Cornerstones of Community:
Highlights of the National Survey of Nonprofit and
The National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations (NSNVO) provides
the first national portrait of the many thousands of nonprofit and voluntary organizations
that are the cornerstones of Canadian communities. It reveals a set of organizations
that are widely diverse in nature, touching virtually every aspect of Canadians'
lives. These organizations have a significant economic presence and serve as vehicles
for citizen engagement, involving millions of Canadians in their activities as
members, volunteers and financial donors. However, many nonprofit and voluntary
organizations report significant challenges to their capacity to fulfill their
missions and achieve their organizational objectives.
An estimated 161,000 nonprofit and voluntary organizations operated in Canada
in 2003. They include a wide variety of organizations, such as day-care centres,
sports clubs, arts organizations, social clubs, private schools, hospitals, food
banks, environmental groups, trade associations, places of worship, advocates for
social justice, and groups that raise funds to cure diseases. Just over half are
registered as charities by the federal government, which allows them to be exempt
from a variety of taxes and enables their donors to claim tax credits for donations
What they have in common is their pursuit of goals to serve the public or their
members, as well as an institutional form that does not allow the profits to be
distributed to owners or directors.
Nonprofit and voluntary organizations,1 for
the purposes of this study, are defined as organizations that meet all the following
- non-governmental (i.e., are institutionally separate from governments)
- non-profit distributing (i.e., do not return any profits generated
to their owners or directors)2
- self-governing (i.e., are independent and able to regulate their
- voluntary (i.e., benefit to some degree from voluntary contributions
of time or money)
- formally incorporated or registered under specific legislation with provincial, territorial
or federal governments.3
The scope of the NSNVO excludes grass-roots organizations or citizens' groups
that are not formally incorporated or registered with provincial, territorial or
federal governments.4 It also excludes some
registered charities that are considered to be public sector agencies (e.g., school
boards, public libraries and public schools).
What type of information does the NSNVO provide?
The NSNVO provides a comprehensive picture of the role that nonprofit and voluntary
organizations play in Canadian life. It documents their numbers and regional distributions,5 the
areas in which they work, the populations they serve, the extent to which they
provide public benefits, the financial resources they rely on, their role as employers,
and the volunteers they engage. It also identifies the challenges organizations
report with respect to their capacity to achieve their missions. The information
has implications for the development of public policy pertaining to nonprofit and
voluntary organizations, and provides a benchmark for future studies of this important
set of institutions.
1. Many terms are used to describe the various
organizations that are of interest to the NSNVOvoluntary, nonprofit, charities,
third sector, civil society, and community-based. We have chosen the term 'nonprofit
and voluntary.' For a discussion of these terms and a rationale for using them,
see A.R. Febbraro, M.H. Hall and M. Parmegianni, 1999, The Voluntary Health
Sector in Canada: Developing a TypologyDefinition and Classification Issues, Ottawa,
Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, Canadian Policy Research Networks, The Coalition
of National Voluntary Organizations and Health Canada.
2. A small number of co-operatives were also
included in the study. J. Quarter, 1993, Canada's Social Economy, Co-operatives,
Non-profits and Other Community Enterprises, Toronto, James Lorimer Publishing
notes that some co-operativesincluding credit unions and groups that deal with
farm marketing and food retailingdo allow members to hold shares in the organization.
The mission of these organizations is typically not to maximize profits and, unlike
the shares of a business, the shares of such co-operatives do not entitle holders
to dividends of any year-end surplus.
3. These criteria have been adapted from the
International Classification of Nonprofit Organizationssee L.M. Salamon and H.K.
Anheier, 1997, Defining the Nonprofit Sector: A Cross-national Analysis, Manchester, N.Y., Manchester University Press.
4. These grass-roots organizations undoubtedly
play an important role in communities. Many incorporated nonprofit and voluntary
organizations likely had their beginnings as less formal citizen groups. They have
been excluded from the study because of the substantial difficulties identifying
and locating them. Incorporated organizations are more likely to have some degree
of permanence and to be able to respond to targeted initiatives to improve their
capacity to serve the Canadian public.
5. While allowing for regional comparisons,
information on the size of communities in which organizations operated was not
collected. As a result, analyses of ruralurban variations are not possible.