Voluntary sector, charity sector, non-profit sector, third sector – there are many, often interchangeable names for the sector. For example, at NCVO many of my research outputs use the term ‘voluntary organisations’. However, when talking to the media or public, I often switch to ‘charities’ as it’s more commonly understood. This isn’t perfect, but it’s the best compromise.
Similarly, it’s often unclear what kinds of organisations are included in ‘the sector’. NCVO’s annual sector report – the UK Civil Society Almanac – refers to the ‘voluntary sector’, but mostly focuses on registered charities, as that is where most data is available. And even then, only certain kinds, for example, it excludes universities with charitable registration. NCVO accepts social enterprises as being voluntary organisations and hundreds of its members are social enterprises. It’s unclear whether most people would include, or are thinking of, social enterprises when thinking about ‘voluntary organisations’ – or whether they refer mainly to registered charities and unregistered community groups. I’ve often seen research projects in or about the sector that seem to be unclear about what kinds of organisations they are referring to or aiming at.