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The Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective

September 8, 20068 September 2006

Volunteers & donors / Nonprofit sector information

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This report summarizes data from a number of Canadian studies on the nonprofit and voluntary sector and compares the Canadian data to similar data from 36 other countries. The report finds that “Canada has one of the largest and most vibrant nonprofit and voluntary sectors in the world”.

The financial and employment statistics for Canada’s nonprofit sector are dominated by large organizations in health, education and social services. On the whole, when compared with the 36 other countries in the study, Canada’s nonprofit sector:

  • has the 2nd largest nonprofit and voluntary sector workforce (as a share of the overall labour force), second only to the Netherlands and ahead of the U.S., which ranks 5th;
  • relies on a relatively large proportion of paid employees rather than volunteer labour, but still represents an above-average amount of volunteer effort (measured as an absolute figure rather than a proportion of total work effort in the sector); and
  • receives a higher proportion of revenues from government (especially hospitals, residential care facilities, higher education institutions and social service agencies).

The report summarizes the key findings of some Canadian reports on the nonprofit sector. “Nonprofit and voluntary organizations employ 12 percent of Canada’s economically active population” and directly account for 6.8% of Canada’s gross domestic product. After factoring in the value of volunteer work, the sector represents 8.5% of the country’s GDP.

In the entire Canadian nonprofit sector, government funding accounts for 51% of total revenues, with fees (i.e., earned revenues) accounting for 39% and philanthropy accounting for 9%. The philanthropy figure increases to 20% of total revenues if the value of volunteer work is included.

The broad culture and recreation sub-sector, including arts, culture, recreation and sports organizations, has a very different breakdown of revenues. Fees account for the largest share of revenues (63%), followed by philanthropy (19%) and government (18%).

Culture and recreation organizations represent 14% of the nonprofit and voluntary sector workforce in Canada, compared with an average of 21% in the other developed countries included in the study.

The issues and challenges highlighted in the report will sound familiar to those working in the arts and culture: planning; recruitment of volunteers and board members; the lack of a coherent policy framework; and funding. In particular, the report notes that “government funding has become more short-term, more competitive, and less predictable”. The report also considers whether there is a growing bifurcation between large organizations with many paid employees and small, volunteer-driven organizations.

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