the organisations we all encounter on a day-to-day basis are voluntary organisations, ranging from grassroots community groups, arts and cultural organisations, sports clubs and village halls to large housing and social care providers.  Around half of all voluntary organisations are registered charities.

All voluntary sector organisations share some key features. They are:

Charities, social enterprises, community groups, housing associations, credit unions, some Community Interest Companies (CICs) and other types of not-for-profit organisations all meet these basic criteria.

Excluded by these criteria are some organisations that are registered charities such as universities, private schools, and public sector bodies.

What does the voluntary sector do?

Scotland’s voluntary organisations are focused on delivering vital services and empowering some of Scotland’s most marginalised communities. They also have a big role to play in protecting Scotland’s environment as well as campaigning and advocating for change.

The main areas where voluntary organisations are active are:

Social care
Culture and art
Equality and rights
Community development
Environment and animals

The main activities that voluntary organisations undertake are:

Supporting people

Social care and health services, employability, playgroups and childcare, anti-poverty, transport, housing

Empowering people

Campaigning, advice, equalities and rights, education, strengthening voices

Bringing people together

Village halls, hobby groups, youth clubs, community events, cafes

Health and well-being

Mental and physical well-being, sports facilities, self-help groups

Improving our environment

Heritage, green spaces, conservation, local development and regeneration, recycling

Delivering change

Challenging, debating, persuading, influencing and, ultimately, changing public policy. Read more about the voluntary sector’s hard-won successes

The voluntary sector on screen

What is a modern charity?

Most people think they have a pretty good understanding of what a charity is but many people are unaware that they've used a charity in their day-to-day life. The charity sector is diverse but all charities have some common aims including making our society a better place to live.


10 organisations have told their stories through short films. Their films are just a snapshot of the diversity of the sector and the amazing work that goes on in charities, social enterprises and community groups every minute of every day, in every corner of Scotland.

The voluntary sector in numbers – key facts

There are over


voluntary sector organisations in Scotland

In a typical year,

4 in 5

households use a voluntary sector service


1 in 3

people said they had used a services by a charity last year (OSCR)


of young people said they had used a service provided by a charity

In 2022 the voluntary sector’s turnover in Scotland was over


In 2022 the voluntary sector spent


on carrying out its activities


1 million

people volunteer in Scotland every year

The sector looks after substantial assets on behalf of the communities and people of Scotland… from historic buildings, social housing and community land to investments held by charitable foundations, totalling an estimated


last year

There are over


trustees leading charities across the country

Scotland’s voluntary sector has


paid staff


of voluntary organisations in Scotland are local

The voluntary sector
plays a particularly
important role in rural
communities – with


of organisations based in
rural or remote areas

The sector is made up of, among other things:

  • 23,800 registered charities including 163 housing associations
  • Around 1,000 community interest companies
  • 83 credit unions
  • Over 6,000 of these voluntary organisations are also social enterprises

Learn more about the sector’s size and shape and get in touch with our research team if you'd like to know more.