This section addresses some of the key questions you may be asking if you are new to the voluntary sector:
The purpose of the voluntary sector is to improve and enrich society.
It exists to create social wealth rather than material wealth.
It is sometimes referred to as civil society, the third sector, the voluntary and community, non-profit, not-for-profit, charity, social and even beyond profit sector. It is made up of many different categories of activity affecting many aspects of society. The various terms are used by different people to include different combinations of activity which can be confusing.
The common understanding behind our categorisation of the sector is that it is separate from government and exists to make a difference to society rather than to make financial profits.
The term, the third sector, indicates its positioning; that is it sits between government (the public sector) and the private or commercial sector.
The three sections of society
Where taxation revenues, from companies and individuals, are used to fund the legislature and to provide a basic range of services (the welfare state) in areas such as health education, social welfare.
The private or commercial sector
Where goods and services are produced and traded to make a profit, surpluses of which, if not needed to be kept in the business, are distributed to owners and shareholders, and on which taxation is paid towards funding the activities of the government sector.
There is a circular dynamic between all three sectors - social wealth creation requires material wealth creation for its existence.
The voluntary/third sector/civil society
Home to general charities, trades unions, social enterprises, public arts organisations, community interest, companies, voluntary and community organisations, independent schools, faith groups, housing associations, friendly societies and mutual societies which broadly exist for public benefit and are therefore eligible for a range of income and property tax exemptions.
According to NCVO’s data site, the UK Civil Society Almanac 2016, there are 162,965 voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom. About 50% of these have an annual income under £10,000 and around 80% under £100,000. For a summary of the sector watch our video introducing the 2016 almanac or read the video transcript.
Further help and information
- Visit NCVO's How charities work website
- Visit NCVO's UK Civil Society Almanac 2016 website for more facts, figures and analysis
- Why not try our Study Zone 'Careers' e-learning training course?