Government figures reveal that the paid workforce of all charities had risen to at least 608,000 by 2004.
The number of paid employees in the voluntary sector is increasing by more than 10,000 people a year, according to the latest government figures.
Charities had a collective paid workforce of at least 608,000 in 2004, an increase of 45,000 since 2000. In contrast, the private sector experienced a fall of 441,000 over the same period. Public sector staff numbers grew by 596,000.
However, the voluntary sector's rate of increase is slowing. The number of paid staff increased by 85,000 between 1995 and 2000, a rise of 17,000 a year.
The figures are taken from the Government's 2003/04 UK labour force survey, the latest available. The NCVO, by contrast, says charity accounts show a much higher figure, which will be revealed when the umbrella body publishes its biennial state-of-the-sector almanac in May.
"A larger sector is inevitably more visible," says Karl Wilding, head of research at the NCVO. "This raises challenges, such as more calls for accountability, as well as opportunities - it might mean more awareness of our work and make the sector a more visible career option."
Wilding says the sector's growth is likely to lead to greater professionalisation as more specialist roles are required to manage the larger resources it attracts. He adds that recruitment and retention will become more difficult because competition for a limited pool of skilled staff will increase.
"A growing sector means a better recognised sector, not just one that's residual," he says. "As more charities are treated like 'normal' organisations by other sectors, it is likely that transfers between sectors will increase as skill sets overlap more than they did previously."
The sector's fastest employment growth has been in part-time working, with the number of people employed part-time rising from 203,000 in 2002 to 231,000 in 2004.
A total of 38 per cent of voluntary sector workers are now employed on a part-time basis. There are currently 488,000 full-time staff, an increase of about 37,000 since 2000 and more than 100,000 since 1995.
"People are drawn to the sector because of the opportunity for flexible working in the form of leave arrangements and part-time hours, which improve work-life balance and increase the time employees can spend with their families," says Wilding. "A healthy work-life balance aids both production and satisfaction at work, factors that voluntary organisations take seriously.
"People want to work for charities for a range of reasons, but the components of what has been termed the psychological contract include job satisfaction, the perception of making a direct difference to society and the feeling that the voluntary sector has a greater degree of autonomy."
- The Government's 2003/04 labour force survey found that the number of paid employees in the voluntary sector is increasing by 10,000 a year
- However, the rate of increase is slowing. Between 1995 and 2000 the number increased by 17,000 a year
- The NCVO says charity accounts show a much higher figure, which will be revealed in its biennial almanac to be published in May.