About these statistics

This page pulls together statistics for 2014/2015 from a range of sources, including SCVO, OSCR and the Scottish Housing Regulator. Financial data is based on charity accounts for 2013/14.

Key facts

The Scottish voluntary sector encompasses an estimated 45,000 voluntary organisations, of which around half are registered as charities. From small grassroots sports groups to pre-school day care, self-help groups, health and well-being services, culture and arts venues, village halls, housing and major social care providers, the voluntary sector plays a key part across all walks of Scottish life today.

The sector is made up of, among other things:

  • 23,700 registered charities, including 163 housing associations
  • 20,000 grassroots community groups, sports and arts clubs
  • Over 3,500 social enterprises
  • 4,000 grant making trusts, funding activities in Scotland and abroad
  • 432 community interest companies
  • 107 credit unions

Charities in Scotland

There are more charities per head of population in Scotland than any other UK nation. Levels of voluntary sector activity are particularly high in rural areas, where local support services, village halls, and recreation groups are at the heart of their communities.

Charities per 1000 people

Who uses charities?

  • More than 8 out 10 Scottish households used a charity in 2015
  • 9 out of 10 people in Scotland supported a charity in 2015
  • Read more about public trust in charities in Scotland

Why the ‘third sector’

The third sector works alongside, but separate from, the so-called first and second sectors – the public sector and the private sector.

Definition of third sector

All third sector organisations

  • have an unpaid board that acts purely in the interests of the organisation,
  • are independent of government,
  • and are not driven by profit or run for private gain – while many organisations make a profit, this is always re-invested back into the organisation and its work.

What does the third sector do?

The third sector carries out an enormous range of activities to improve people’s lives, often complimentary to and in partnership with the public sector:

Supporting people social care, health and mental health services, employability

Empowering people campaigning, representing minorities, strengthening voices

Bringing people together social activities, community events, hobby groups

Health and well-being community centres, sports facilities, self-help groups

Improving our environment heritage, conservation, regeneration

Two-thirds of the sector’s organisations are involved in social care-related activities, Community, social & economic development, and culture and recreation. Housing – despite the smaller number of organisations – accounts for almost a third of the sector’s turnover, followed by social care which accounts for a quarter of turnover. Two-thirds of organisations operate locally, while 7% operate nationally across Scotland, and 2% have an international focus.


The sector’s people

The voluntary sector in Scotland employs an estimated 138,000 people (headcount) or 83,350 Full Time Equivalent workers.

The voluntary sector workforce is comparable to that of the NHS, Scotland’s largest single employer with 153,000 staff.

The sector is supported by an estimated 250,000 trustees who manage and steer each organisation, with an average of 7 trustees per organisation. Around 1.3 million volunteers formally volunteer with organisations, providing 126 million hours of support.

The number of volunteers in Scotland is equal to the population of Estonia.

Paid staff






Small charities

  • The bulk of the voluntary sector in Scotland is made up of around 30,000 small community groups, which play an active role in the well-being of communities all over Scotland
  • While these organisations make a huge impact on their communities they do so often on very small budgets and often with no paid staff.

Top 100 Charities

  • The 100 largest charities in Scotland account for almost half of the sector’s turnover.
  • The top 100 charities employ 42,500 staff, around a third of the sectors’ workforce
  • 700 charities have turnovers of over £1million
  • Scotland’s largest charities include housing associations, social care and health service providers, and cultural organisations.

Key financial trends

The sector’s turnover has doubled over the last 10 years to nearly £5 billion. However, growth has been concentrated in a small number of very large organisations. In recent years most organisations have seen very little change to their turnover, averaging growth of only 0.8% in 2013. The financial environment continues to be challenging, with 43% of charities spending more than they were able to bring in.


  • The sector’s turnover is greater than that of Scotland’s beverage industry and equal to the Scottish creative industries (£5 billion).
  • The sector employs 138,000 people – as many people as the Creative Industries and the Energy Sector put together.
  • The sector manages substantial assets on behalf of the communities and people of Scotland, totalling an estimated £14billion.
  • Charities are funding their work through an ever more complex mixture of funding streams, often having to source and manage dozens of separate income sources and funders.
  • Key income sources for the sector include: donations and earned income from the general public; contracts and grants from the public sector; grants from grant-making trusts; and investment income.

Growth and change

  • Housing Associations have been one of the key growth areas in recent years. High demand for affordable housing has been supported by investment from the Scottish Government to build new housing stock.
  • The large Social Care providers have also seen strong growth, as they play an ever increasing role in social care provision through government contracts. The changing model of social care service delivery to more person-centred approaches such as Self Directed Support and personalisation means that large social care providers are increasingly receiving money directly from individuals and not local authorities. Providers are developing new services and delivery models to meet the demands of a changing care landscape and meet consumer demand for high-quality services.
  • Government funding cuts have had a huge impact on the sector. In 2013/14 we saw income from the public sector reduce by £376m in real terms – a cut of 18%.

See our report Income and Spending 2014 for more analysis of the impact of the cuts.

  • Trading and enterprise: in a bid to build independent income streams and increase sustainability in uncertain financial times, many voluntary sector organisations are developing their trading and commercial activities. New and innovative funding models such as the combined grant and loan model of Resilient Scotland are supporting this trend.
  • Social Enterprise has had a lot of publicity and government investment in recent years. Many charities are accessing advice from support bodies such as Just Enterprise and government funding such as the Scottish Investment Fund and Enterprise Growth Fundto set up social businesses. However, while many are proving very successful, they are not without risk. A number of Scotland’s largest charities reported that their social enterprise arms made losses in 2014.
  • Social firms, which aim to create employment opportunities for those disadvantaged are also an area of growth. Again, many are seeing strong business growth and are able to turn healthy profits. Others are only just able to stay out of the red due to the high costs of running the business, but view the employment of their clients as more important than profit margins.
  • Many voluntary sector organisations also run commercial activities to generate funds, such as cafes and charity shops. These can be a valuable source of unrestricted income. Many visitor attractions such as museums and theatres rely heavily on income from retail and cafes. However, the current economic climate means that some commercial activities are seeing very little if any profit despite the time and effort put in, and even some charity shops are currently operating at a loss.

To find out more about Scottish charities go to the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)

To find out more about the UK voluntary sector go to the UK Civil Society Almanac