Despite redundancies and mergers, the voluntary sector could well survive the recession without any decline in the size of its workforce.
Unpublished figures produced by the NCVO for the training body Skills - Third Sector show that the number of sector staff was still rising in the second quarter of 2009, when gross domestic product had its largest decline.
Karl Wilding, head of research at the umbrella body, said that the private sector lost 1.4 million jobs between the first quarter of 2008 and the second of 2009.
"Despite this huge contraction, the voluntary and community sector was still showing a strong positive trend until June 2009 in the numbers employed," he said. In April 2008, 668,000 people were working in the sector, according to the NCVO's UK Civil Society Almanac 2010, published last week - 2.3 per cent of the workforce.
There was a growth of 23 per cent in the sector workforce between 1999 and 2008, the almanac says. The growth has lasted for two decades and is linked to the increase in public service delivery by the sector, it says.
A recent survey by the Charity Finance Directors' Group indicated that the recession was having a delayed effect on charity redundancies.
Three in 10 respondents said their charities had made redundancies because of the recession.