Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.1 Different sizes

Clothes hangers showing sizes: XS, S, M.
Figure 3 Does size matter?

You have already come across the idea that voluntary organisations differ considerably by size, although some very small organisations are probably not counted in official statistics.

Table 1 explains the differences between voluntary organisations by size, which range from micro (the smallest organisations), through small, medium and large, to major (the very largest organisations). These groups are defined by their annual income:

  • micro – less than £10,000
  • small – £10,000–£100,000
  • medium – £100,000–£1 million
  • large – £1 million–£10 million
  • major – more than £10 million.

Within each group, size can be differentiated by several factors: how many organisations are classified as belonging to a particular group and what proportion they take up within the voluntary sector; a group’s overall income and its proportion of the overall income for the voluntary sector; and the average income for each group as a whole.

Table 1 Characteristics of voluntary organisations, by size 2011/12
Number of organisations82,39152,81521,2574270533161,266
Proportion of organisations (%)51.132.813.22.60.3100.0
Total income (£ million)228.51,856.16,544.211,821.518,798.839,249.1
Proportion of income (%)0.64.716.730.147.9100.0
Average (mean) income (£)280035,100308,0002,768,00035,270,000243,400

Tables provide a neat and concise way of displaying and comparing information that can be referred to quickly, without having to read through large sections of text. If you are not familiar with using tables and would like to learn more, you could do the free badged OpenLearn course, Taking your first steps into higher education [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (The Open University, 2015).

If you look at Table 1, you will see some of the important features that are common to all tables of this type:

  • a title
  • a heading at the top of each column
  • different units of measurement such as number of organisations, income and so on
  • a source for the data being displayed.

All these elements help you to ‘read’ the information in the table. The next activity will help you to practise finding information in a table, as it asks you to answer some questions based on the information presented in Table 1.

Activity 4 Working with tables

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Using Table 1, answer the following questions. If you are new to working with data, then don’t worry if it takes you longer than the suggested ten minutes. Hint: you do not need a calculator – you are just reading the table.

  1. Which group of organisations has the largest number of organisations in it?
  2. What percentage of the total number of organisations does this represent?
  3. What proportion of total income does this group bring in?
  4. Why do you think this figure (Question 3) is so small?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


  1. Micro – at 82,391.
  2. It represents 51.1% of the total.
  3. It has 0.6% of the total income.
  4. Although the very small organisations are the largest group, their total income is very small because small groups do not bring in much money. The voluntary sector by its very nature relies on small organisations even if, in monetary terms, their contribution might be deemed less significant. This is further illustrated by the average (mean) income data – this means a micro organisation has an average of £2800 compared with a major organisation with an average of £35,270,000.

You might be interested in knowing which charities are in the top five in the UK (by expenditure). These are: the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, The National Trust (England and Wales), Oxfam and the Save the Children Fund.