UNHCR is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, with 86 per cent coming from governments and the European Union. Six per cent comes from other inter-governmental organizations and pooled funding mechanisms, while a further six per cent is from the private sector, including foundations, corporations and the general public. In addition, the agency receives a limited subsidy (2 per cent) from the UN regular budget for administrative costs, and accepts in-kind contributions, including items such as tents, medicines, trucks and air transport.
UNHCR was launched on a shoestring annual budget of US$300,000 in 1950. As its work and size have grown, the refugee agency's expenditure has soared. Its annual budget rose to more than US$1 billion in the early 1990s and reached a record US$4.3 billion in 2012, compared to US$1.8 billion in 2008.
A new annual high of US$5.3 billion had been reached by the end of June 2013, including almost US$4 billion for the annual budget and US$1.3 billion for supplementary appeals. UNHCR's yearly budget includes annual programmes - supporting continuing regular operations - and supplementary programmes to cover emergencies such as the Syria crisis or large-scale repatriation operations.
The top five donors in 2012 were the United States, Japan, the European Commission, Sweden and the Netherlands.