Chapter One examines the overall revenue for the entire UN system in 2018.


In 2018, the total revenue of the UN system amounted to US$ 56 billion, an increase of US$ 3.2 billion compared to 2017 (see Table 2). To a large extent, this increase reflects actual growth in overall UN revenue numbers; however, around 10% of this growth is attributable to improved system-wide financial reporting. Table 2 shows that the largest UN entity in terms of revenue in 2018, apart from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), was the World Food Programme (WFP), which passed the US$ 7 billion mark for the first time. WFP also received the largest nominal growth in funding, with its overall revenue increasing by US$ 0.9 billion, followed by the UN Secretariat, which grew by US$ 0.6 billion.

Total UN system revenue, 2018 US$ 56 billion
UN entities with the largest revenue DPKO and WFP
Growth in total revenue 2017-2018 US$ 3.2 billion
Explore Table 2

Total Revenue of the UN System by Entity and by Financing instrument, 2018 (US$ million)

Figure 2: Distribution of total UN system revenue, by financing instrument, 2010–2018

How is the UN funded?

Earmarked contributions, funding tied in some way to a particular project, theme or location, represent by far the largest financing instrument in the UN system. In 2018, 59% (US$ 32.7 billion) of all revenue to the UN was earmarked, an increase of 2% compared to the previous year, with most of it tightly earmarked to a single UN entity for a single project in a single country. However, higher quality and more flexible earmarking instruments, such as thematic and inter-agency pooled funds, experienced faster growth in line with the UN Funding Compact requirements. Figure 2 offers a longer time perspective of UN revenue by financing instrument. In doing so, it reveals the relative decline of the assessed funding curve and the relative incline of the earmarked contribution curve. Elsewhere, the relative shares of voluntary core, and fees and other revenues remain largely static over time (see Table 1 in the full report for definitions of these different UN financing instruments).

UN earmarked revenue, 2018 59% of total

Who funds the UN?

UN financing relies heavily on a small set of Member State contributors, with the top ten contributors accounting for over half of total UN revenue. This pattern has remained fairly constant over the past eight years, starting out at 52% in 2010, increasing to 55% in 2012, then falling back to 50% in 2018 (see Figure 4 in the full report). The only source that has shown a notable increase over the period is the European Union (EU) institutions, rising from 2% to 7% of total UN funding. Figure 5 in the full report shows growth in the EU’s contribution to the UN between 2010 and 2018, with annual contributions increasing from less than US$ 0.7 billion in 2010 to US$ 2.7 billion in 2017 and then to US$ 3.7 billion in 2018.

Non-public funding sources to the UN represented 5% of total 2018 contributions (amounting to US$ 2.8 billion). Interestingly, roughly half of these contributions came from private individuals giving voluntarily through, for example, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) national committees or the private giving programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (see Figure 7). In terms of foundations, by far the largest contributor was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which contributed to the work of various UN organisations and represented 80% of the contributions by foundations to the World Health Organization (WHO), its most important UN recipient.

Non-public funding sources 5%
US$ 2.8 billion
Private-sector revenue,
US$ 1.8 billion
Largest foundation contributor Bill & Melinda Gates
Explore Figure 7
Figure 7

Non-state revenue of the UN system, 2018

Figure 10: Funding of UN system-wide activities, 2018
Figure 11: Total expenditure for development and humanitarian-related UN operational activities, 2010–2018

What is being funded?

Figure 10 provides an overview of what is being funded, according to the four UN system functions: humanitarian assistance, development assistance, peace operations, in global agenda and specialised assistance. It reveals that funding for humanitarian assistance is almost identical in size and even a little larger than funding for development assistance. Together, these two functions account for close to three-quarters of funding to the UN system.

Humanitarian and development assistance 71%
of total UN funding

Meanwhile, funding of UN operational activities for development (UN-OAD) shows fluctuations in core and earmarked funding over time. It reveals that 79% of all contributions for UN-OAD were earmarked, which is 20% more than the equivalent percentage at the UN system-wide level. Thus, the earmarking of contributions to UN-OAD is driving the upwards trend of earmarking across the UN system as a whole.

Figure 11 takes the analysis a step further by showing how expenditure on development and humanitarian assistance – the two functions that make up UN-OAD – has evolved over the past nine years. Overall, the growth in funding for humanitarian assistance has outpaced growth in funding for development assistance. This trend has been fuelled by the rapid increase in earmarked UN-OAD contributions.

How does UN funding compare with other multilateral organisations?

The data shows that the UN has consolidated its role as the largest channel for multilateral official development assistance (ODA), driven by the rapid growth in earmarked resources (see visualisation below and Figure 12 in full report). In 2010, the UN received 31% of total multilateral ODA funding, with the EU institutions’ share being 26% and the World Bank’s share 23%. By 2018, the UN – having absorbed half the total growth in multilateral aid – had seen its share grow to 34%, while the EU’s share had dropped to 23% and the World Bank’s to 22%.

As noted earlier, over half the total contributions to the UN come from the top ten Member State contributors and the EU. A similar pattern is true for contributions funding the UN’s humanitarian and development activities. Figures 17b and 18b in the full report present the 2018 funding mix of the top 20 contributors to UN humanitarian and development-related activities. They show that while the top five contributors are the same, their weight in the overall funding differs substantially between humanitarian and development-related activities.

Humanitarian funding is highly concentrated, with the top five contributors accounting for 63% of total humanitarian funding, with the United States as the top contributor alone accounting for 27 % of all funding for the UN’s humanitarian assistance in 2018. By contrast, the United States represented only 9 % of the overall funding for development-related activities; and the same group of top five contributors had a combined share of 36% of the total.