Launching UK-CAT

Christopher Damm |

First published 06/07/2021:

Today we’re launching a new classification of charities in the UK, which aims to help researchers, umbrella bodies and others make sense of the diverse group of organisations that form the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector is defined by shared characteristics – legal form, volunteerism, non-profit distributing – but the sector covers such a wide range of organisations that to understand it you often need to look more closely at various subdivisions. This new classification system – which we’re calling UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT) – adds “tags” to organisations to help understand the work they do, and identify groups of organisations. You can find tags for food banks, for example, or for charities working on rural issues. In all, we’ve created over 250 tags and defined rules for attaching them to charities.

We did this because we found the existing systems for classifying charities weren’t working. The Charity Commission allows charities to select categories when they register, but these categories are very high level and miss out on the detail of what organisations are doing. And the international classification applied by NCVO in the Civil Society Almanac (ICNPO) misses the nuances of a UK context, and includes too many “catch-all” categories. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded this project, involving CRESR at Sheffield Hallam University, NCVO, and David Kane, a freelance researcher, to create a new classification.

We’ve described our method in more detail in two previous blog posts: Classifying the charity register and A UK Classification System. In short, we took a sample of over 4,000 registered charities and manually classified each one, creating new tags as we went along and encountered different types of charities. This sample could then be used to generate and test keyword-based rules for automatic classification of charities, as well as training machine-learning models.

We’re launching the results of this project today, after previously presenting it at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference in Birmingham earlier in September. You can view the results and download all the data from the project, including a full list of UK charities with the classification system applied. There’s much more detail on the project website,

Although we’re launching this today, we don’t consider the job to be finished. We’re well aware that the complexity and variety in the sector makes our task a never ending challenge – so we need your help to make the next version better. The system will also reflect our experiences and biases as researchers and other people will have expertise in the parts of the sector that we have tagged.

We’d love to have your feedback on the classification system and the project generally. This could be feedback on the tags themselves: what tags are missing, what’s the right term to use? Or on how the rules are applied to the charities – are we catching some charities that aren’t relevant? Is a group of charities not getting captured? There’s a feedback form on the website above, or you can email

With over 200,000 active registered charities in the UK, we won’t have got every decision right, or perfectly captured the makeup of the sector. But we hope that UK-CAT will provide a valuable tool for those who want to understand the voluntary sector better.