United Kingdom

European Research Network on Philanthropy

Institutional members

University of Birmingham
Third Sector Research Centre


John Mohan
University of Birmingham
Third Sector Research Centre
email: j.mohan@ bham.ac.uk

The Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham was established in 2009 and has its headquarters in Birmingham, the United Kingdom. Major academic disciplines are Sociology, Social statistics, History, and Geography. Key research topics are Volunteering, Charitable giving, Third sector organisations,
Organisational change and dynamics, and Third sector impact. Research questions adressed by the Centre are, among others:

  • What underlies geographical variations in the distribution of organisations, givers and volunteers?
  • How can we understand processes of change in the roles, responsibilities and relationships of third sector organisations, over various timescales?
  • What contribution does the third sector make to the delivery of public services?
  • How can we best understand the distinctive impacts of third sector organisations?
  • What is the role of charitable contributions to the support of public services?

University of Kentkent
Center for Philanthropy


Beth Breeze
University of Kent
Center for Philanthropy
email: b.breeze@ kent.ac.uk

The Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent was established in 2008 and has its headquarters in Canterbury, the United Kingdom. Major academic disciplines are Philanthropic Studies, Social Policy, and Sociology. Key research topics are Major donors, Charitable giving, Fundraising, Voluntary action, and
Philanthropic citizenship. Research questions adressed by the Centre are, among others:

  • What is the role and purpose of philanthropy?
  • Who gives, to what causes, and why?
  • What qualities and skills underlie successful fundraising?
  • How do children and young people learn to give?
  • How can public policy best support the philanthropy sector?

University of St AndrewsImage of (389614) UK: The University of St Andrews Global Fellowship Scheme (short-term)
Centre for the Study of Philanthropy and Public Good


Tobias Jung
University of St Andrews
Centre for the Study of Philanthropy and Public Good
email: tj3@ st-andrews.ac.uk


The Centre for the Study of Philanthropy and Public Good at the University of St Andrews was established in 2016 and has its headquarters in St Andrews, the United Kingdom. Academic disciplines are Public Policy, Management, and Sociology. Key research topics are Foundations, Institutions of philanthropy, Community/engaged philanthropy, History of philanthropy, Socio-cultural roles, and norms
and expressions of philanthropy. Research questions adressed by the Centre are, among others:

  • What are the individual and organizational expressions and motives of philanthropy?
  • What are the theories, concepts and sites of philanthropy?
  • What is the story of philanthropy, and what lessons and insights does it offer across cultures, time and space?
  • How do philanthropy and society interact, and what are the effects, impacts and outcomes of philanthropic activities?
  • What are the different facets and expressions of public good, the accompanying policies and regulatory environments, and how do we identify, achieve and assess public good?


Individual members


Giampiero Giacomel
Hunter Centre of Entrepreneurship
University of Strathclyde
email: giampiero.giacomel@ strath.ac.uk


John Mohan
Third Sector Research Centre
University of Birmingham
email: j.mohan@ tsrc.ac.uk


Sources of philanthropy

In order to get a picture of the size and scope of the the philanthropy sector in a country, different sources of philanthropy are classified. In defining philanthropy, a definition is used that is being used in the longitudinal Giving in the Netherlands study, which defines philanthropy as ‘voluntary contributions by means of money, goods and/or time (expertise), given by individuals and private organisations (foundations, corporations and charity lotteries), and serving primarily the public good’. Note that in answering the question of who gives what to whom, ‘given to organisations’ is added, because the numbers focus on institutionalised philanthropy.

Giving by households (in vivo)

Three types of voluntary contributions are mentioned, namely money, goods and time. Although volunteering by individuals is an important part of the voluntary contribution of individuals, measuring and monetising voluntary work is still very much a work in progress. Moreover, the possibilities for monetising volunteering is questionable and still very much an academic debate. Therefore, volunteering by individuals will not be a part of the figures. Also data on in-kind giving is hard to find, and has been only be included if available.

