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Canada's NFP & Voluntary Sector Out Rates the USA!

2 May 2005 at 1:05 pm
Staff Reporter
New research describes Canada's Not for Profit sector as a huge, vibrant force and as a proportion of the entire economy, surpasses even that of the United States!

Staff Reporter | 2 May 2005 at 1:05 pm


Canada's NFP & Voluntary Sector Out Rates the USA!
2 May 2005 at 1:05 pm

New research describes Canada’s Not for Profit sector as a huge, vibrant force that is 50 percent larger than Canada’s entire retail industry and as a proportion of the entire economy, Canada’s Third Sector surpasses even that of the United States!

Canada’s Not for Profit and voluntary sector is the second largest in the world, according to groundbreaking research released today by Imagine Canada (formerly the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy).

The research puts Canada second only to the Netherlands, and larger than that of the United States, long considered to have the world’s most fully developed charitable and Not for Profit sector.

These findings are the result of a two-year research project conducted by Imagine Canada and Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. This is the first study of its kind that measures the Canadian Not for Profit and voluntary sector against similar sectors in 36 countries around the world, including Australia.

Their data shows that Canada’s private NFP organisations employ over 11 percent of the economically active population in Canada, compared to just under 10 percent in the United States. Although in raw numbers, the United States has the largest Not for Profit sector, proportionately speaking, Canada’s Third sector is the second largest in the world, behind only the Netherlands.

The Not for Profit and voluntary sector is a significant economic force in Canada. When the value of volunteer effort is included, this sector contributes 8.5% to Canada’s GDP and is almost as large an employer as the country’s entire manufacturing industry.

Relative to other countries, the Canadian sector focuses more on the delivery of services in such areas as health, development and housing, education, and social welfare, and relies more on paid staff than volunteers to deliver such services.

Dr. Michael Hall, the vice president of research at Imagine Canada and lead author of the report says this is a uniquely Canadian asset that until recently, has been largely hidden.

Philanthropy accounts for nine percent of total NFP and voluntary organisation income and represents 20 percent when the value of volunteer input is included. It is the main source of support in the field of environmental protection, and the second-largest source for foundations, culture and recreation, and social services organisations.

The amount philanthropy contributes is less than the developed country average (28 percent). In many ways, Canada’s NFP and voluntary sector resembles the sectors of a group of countries that display a “welfare partnership model” of civil society development (the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, and Ireland) having a similarly high level of government funding and a predominance of service activities.

However, Canada differs along some important dimensions. It retains a stronger volunteer presence than welfare partnership countries and enjoys a level of private philanthropic support more in line with countries that display an “Anglo-Saxon model” of development (Australia, United States, United Kingdom). Canada thus represents an amalgam between the welfare partnership and Anglo-Saxon models.
Despite its significant role in Canadian life, the report says the NFP and voluntary sector faces a number of issues that may affect its future vitality. Many organisations report difficulties fulfilling their missions because of problems planning for the future, recruiting volunteers and board members, and obtaining funding from governments and private philanthropy. Most of those that rely on external funding from governments, corporations, and foundations report serious problems.

Organisations report that government funding has become more short-term, more competitive, and less predictable with support being targeted to programs and projects and little funding available to support overall organisational capacity. At the same time, the administrative burden associated with acquiring funding, reporting on funding, and mandated collaborations is increasing.

As a result, the report says organisations and the people who work and volunteer with them are under considerable strain. Moreover, the ability of organisations to identify and respond to needs earlier, more quickly, and often more annotatively than government appears to be eroding.

At the same time, Canadians may have reached the limits of their willingness to support NFP and voluntary organisations with the donations of their time and money. Although charities enjoy a high level of public trust and credibility, the number of volunteers appears to be declining and the number of donors is not growing.

Other highlights of the research:

– Health care organisations employ 31% of the Not for Profit and voluntary sector workforce in Canada, compared to 14% on average in other countries.

– Two million Canadians are employed in the Not for Profit and voluntary sector – that’s almost two-and-one-half times more workers than the country’s construction industry employs.

– Canada’s Not for Profit sector workforce is 11 times larger than the country’s motor vehicle manufacturing industry, and more than four times larger than its entire agriculture sector.

– It is more than 50 percent larger than Canada’s entire retail trade industry.

– Government support accounts for 51 percent of the revenue of Canadian NFP organisations, compared to 39 percent from fees and charges and 9 percent from all sources of philanthropy.

– Comparable figures for all the countries covered by the Johns Hopkins project are 35 percent for government, 53 percent from fees and charges, and 12 percent from philanthropy.

– The participating countries with the top-ten largest Not for Profit and voluntary sectors are, in order, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, U.S., U.K., Israel, France, Norway, and Sweden.

If you would like an electronic version of this report just send us an email with the words “The Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective” in the subject line to

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