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The voluntary sector

Charities and voluntary organisations form part of the voluntary sector.

What is a charity?

A charity in England and Wales is defined by law under the Charities Act 2011 as an organisation that has exclusively charitable purposes and is subject to the High Court’s charity law jurisdiction. The Charity Commission has published guidance on What makes a charity. Definitions of what constitutes a charity also exist under Scottish law and Northern Irish law.

What is a voluntary organisation?

A voluntary organisation is more difficult to define. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) uses a working definition of the voluntary sector, which includes organisations that have six features in common:

  1. Formality
  2. Independence
  3. Non-profit distributing
  4. Self-governance
  5. Voluntarism
  6. Public benefit

Where to find funding

Some funding options and sources of advice for charities and voluntary organisations are set out below. The list of sources suggested on this page is not meant to be exhaustive. In addition, the likelihood of success of any particular application for funding will depend on the applicant concerned, the type of work it is involved in, and whether it meets the eligibility criteria set by the potential funding body.

The Charity Commission

The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. It provides information on setting up and running a charity. Information about fundraising and sources of funding is available on its Get funding to start a charity web page.

National Lottery

Twelve organisations are responsible for allocating money raised from the National Lottery to fund projects in the arts, sport, heritage, charity, voluntary, health, education and environmental sectors:

Each organisation has its own funding programmes with particular eligibility criteria. Of the above, the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) is the largest of the Lottery distributors. Information about NLCF funding can be found on its website, which includes information about all open funding programmes.

The National Lottery funding finder can be used to identify sources of funding.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also has a searchable database of national lottery grants awarded since 1994.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

The NCVO states that it “champions the voluntary sector and volunteering by connecting, representing and supporting voluntary organisations”. The NCVO’s Funding and income page offers guidance on how to locate and secure funding.


Locality describes itself as “the national network supporting community organisations to be strong and successful”. It has produced A beginner’s guide to finding funding for your project (2023) document. This focuses on community projects.

My Community

My Community states that it “is created by 12 leading community support organisations. We’re combining our knowledge and skills so that you can access our support and advice in one place.” It provides information for people and organisations seeking to improve their local communities, including a page on Funding.

Charities that fund other charities

The Charity Commission’s charity search tool can be used to find charities which provide funding to other charities (choose the advanced search function for more options). This is limited to charities registered in England and Wales.


The search platform Funding Wales can be used to search for grants for charities or voluntary organisations registered in Wales.


The search engine Funding Scotland provides information on funding opportunities for charities, community groups and social enterprises in Scotland.

Gift Aid

Eligible charities and community amateur sports clubs can use the Gift Aid scheme to increase the value of specified donations from UK taxpayers. For every £1 donated, 25 pence worth of tax can be reclaimed from HM Revenue and Customs.

The Gift Aid small donations scheme enables eligible charities to claim a top up payment of 25% on specified cash donations of £30 or less without the need for a Gift Aid declaration.

GOV.UK provides further information on claiming Gift Aid.


The House of Commons Library holds the following books on funding sources for charities and voluntary organisations (these should also be available from larger public libraries):

  • The Directory of Grant Making Trusts 2020/21 [26th ed], Directory of Social Change, 2019
  • Ian Pembridge and Scott Mason, The Guide to the Major Trusts 2019/20 [16th ed], Directory of Social Change, 2018

MPs and their staff can access these books via Library resources (only accessible to users with a parliamentary login).

Subscription services

Various subscription services offer grant searching functions. Information on subscriptions available to MPs and their staff can be accessed via Library resources (only accessible to users with a parliamentary login).

Further information

For general funding advice, please see the constituency casework page: Finding Funding for Constituents.

The Library has also produced a page on Funding and support for businesses.


The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.

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