Giving by individuals also does not include any taxes that are being redistributed to non-profits serving the public good, such as church taxes, tax redistribution schemes, or percentage philanthropy practices. Although these practices form an important source of revenue for many non-profits, the voluntary aspect of these practices is missing. 

Giving by bequest

Bequests, making donations to charitable organisations by means of a testament or will, are a specific income source in the income portfolio of non-profit organisations. Acclaimed as one of the drivers of ‘the new golden age of philanthropy’, the unprecedented expected intergenerational transfer of wealth provides major opportunities for non-profit organisations. As we can only rely on secondary sources, collecting data on bequests is more difficult than for in-vivo donations.

Giving by foundations 

Despite legal differences between European countries of what is considered to be a foundation, foundation giving is defined as monetary donations from a private non-profit organisation derived from an endowment. By only including donations derived from endowments, instead of adding the total expenditure by foundations, counting donations from individuals and/or other organisations twice is prevented.

Giving by corporations 

Although this overview excludes individual volunteering, some voluntary work is included nevertheless. For corporate giving we tried to include the total contribution by a company as calculated by the LBG model – one of the most commonly used methods by corporations (see www.lbg-online.net). This includes cash and in-kind donations in addition to the value of the work hours donated through employee volunteering schemes and any management costs incurred in implementing community investment initiatives. As a distinction between absolute giving (no returns from the recipient) and sponsoring (the recipient delivers a non-monetary return) cannot easily be made, sponsoring is also included.

Giving by charity lotteries

The final source of philanthropy comes from charity lotteries. Charity lotteries are not considered to be a conduit or form of individual giving, but specific organisations donating a considerable percentage of their revenue to charitable organisations. Also, charity lotteries are considered to be private players, independent from governments or politics. In many European countries, the revenue from (national) lotteries is redistributed to charitable organisations. However, in a number of cases they are a supplement to or replacement for government subsidies. As these lotteries are not independent organisations, for the purposes of this publication these lotteries are not included.

Philanthropic goals

For the aim of creating country profiles on giving, we have at least tried to include all the potential philanthropic goals. Next, we have provided broad categories that give a functional overview of significant philanthropic goals, instead of providing very detailed categories that might be considered independent categories in themselves in one country but do not exist in another, or might be considered too small.

For the aim of the country profiles the following categories have been used:

  1. Religion
  2. Health
  3. International aid
  4. Public and/or social benefit (national)
  5. Sports and recreation
  6. Culture
  7. The environment, nature and/or animals
  8. Education
  9. Other (not specified)

Data quality

In order to answer the questions of who gives what to which charitable goals, we must first ascertain how accurate the answers to these questions really are. In other words, we need to know whether the studies that have been carried out to collect data on giving by individuals, corporations, foundations and charity lotteries actually measure what they are supposed to. Regarding collecting data on giving, this is not always as easy as it might seem. Answers to questions on giving depend on the way those questions are asked, the number of prompts and the length of the survey. Different methodologies lead to different outcomes.

Therefore, in order to make a country profile on giving, all contributors were asked to describe the background to the data that were available in 2015 about giving in 2013[1]. They included the sources of the data collection (secondary sources or population surveys), the frequency of the data collection (if any) and the most recent year of the data collection. Regarding the target populations, the description of the data quality includes statements about representativeness, their response rates and validity. They further described the questionnaires they used, the instruments for data collection and their internal validity, but also the sources of the data (sponsors), their accessibility (public or private and the costs involved for retrieving the data), the locations, availability and studies carried out using the dataset. Finally, they gave a description about the background variables included in the dataset. With the aim of assessing the data quality, we used representativeness, validity, the availability of a classification in categories of philanthropic goals and whether the dataset includes some (relevant) background variables.

[1] The country profiles contain data that was available in 2015 on giving in a country in 2013. It might be that new data has become available more recently.

