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Statistics Canada releases crucial new data on many aspects of the nonprofit sector

Statistics Canada releases crucial new data on many aspects of the nonprofit sector

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The nonprofit sector has been facing a data deficit for years, but a recent survey has helped fill some of the key gaps in our knowledge about our sector. In January and February 2024, Statistics Canada surveyed more than 8,000 charities and nonprofits about a variety of topics. This is the first time since 2003’s National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations that we have data on such basic questions as the proportion of charities and nonprofits in various subsectors, the percentage of organizations serving particular communities, or the proportion of organizations with no paid staff.

This data is crucial because it helps us understand key features of our sector and will help decision-makers within government and the sector make better program, funding, labour force and public policy decisions. This survey came about as a result of advocacy from the sector (including from the Federal Nonprofit Data Coalition) and sector ally Senator Ratna Omidvar. Members of the sector also had a role in shaping the survey through participation in an external sector advisory committee. We are grateful to Statistics Canada for working with us to collect and release this crucial data. 

What does the Canadian nonprofit sector look like? 

To begin, the survey provides information on three key dimensions of the nonprofit sector: subsector, organization size (measured by number of employees), and legal status (charity or nonprofit). It tells us that, in 2024, sports and recreation organizations comprise the largest percentage of organizations in the sector (33%), followed by religious organizations (19%). The smallest subsector is environmental organizations (0.4%). The data also shows that 55% of organizations have no paid staff (i.e., they are operated entirely by volunteers), while another 21% have fewer than 5 employees. Finally, we learn that nonprofits make up a slightly larger proportion of the sector (53%) than registered charities (47%). See this data here.

Volunteers are obviously crucial to our sector. The survey found that the average organization engages 32 volunteers. It also tells us, however, that the organizations with the most staff also involve the most volunteers. Organizations with 100 or more employees engage an average of 183 volunteers, and fully a quarter of them engage more than 100. Environmental and arts and culture organizations engage more volunteers, on average, than other types of organizations. Environmental organizations involve an average of 64 volunteers, while arts and culture organizations involve an average of 61. See this data here

Importantly, all this data–indeed all the survey’s data–is available by province (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec) or region (Territories, Manitoba/Saskatchewan, Atlantic provinces). To review the data by province or region, use the geography menu in the “Customize Table” box at the top of each table. 

Who leads Canadian nonprofits? 

Boards of Directors and senior staff play a crucial role in determining the direction of charities and nonprofits, so it’s important for them to represent the diversity of Canadian communities. On average, 10% of board positions are held by racialized individuals (Statistics Canada uses the term “visible minorities”). This figure does not vary greatly by an organization's size (as measured by number of employees) or legal status. It does, however, vary across sub-sectors, reaching 16% in religious organizations but only 3% in environmental organizations. No subsector is, however, even close to having boards that reflect the proportion of racialized people in Canada’s population: 26%.1 See this data here

A similar situation exists with regard to senior managers. Nationally, only 10% of the sector’s senior managers are racialized. The proportion is higher in Ontario, Manitoba/Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. It is also higher in organizations with 5 or more employees and some subsectors, notably education and research, where it rises to 15%. See this data here.

While we have focused here on visible minority status, the survey also collected data on the percentage of board directors and senior managers who identify as women, non-binary, Indigenous, or disabled. 

Which communities are served by the sector? 

An important question we have not had up-to-date information on in many years is the proportion of organizations serving various populations. The survey asked two questions related to this: who do you serve, and who do you primarily serve? The results show that most organizations serve many different groups. For example, more than half of the sector (55%) serves the general public or all people in a particular area, while large numbers serve children and youth (41%), women (39%), seniors (35%), and families (34%).

Very few organizations report that they primarily serve one specific population. For example, only 14% of organizations say they primarily serve children and youth, 5% primarily serve seniors, and 2% primarily serve women. Proportions that serve other specific populations are even smaller. For example, 19% of organizations report that they serve Indigenous people, but only 1% primarily serve this community. Similarly, 15% of organizations say they serve racialized communities, but only 0.5% primarily serve these communities. See the data here and here

What can we learn about the sector’s financial situation? 

The survey asked several questions about organizations’ financial situations, including (1) types of external financing, (2) sources of funding, (3) whether they met their fundraising targets last year, (4) their expenditures, and more.  This data provides insights into the financial well-being of the sector, as well as into variations in experiences across organizations of different sizes and types and in different regions of the country. For instance; 

  • The likelihood of applying for virtually any type of financing increases as organization size increases
  • Across the sector as a whole, organizations receive, on average, 11% of their funding from provincial governments, but in the health and social services subsectors, this figure is more than 40%
  • In Quebec, 21% of organizations raised less than 50% of their 2023 fundraising goal, while in Ontario, this figure was only 6%
  • Charities spend, on average, 23% of their budgets on salaries and benefits while nonprofits spend an average of 18%

These are just a few examples of the data related to organization finances. 

Is the nonprofit sector experiencing increasing demand for its services? 

It’s no secret that the nonprofit sector and the groups we serve have faced numerous challenges over the past five years, from the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation and an unprecedented number of climate disasters. The survey provides insights into how the demand for services and the capacity to meet that demand are changing. Nationally, 21% of all organizations say demand has increased significantly, while another 25% say it has increased modestly. Demand has increased more among registered charities than among other nonprofits. It has also increased more among organizations with 20 to 99 employees than among both smaller and larger organizations. 

The gap between increased demand and increased capacity varies but is particularly large for organizations with 20 to 99 employees. Forty-one percent of these organizations say demand for their services has increased significantly, but only 13% say their capacity to meet the demand has increased significantly. Some subsectors are also particularly squeezed as demand rises, but their capacity to meet that demand isn’t keeping pace. These include health, social services, environment, development & housing, and law, advocacy & politics. See this data here.

How can you learn to use Statistics Canada data better? 

If you’re new to Statistics Canada data on the sector, we encourage you to start by exploring. You can read Statistics Canada’s summary of the survey results and check out all the data tables. If you would like a step-by-step demonstration of how to navigate Statistics Canada data tables, as well as an overview of their main data products about the nonprofit sector, we encourage you to watch the recording of a recent webinar presented by the Federal Nonprofit Data Coalition on this very topic. 

FNDC Webinar: Statistics Canada data on the nonprofit sector and how to use it

What’s next for nonprofit sector data advocacy? 

Although this new data is extremely valuable, it doesn’t fill all of the gaps in our knowledge about the sector and is only a snapshot of the sector right now. We need to continue to advocate for ongoing collection and release of high quality data on the sector in accessible formats. If you’re interested in getting involved in this advocacy, we encourage you to learn more about the Federal Nonprofit Data Coalition and get in touch to ask questions or join at



Statistics Canada. T 2023. (table). Census Profile. 2021 Census of Population. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2021001. Ottawa. Released November 15, 2023.

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