What is a voluntary sector organisation?

The voluntary sector is very diverse, including multi-national charities, local community groups and everything in between.  It’s filled with committed, passionate people working hard to make things better. 

There are many types of voluntary organisations in the UK. Most are one of the 180,000 registered charities, but there are also housing associations, credit unions, community interest companies, trusts, local community groups and others. Volunteers also contribute to public sector organisations, such as by becoming a school governor, a non-stipendiary magistrate or volunteering with a hospital patients’ association.

A voluntary sector organisation has a number of stakeholders:

  • Beneficiaries: The people who benefit from services provided by that organisation, and in whose interests the organisation should be run. Many organisations have at least one beneficiary on their Board.

  • Funders: The individuals, corporate groups, government agencies or charitable trusts providing funds to cover the organisation’s expenses. There may be many different funders with different priorities and concerns at the same organisation.

  • Volunteers: People who donate their time to support the organisation’s day to day activities, either behind the scenes or front-line service delivery. Many organisations are run exclusively by volunteers.

  • Trustees: The people who sit on the Board. They provide strategic direction and oversight for the organisation. This is most commonly a voluntary role, but in very rare cases they may be paid. 

  • Staff: People whose paid job is to run the organisation or deliver its services. Not all organisations have paid staff.

  • Partners: Many organisations partner with other voluntary organisations or government bodies to deliver particular services. One service may be delivered by a large number of partners and one organisation may be working with several different partners on different projects. 

Voluntary sector organisations’ management and governance is similar to the private sector. The board of trustees act as directors. A team of staff and / or volunteers ensure the delivery of the trustees’ strategy. In some smaller organisations, especially those without paid staff, the trustees can take on operational work as well. Trustees are guided by the organisation’s governing document. This lays out the organisation’s mission and goals. 

Further resources