Introduction to research on giving in the United Kingdom

Barry Hoolwerf, Renske Sanders[1], John Mohan[2], Cathy Pharoah[3]

Charities in the UK receive funding from different sources. Within subsectors we notice differences in the funding mix of charities of the charity population. The picture is much more complex than might be implied by normative utterances, that charities are simply bodies funded by private donations.

Charities use resources derived from various sources in pursuit of their charitable objectives. There are plenty of studies that can deliver great examples of this in the UK. For example, there are studies of the proportion of the population engaged in giving to charity and the amounts they give, of variations over time and across birth cohorts in household giving (Smith et al., 2011), or of giving to particular causes (Atkinson et al., 2012). Other elements of the funding mix such as major (greater than £1 million) charitable donations (Breeze, 2014), or grantmaking by the UK’s largest charitable foundations (Pharoah et al., 2015), have also received attention.

All these studies have in common that they provide informative analyses of significant elements of charitable giving. But they still leave us in the position of not being able to see the whole picture. These studies enable us to identify parts of the size and scope of giving in the UK, but not in a position to comprehend the whole. However, an attempt to estimate the value of total private giving from all sources to charities has been made, estimating it to be worth £19 billion, including gift taxes paid back to charities on gifts (Pharoah et al., 2015).

Additionally, the aggregate statistics in the Annual Almanac of Civil Society (NCVO, 2015) provide a very broad picture of the income sources of charities, below which there is considerable variation between charitable causes and between individual organisations. Hence, the Annual Almanac of Civil Society will be an important source of information for the numbers presented in this chapter, next to the UK Giving of the Charities Aid Foundation.

Overview of Giving in the United Kingdom

Based on the information as available, we may conclude that data on philanthropic giving in the United Kingdom are available to some extent, but lacks standardized methods of data collection. This makes it difficult to compare different sets of data. Also, data collection is being conducted from the perspective of the income sources of charitable organisations, and not necessarily from the perspective of donors. This might result in errors when adding the figures to a total amount on the one hand, while missing donations made to organisations that are not part of the sample. The information below must thus be considered as an indication of the UK philanthropy sector, and nothing more. That being said, it is also worth making the point that the estimations are based on a sample of charity accounts covering over 90 % of the economic weight of the sector, measured in terms of income and expenditure (regarding giving by individuals in England and Wales), and are even more comprehensive for the other reports regarding giving by individuals. Underestimations are more likely for giving by corporations and foundations, but following the pareto principle we feel confident that the amounts presented represent the biggest share of charitable sources in the United Kingdom.

Table 1 Sources of contributions in millions

Sources of contribution million EUR percentage

In vivo(2010 & 2014)

Bequests (2014)

13 880 –  16 380

2 880

65 %

11 %

Corporations (2014)  917 –  2 750 11 %
Charity lotteries n/a n/a
Foundations ( 2014)  3 300 13 %
Total  25 310 100 %


[1] Center for Philanthropic Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

[2] Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham

[3] Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy Research at Cass Business School, City University of London


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu


Giving by individuals in the United Kingdom

“Asking is as old as giving, and therefore found throughout history” (Mullin, 2007), (Sargeant and Jay, 2014). Indeed, a large share of the income of charitable organisations comes in the form of private donations in the income mix of the charitable sector as a whole. These private sources of income include donations, legacies and income from the endowments and investments of charities. Substantial amounts are generated in this way – individual donations to English and Welsh charities were estimated to be around £10 billion (€ 11.75 billion) per annum in 2012/2013, with a further £2 billion (€ 2.35 billion) received by charities in the form of legacies in a typical year, as well as some £3 billion (€ 3.525 billion) in investment income from charities’ assets (NCVO, 2015) (£1.00 GBP = € 1.175).

