Research | The Economic Contribution of Volunteers

publication date: Apr 9, 2019
author/source: The Conference Board of Canada prepared for Volunteer Canada

Even if volunteers are unpaid, their contribution adds to economic activity through the value of services provided.

• We estimate that volunteers added over two billion hours to Canada’s work effort in 2017.

• This volunteer contribution is valued at $55.9 billion in 2017—equivalent to 2.6 per cent of GDP.

• If volunteering were an industry, it would employ nearly as many people as those currently working in education.

Each day, Canadians in every region of the country contribute both their time and money to help and improve the well-being of their communities. Financial contributions from millions of people across the country benefit important causes, including the successful operation of shelters, service organizations, and food banks. Also, contributions help to ensure that universities, research institutes, and hospitals can make key advances in scientific, medical, and other research areas. But in addition to donations, volunteering provides many important services that affect the lives of Canadians—supporting Canadians in need and contributing to sports, arts, cultural, and environmental causes are just some examples.

This briefing focuses on the multifaceted benefits to individuals, organisations, communities, and society when Canadians volunteer their time. Services provided by volunteers not only help to strengthen and empower individuals and communities, but also benefit the volunteers and their employers by expanding their experience, skills, and social and business networking opportunities.

The Economic Impact of Volunteering

The contribution of volunteering to Canada’s economy generally goes unmeasured. While Statistics Canada tracks the contribution of donations and of the non-profit sector to overall economic activity, these estimates do not include the value of non-monetary transactions. As such, the contributions of volunteers are not captured in the national accounts. But even though volunteers are unpaid, their contribution provides tangible benefits and services to many Canadians, making it appropriate to estimate the value of these services.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, there were 12.7 million Canadians, or 43.6 per cent of the population, aged 15 years and older who did volunteer work. Younger Canadians had high volunteer participation rates, but those aged 55 and over contributed a much higher number of hours on average. As such, and not surprisingly, the 55-and-over cohort contributes disproportionately to total volunteer time. 

For the full research study, click here.

The Conference Board of Canada is the foremost independent, objective, evidence-based, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada. We are experts in publishing, disseminating research, economic analysis and forecasting, helping people network, running conferences, developing individual leadership skills, and building organizational capacity. We are independent from, but affiliated with, The Conference Board, Inc. of New York, which serves nearly 2,000 companies in 60 nations and has offices in Brussels and Hong Kong.

Volunteer Canada was established to provide national leadership and expertise on volunteer engagement to increase the participation, quality, and diversity of volunteer experiences. Since 1977 they have collaborated closely with volunteer centres, businesses, non-profit organizations, government and educational institutions to promote and broaden volunteering. Their programs, research, training, tools, resources and national initiatives provide leadership on issues and trends in Canada’s volunteer landscape.

This study was made possible through funding provided by Investors Group in collaboration with Volunteer Canada. The findings and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. The research was conducted by Kip Beckman, Principal Economist, and Pedro Antunes, Deputy Chief Economist, at the Conference Board. The findings and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. The authors thank Paula Speevak, President and CEO, and Katrielle Ethier, Membership and Outreach Officer, at Volunteer Canada for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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