The Voluntary Sector
The voluntary sector is the third pillar of Canadian society, equal in importance to the public
and private sectors. It consists of 180,000 non-profit organizations (of which approximately
80,000 are registered charities) and hundreds of thousands more volunteer groups that are non-incorporated.
The voluntary sector employs over 1.3 million people in communities across Canada and a further
6.5 million Canadians volunteer their time to a voluntary sector organization. In total the
sector has annual revenues of over $90 billion and assets of $109 billion.
The voluntary sector plays a vital leadership role in developing policies, programs and services
that improve and enhance Canadian society. It touches the lives of millions of people each day.
The voluntary sector influences virtually all aspects of our society from social justice, human
rights, environment, health and faith, to arts and culture, international development, sports
and recreation. Many organizations deliver services to and advocate on behalf of individuals
and groups of individuals who are disadvantaged and marginalized, and whose voices would otherwise
have a difficult time being heard. In addition, sector organizations work for entities that
are voiceless such as air, wild species, heritage buildings and water.
The sector has been instrumental in the development of most of the public services we rely
on today as essential aspects of a caring society - schools, hospitals, assistance to the disadvantaged,
and care for children in need. All of these began as volunteer initiatives. Voluntary sector
organizations bring their knowledge, expertise, and compassion in working with communities and
individuals to public policy debates and identify priorities to governments. A strong voluntary
sector is vital to a healthy nation.