Mohan also finds considerable variations both between charitable causes, and between individual charitable organisations (Mohan and Breeze, 2016). In an analysis of who benefits from charitable expenditure, Mohan draws on the sample data for the financial year 2009-10 for some 7 000 English and Welsh charities with incomes greater than £500,000 (€ 580,000) (£1.00 GBP = € 1.16). This threshold is as such because of the reporting requirements of charities of this size; we can expect a robust and consistent classification of financial information (Morgan, 2010, 2011) in accordance with the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) prepared by the Charity Commission. This sample is representative of charities which, collectively, account for over 90 % of the total income resources of English and Welsh charities.

 Table 1 Uses of donations by households 2009/2010 in € millions

International classification of nonprofit organisations Household donations in million EUR Share of total household donations %
Primary and secondary education 271 2.9%
Social services 1 670 17.6%
Housing 289 3.0%
Religious congregations 1 647 17.3%
International activities 1 264 13.3%
Culture / arts 405 4.3%
Grantmaking foundations 941 9.9%
Employment / training 61 0.6%
Medical research 1 093 11.5%
Hospitals / rehabilitation 539 5.7%
Other health services 358 3.8%
Nursing homes 588 6.2%
Environment 329 3.5%
Other education 43 0.5%
Total[4] 9 500 100%

Another important source of information on giving in the UK is UK Giving 2014. UK Giving has been published by the Charities Aid Foundation since 2004/2005. Due to differences in methodology, accounting years and definitions, a direct comparison between the years is not straightforward.

The data in the UK Giving 2014 survey contain collected information about charitable giving from adults aged 16 and over in the United Kingdom. In 2014 the survey ran in February, May, August and November as a module on the GfK NOP’s face-to-face omnibus study. 5 068 face-to-face interviews were conducted in 2014. The interviews were carried out in peoples’ homes using Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI).

The GfK NOP face-to-face omnibus employs a quota sample of individuals with randomly selected sampling points. The sample is a three-stage design, sampling first parliamentary constituencies, then the output areas within those selected constituencies, and finally the respondents within the output areas. The sample is based on 175 sampling points. Within each selected constituency, an output area is selected for each wave. These output areas are selected at random, but with some stratification control so that the sample of areas drawn is representative of the sample of constituencies, and therefore of the United Kingdom in demographic terms. For each selected output area, a list of all residential addresses is produced. This listing is taken from the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File, which is a list of all addresses in the United Kingdom, and is updated monthly. The interviewer will then interview a target number of individuals within each output area, adhering to demographic quotas which determine the sort of people spoken to. The sample will, if necessary, be weighted in order to ensure that it is fully representative in terms of the known population data on age, sex, social class, number of adults in a household, working status and region.

Those interviewed were asked about their charitable giving and social actions over the previous year, and for each occasion that they recalled doing so, were then asked if they had participated in that activity during the previous four weeks. All those donating money and/or sponsoring someone for charity were asked further questions about the causes donated to and the amounts given. To identify the causes given to, the respondents were shown a card which lists fifteen different causes, and the respondents/donors assigned charities themselves to a cause group from the list according to their own judgement. The respondents were then asked how much they donated to each cause. Those donating directly to charity were also asked about the method they had given with.

The data collected from respondents are checked carefully before an analysis is carried out. The data are amended where appropriate to remove obvious reporting/recording errors. Checks are made on particularly high value donations and to remove any outliers or potential over-claims. For example, those saying that they had given to charity in the last 4 weeks, but cannot remember either the cause or the amount given.

The UK Giving 2014 report suggests an estimated total amount donated to charity by UK adults in 2014 of £10.6 billion (€ 13.88 billion)[5], which is similar to levels calculated previously from the UK Giving data.

Clearly the changes to the survey methodology were wide-ranging, with the questionnaire, data capture periods and annual definition all being subject to change. As such the previous waves of UK Giving are not directly comparable. We have, however, undertaken a recalibration exercise in an attempt to retain a broad historical trend in order to put the 2014 results in context.

