Too many charities?

Sometimes, people say that there are too many charities. Are they right?

In reality, there are only as many charities as people are willing to set up and support. The fact that there are around 160,000 of them in the UK shows that millions of us are committed to trying to make a difference, whether that’s locally, nationally, or internationally.

But isn’t there a lot of duplication?

Lots of charities do do the same sort of thing. 12,000 of the UK’s charities are parent-teacher associations, for example, while another 7,000 are village halls. But that doesn’t mean that there’s too many of them. It wouldn’t make sense to close one parent-teacher association because another school already had one. The same goes for lots of local charities: they operate locally, so in another area there will be another similar charity. The vast majority of charities operate on this sort of small scale.

On a national level, there are a number of charities working in similar areas, but they often tend to concentrate on a specific element of an issue. One cancer charity may fund medical research, for example, while another focuses on care for people with cancer. This means they can concentrate on their area of expertise, and also gives donors more choice in where they put their money. Charities working on similar issues often work closely together.

It’s a good thing that we have lots of charities.

Ultimately, there’s a free market for charities: people can support the charities they want to, whether through donations or volunteering. If people don’t feel there’s a need for the charity, then it won’t exist.

It’s important that you should be able to set up a charity if you want to. It’s a strength of our society that people can get together in this way to work for a good cause. Lots of other countries try to work out how they can encourage as large and strong a charity culture as the UK has.

Charities help people do good things in society, and it means money can be raise and spent in a way that others can trust because it’s accountable. If we tried to set limits on the number of charities, it would mean that some good ideas wouldn’t get off the ground. Some of Britain’s best-known charities were started by a few people coming together round their kitchen table.

Should charities merge?

Charities merge all the time when they think it would be a good way to further their mission. Sometimes, merging is a good idea for charities, sometimes it’s not.

  • On one hand, it can be a time-consuming and legally complex thing to do, and the savings that are made aren’t always as great as you might expect. If the merged charity is still doing all the things the two charities were previously doing, there may be little room for savings to be made. While there are thousands of charities in the UK that do similar things, often geography alone means it doesn’t make sense for them to merge. There would rarely be much to be gained from merging a local charity in Devon with a similar one in Durham, for example.
  • On the other hand, sometimes efficiencies can be made, meaning more time and money can be spent on their mission, and organisations can be strengthened by coming together, gaining expertise and experience from one another.

Around 2,000 charities have merged over the last ten years, which suggests that charities are ready and willing to merge when they think there’s potential to be more efficient or to make a bigger difference.