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The Journey Continues: The Second Report to Canadians on Implementing An Accord Between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector

A. Some Context

When An Accord Between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector was signed in December 2001, it committed the two sectors to reporting annually on their progress in implementing the Accord. This section of the report sets the context for the current reporting period (October 2003 to September 2004) by providing essential background information about the Voluntary Sector Initiative and the Accord and Codes of Good Practice, as well as some key facts about Canada’s voluntary sector.

The Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI)

In June 2000, the federal government announced the VSI, a $94.6 million joint venture with the voluntary sector. An innovative approach to enhancing the two sectors’ relationship, the VSI brought together more than 125 representatives of both sectors to work together in key areas, including:

  • developing a framework agreement or accord
  • strengthening the voluntary sector’s capacity
  • streamlining regulations affecting the voluntary sector
  • enhancing knowledge about the voluntary sector and its contribution to Canadian society
  • proposing a new approach to financing the voluntary sector that is long-term and sustainable
  • promoting and supporting volunteerism


A significant social and economic force in the country, the voluntary sector works with the government and the private sector to enhance quality of life for Canadians. The sector includes a wide array of groups and organizations – ranging from large advocacy coalitions and international aid organizations to local food banks and recreational organizations. A significant and growing presence in Canadian communities, the sector:

  • employs approximately 2 million people, including hospitals, universities and colleges
  • includes more than 161,000 nonprofit and voluntary sector organizations
  • draws on two billion volunteer hours (the equivalent of one million full-time jobs)

(Source: National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations 2004)

The VSI reinforced the important role the voluntary sector plays in Canadian society. Not only does the voluntary sector contribute substantially to the country’s social and economic well being (see box, page 4), its organizations are uniquely positioned to hear the voices of Canadians, particularly those of marginalized groups.

Now nearing the end of its mandate, the VSI has made substantial progress, advancing its goals in many of the areas identified as priorities by both the government and the voluntary sector. However, work remains to be done to ensure that the many accomplishments of the VSI are fully integrated into voluntary sector-government relations.

More about the Accord and Codes of Good Practice on Funding and Policy Dialogue

A primary focus of the VSI has been the development of a framework agreement articulating the vision and principles that would guide the renewed relationship between the two sectors. An Accord Between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector was the product of a joint table comprised of leaders from the federal government and the voluntary sector. A landmark agreement, the Accord identifies common values and principles for the sectors’ working relationship (see box, page 6) and commits each sector to building that relationship.

The Accord calls for organizational structures, processes and tools to help government departments and agencies, and voluntary sector organizations implement its provisions. Two of these tools – the Codes of Good Practice – set out practical measures to support the sectors’ progress in the areas of funding and policy dialogue.

  • An acknowledgement of the need to increase the voluntary sector’s sustainable capacity, A Code of Good Practice on Funding identifies specific measures to enhance the flexibility, responsiveness and consistency of funding arrangements between the two sectors.
  • A Code of Good Practice on Policy Dialogue recognizes the voluntary sector’s crucial role as a channel to engage citizens in the public policy process, particularly those from unheard and minority groups. It identifies a range of best practices aimed at deepening the dialogue between government departments and agencies and voluntary sector organizations and, ultimately, improving public policies.


The Accord sets out shared values and principles to guide the sectors’ evolving relationship:


  • democracy
  • active citizenship
  • quality
  • diversity
  • inclusion
  • social justice


  • independence
  • nterdependence
  • dialogue
  • co-operation and collaboration
  • accountability to Canadians


“The voluntary sector and the millions of Canadian volunteers are essential contributors to the quality, fairness and vitality of our communities. The Government will continue to advance the Voluntary Sector Initiative, to strengthen the capacity and voice of philanthropic and charitable organizations and to mobilize volunteers.”

Excerpt from the Speech from the Throne, February 2, 2004

A renewed commitment

In the February 2004 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada identified ‘strengthening the country’s social foundations’ as one of four priorities for action in the upcoming Parliament. This pledge was reinforced in the 2004 Budget, which allocated $6 million over two years to support a renewed commitment to advancing dialogue and collaboration between the government and the voluntary sector through the VSI.

Evaluating the VSI

When the VSI was launched in June 2000, both sectors made a commitment to capture what would be learned over the next five year period. Part of this commitment was to conduct a formal evaluation of the VSI, including its processes and outcomes, to be overseen by a joint committee. The VSI process evaluation, which involved an extensive document review and more than 100 in-depth interviews, was completed in March 2004. The findings can be found on the VSI website at

A key element of the VSI, the Sectoral Involvement in Departmental Policy Development (SIDPD) was designed to enhance the voluntary sector’s capacity to participate in policy development by exploring how to involve voluntary sector stakeholders in all phases of the public policy process. A formative evaluation of SIDPD, completed in March 2004, points to some important lessons learned to help implement the Code of Good Practice on Policy Dialogue. The evaluation findings are posted at

The VSI Joint Evaluation Steering Committee has begun its work on a final outcome evaluation of all components of the VSI.

Increasing knowledge about the voluntary sector

On September 20, 2004, the results of two major pieces of research were released:

  • The most comprehensive study of its kind in Canada, the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations (NSNVO) provides essential baseline information about the voluntary sector. It also provides a preliminary assessment of organizations’ needs as they build capacity to achieve their missions. The findings are based on interviews with representatives of 13,000 incorporated nonprofit organizations and registered charities across the country. The report is posted at

    The NSNVO survey results will provide input to the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, which is comparing the size, scope, structure, financing and role of nonprofit sectors in more than 40 countries around the world. The results of this survey will be released in the summer of 2005.

  • The Satellite Account of Nonprofit Institutions and Volunteering was established to generate information about the voluntary sector’s contribution to the Canadian economy, including data on revenues, expenditures, assets, liabilities and net worth. In December 2001, Statistics Canada was given ongoing funding to support this work in order to establish it as a permanent part of the System of National Accounts. The first publication of the Satellite Account was launched in September 2004. The full report is available at eng/knowledge/satellite.cfm.

On the technology front

The Information Management/ Information Technology (IM/IT) Secretariat at Industry Canada continues to support the Working Group of voluntary sector and government representatives to implement a strategy for enhancing the technological capacity of the voluntary sector through the application of e-based tools. Established in 2002 by the IM/IT Joint Table, the strategy supports work in five key areas: changing funding practices through technology-based funding campaigns; establishing a Training and Technical Support Network; developing a Voluntary Sector Internet Portal; improving funding access; and supporting an awareness campaign to promote the benefits to the voluntary sector of the effective use of technology.

Enhancing human resource capacity

With financial assistance from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), Community Foundations of Canada and the United Way of Canada – Centraide Canada recently embarked on a feasibility study for a human resources sector council for the voluntary sector. The aim of the study is to determine whether a Voluntary Sector Human Resources Council is viable and, if so, how it can best work to strengthen the voluntary sector. For information on human resources in the voluntary sector see

International interest

Other countries are exploring Canada’s experience in building the relationship between the government and the voluntary sector. In the past year, delegations from Estonia, New Zealand and Australia met with representatives of both sectors to discuss key elements of the VSI.

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Last Updated: 2019-11-18