The UK Giving analysis provides the following picture for individual giving in the UK for 2014:

  • Eight out of ten people (79 %) participated in at least one charitable giving or social action activity in the 12 months prior to interview, with over half (57 %) having done so in the last month.
  • In terms of giving money to charity (either directly or through sponsorship of an individual), 70 % report doing so in the 12 months prior to interview, and 44 % in a typical month.
  • As identified previously by UK Giving, those most likely to give money are female, older and in higher socio-economic strata.
  • The typical monthly amount given by a donor in 2014 was £14 (€ 18.30).
  • This level is similar to the typical gift recorded over the ten years of UK Giving, when it ranged from £10 (€ 13.31) to £15 (€ 19.65)
  • As has been the case for the entire lifetime of UK Giving, ‘medical research’ is the cause supported by the largest proportion of donors (33 % in 2014), followed by ‘children and young people’ (30 %) and ‘hospitals and hospices’ (25 %)

However, ‘religious causes’ achieve the largest share of donations in terms of total monetary value (14 %), as the typical donation of £20 (€ 26.62) is much higher than the overall average.

Figure 1 Proportion of donors giving to different causes and proportion of the total amount donated by cause

24 4 uk graph

Source: Charities Aid Foundation 2015

Finally, in the Giving Trends Top 300 Foundation Grant-Makers 2015 Report, Pharoah et al. (2015) mention a breakdown of private charitable giving. The amount donated by individuals and major donors is estimated at £12.5 billion (€ 16.38 billion). In terms of the differences from other sources, this report includes big donations from major funders to universities, which are not included in charity accounts (because universities are not required to report to the Charity Commission).


[4] 7 000 English and Welsh charities with incomes greater than € 580 000 and only those ICNPO categories which account for at least 2 % of the total income,  (£1.00 GBP = € 1.16) in 2010

[5] Conversion rate GBP to EUR 2014 : £1.00 GBP = € 1.31


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu

Giving by bequest in the United Kingdom

Also based on sample data for the financial year 2009-10 and for some 7 000 English and Welsh charities with incomes greater than £500 000 (€ 580 000), Mohan briefly explores the distribution of legacy income in more detail. Since making a bequest requires a conscious decision embodied in a will, it also implies that individuals have made a considered assessment of their charitable priorities. Therefore, analyses of the distribution of legacy income, and also the way in which the distribution differs from that of other forms of charitable income, offers some important insights into the impact of charitable giving.

On average, some £2 billion (€ 2.62 billion) per annum is received by English and Welsh charities in the form of legacies. Various organisations (English universities, various national museums and galleries) which do not appear on the register of charities are estimated to receive perhaps a further £200 million (€ 262 million) from legacies. If we were to extrapolate these amounts for the entire UK population (including Scotland and Northern Ireland), we could add another 10 %. The relative amount, mentioned in the Civil Society Almanac, is fairly stable, and does not defer much from the estimated amount by Legacy Foresight. This consultancy organisation monitors and estimates total legacy giving and puts the total amount of giving by bequest in 2014 at £2.2 billion (€ 2.88 billion) (Pharoah et al., 2015). By way of comparison, Inland Revenue statistics on the total value of estates at death suggest that in any given year, individuals leave in excess of £50 billion (€ 65.5 billion). Thus, charitable legacies to charities in any given year equate to approximately 4 % of the total value of estates. This proportion is considerably higher than estimates of the proportion of household income given to charity, which typically equates to around 0.5 %. However, as far as can be judged from previous estimates of income from legacies, this proportion has not varied a great deal over time.

There is considerable variation between charities regarding the likelihood of receiving legacy income: animal protection (83 %), nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation (both 70 %), and medical research (58 %) are frequently mentioned in a will. Conversely, fewer than 10 % of charities in the fields of law and legal services, economic, social and community development, and employment and training, received legacies.

