Are big charities becoming increasingly dominant?

Briefing and working paper series: papers 38 and 39 

There is a perception that the charitable sector has become increasingly concentrated, with the larger charities capturing an increasing share of total sector income. However, there is little substantive evidence about the nature of these changes. Therefore, we describe trends in the distribution of charitable income, using data on the population of registered charities in England and Wales from 1995 to 2007.

In paper 38 we address the longitudinal perspective, looking at the initial size of organisations and following their growth across the period. We ask the question 'have the initially big charities grown more than the initially small?'. Looking at social service organisations in particular, there is strong evidence for 'professionalization' – the preferential growth of organisations above a certain size. However, for these same organisations, there is less evidence to support the idea of ‘Tescoisation’, which would predict the highest growth for the very largest charities.

Paper 39 is concerned with changes in the cross-sectional distribution, i.e. is there a tendency for the biggest charities, as defined in a particular year, to account for a growing share of total charity income? Results suggest a complex story, especially when charitable sub-sectors are considered. However, depending on the measurements used, the share of total sector income going to the largest charities either remained stable or decreased.

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Peter Backus

David Clifford