Approximately half of all legacy incomes received by English and Welsh charities accrues to three categories of charity: medical research, a broad social services category and animal protection. This – particularly the latter – may well accord with popular perceptions of the destination of charitable funds. Eight-figure bequests to donkey sanctuaries have certainly received media coverage, but such bequests are rare. Other fields of activity receiving more than 5 % of the total were nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation, religious organisations, and emergency and relief charities, followed by international development (4.7 %).

While five out of six charities in the field of animal protection receive legacies, this is not a large field of charitable activity (with the exception of a small number of very large organisations), so this equates to around 200 charities. In addition, we should also consider the relative size of the legacy income received by these organisations, as well as the distribution within each subsector. A small number of animal protection charities – examples might be the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – dominate the legacy market, regularly receiving in excess of £10 million (€ 13.31 million) per annum in this way. While a high proportion of animal welfare charities receive legacies, most are  small nature reserves or wildlife trusts.


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu


Giving by corporations in the United Kingdom

Data on giving by corporations can be derived from the corporate giving by the FTSE 100 companies report of the Charities Aid Foundation and/or the Civil Society Almanac of the NCVO. The first estimates corporate giving by the FTSE 100 companies at £ 2.1 billion (€ 2.75 billion), the second estimates UK corporate giving at £ 700 million (€ 917 million).

One possible explanation for this large difference is that a set of large national cultural institutions – e.g. the major museums and galleries in London – are technically non-departmental public bodies. These organisations, as with universities (see individual giving) do not report to the Charity Commission. However, they do get a lot of corporate and major donor support. Second, the difference is because the NCVO figure is only based on financial figures, not estimates of in-kind support. It is drawn from charity accounts and so refers to funds received by charities. There is also an overlap with the FTSE 100 figure because some of that giving takes place through company foundations – e.g. the Wellcome or Leverhulme Trusts (academic research) or the Lloyds Bank foundation (a grantmaking trust, usually supporting small organisations).

What is included as giving by corporations in the CAF report? The CAF report on corporate giving describes the donations made by corporations and private companies towards charitable causes. This can be in the form of a cash or in-kind gift to a charity or community organisation. As such, corporate giving has been defined as the total contribution by a company as calculated by the LBG model – one of the most commonly used methods by corporations. This includes cash and in-kind donations in addition to the value of work hours donated through employee volunteering schemes and any management costs incurred in implementing community investment initiatives. The sum of these donations constitutes the total donation figure, and includes donations made both in the UK and overseas.

The figures used in the CAF report paper are those reported by FTSE 100 companies in their Annual Reports and/or Corporate Responsibility reports from 2009 to 2014. The companies used for this report are those that were constituents of the FTSE 100 as of 15 December 2015. For the sake of continuity, the list has remained unchanged and companies listed on this date have been included regardless of when they joined the FTSE 100.

There are 16 companies in this report that were not in the first report we produced on corporate giving by the FTSE 100 in 2014. These companies have all joined the FTSE 100 since December 2013, when the list for the previous report was taken. Throughout the report, the year refers to the accounting year ending, i.e. 2014 refers to the accounting year 2013/14.

The donation figure produced in accordance with the LBG model has been used where supplied, otherwise the total ‘charitable donations’ or an equivalent figure has been used. For the majority of companies, this donation figure is not supplied with any further information in the annual reports and/or corporate responsibility reports.

Since a change in legislation in 2013, a total of thirteen FTSE 100 companies have chosen not to specify their corporate donations for one or both financial years. As such, their contributions, if they made any, could not be included in this year’s report. These thirteen companies collectively donated £17.2 million (or 0.7 % of the £2.4 billion total) to charitable causes in 2012, the last financial year in which reporting corporate donations was mandatory (Charities Aid Foundation, 2016).


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu

Giving by foundations in the United Kingdom

There is no distinct legal definition of a ‘charitable foundation’ in the UK (Pharoah and Zimmeck, 2015). Most frequently, ‘foundation’ or ‘trust’ is used to describe charities with private, independent and sustainable income that fulfil their purposes by funding or otherwise supporting individuals or other organisations. In that sense ‘foundations’ are identified as much by what they do, as by how they derive their funding. This gives rise to great diversity. For example, the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) has over 300 members including many large independent foundations; local and community trusts; family trusts; corporate foundations; and broadcasting appeals. The core of the ACF’s membership is drawn from grantmaking trusts, although increasing numbers are becoming involved in other types of foundation activity, especially research, policy and influencing work, as well as social investment. Although many foundations support the voluntary sector, foundations have never been restricted to funding charities.

So, for example, foundations fund and support universities, research, education and individuals. They can also support public and private sector bodies to deliver a foundation’s charitable goals. The key aim for trustees has always been to find the best way to deliver their charitable purposes.

Together, these organisations accounted for £ 2.5 billion (€ 3.3 billion) in 2014 (Pharoah et al., 2015). However, it should be noted that this amount does not cover all the funding flowing through foundations, some of which is derived from governments and members, but only on the philanthropic element.

So, instead it focuses on large, independent, charitable foundations, i.e. those that:

  • Derive their income from private, philanthropic sources either as ongoing income or in the form of gifts that are invested as endowments;
  • devote 50% or more of their charitable spending to making grants;
  • are principally grantmaking, and do not provide direct services;
  • fall within the top 300 by the value of their annual grants.

The main source of information on charitable foundations in the UK is the mandatory annual reports which have to be submitted to regulators. There are no formal or administrative data on grantmaking foundations as a group or sector, because they are not a distinct charitable form (see above). Founda­tions have to be identified through scrutinizing individual charity accounts, using criteria such as private sources of funding and a high proportion of expenditure devoted to grantmaking. This is time-consuming and means that studies of the scale and scope of charitable foundations are based on smaller surveys of the largest foundations (for example, the top 300), as defined by the value of grantmaking. The Wellcome Trust accounts for one-fifth of the top 300 foundations’ grantmaking by value, and the five largest trusts together account for more than two-fifths (Pharoah, 2011; Pharoah and Zimmeck, 2015).


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu


Giving by charity lotteries in the United Kingdom

Lotteries have long been used to generate funds while providing players with a chance of winning a prize. The most significant of these is the UK National Lottery, launched in 1994, with 28 % of the purchase price of lottery tickets going to ‘good causes’ – the scheme has so far raised £34 billion, supporting almost half a million projects.[6]

The distribution of money to good causes is the responsibility of 12 independent bodies appointed by the UK government. In 2013/14 £1.6 billion[2] was made available for distribution to good causes and was allocated to the different distributing bodies according to a formula set by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport – 40 % for health, education, environment, and charitable causes, and 20 % for each of arts, sports and heritage (NCVO, 2016).

However, although the lottery is operated by a limited corporation (the Camelot Group), it is heavily regulated, and the aims of its donations are almost unanimously decided by government-controlled organisations. Therefore, although a major source of income for many charitable organisations in the UK, we will not include the national lottery in the total amount of giving in the UK.


[6] Information on the total value of lottery funding for good causes and the number of projects funded is from http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/good-causes


Hoolwerf, L.K., Sanders, R., Mohan, J. & Pharoah, C. (2017) Research on Giving in the United Kingdom. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

The country chapter can be downloaded here. The full study on Giving in Europe can be ordered at www.europeangiving.eu


References and further reading

Atkinson, A., Backus, P.G., Micklewright, J., Pharoh, C. & Schnepf, S. V. (2012). ‘Charitable giving for overseas development: UK trends over a quarter century’. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 175, 167 – 90.

Breeze, B (Ed.). (2014). Great British Philanthropy: Growing a Fellowship of Donors to Support Local Communities. London: UK Community Foundations.

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