Volunteering in 2007: What's New?
Volunteering in Canada
The concentration of support
The organizations supported by Canadians
A profile of Canadian volunteers
The connections between early life experiences and volunteering
The role of religion
Volunteering among immigrants
Provincial / Territorial variations
What volunteers do
How volunteers become involved
The reasons for volunteering
Volunteering among young Canadians
Helping people directly: informal volunteering
Just under half of Canadians volunteered their time, energy and skills with charities and nonprofit organizations in 2007. Their many contributions encompass the entire range of tasks that organizations require including: serving on boards and committees, canvassing for funds, providing counseling services or making friendly visits to seniors, delivering food, helping build facilities, serving as volunteer drivers, helping to protect the environment and wildlife, advocating for social causes and coaching children and youth.
This chapter presents findings about the volunteer activities of Canadians during the 12-month period covered by the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP). We begin by highlighting the key changes in volunteering that have been observed since 2004. Next, we focus on the rates and amount of volunteering reported in 2007 and the types of organizations that Canadians supported through their volunteer contributions. We then turn to the socioeconomic characteristics of volunteers and outline the characteristics that distinguish those volunteers who contribute the most hours from others. Following this, we outline what types of volunteer activities that Canadians engage in, the ways in which they became involved, along with reported motivations and barriers that keep people from volunteering more. We conclude the chapter by presenting findings about informal volunteering – the ways in which Canadians help others directly, rather than through a charitable or nonprofit organization.
Since the 2004 CSGVP, the volunteer activities of Canadians have changed in several ways. The most noteworthy changes are:
Almost 12.5 million Canadians, the equivalent of 46% of the population aged 15 and over, volunteered for charitable and nonprofit organizations in 2007 (Table 2.1). Collectively, these volunteers contributed just over 2.1 billion volunteer hours, equivalent to almost 1.1 million full-time jobs.
Both the number of volunteers and the total number of volunteer hours increased from 2004 to 2007. The number of volunteers increased by 669,000 or 5.7%, part of which can be attributed to a 3.7% increase in the population aged 15 and older. Volunteer hours increased by 84 million hours or 4.2%. However, the average number of hours volunteered annually remained about the same at 166 hours in 2007. The median number of hours volunteered fell by 5, from 61 hours in 2004 to 56 hours in 2007.
Many Canadians engage in volunteering as part of a group with family or friends. Just over one quarter of volunteers (26%) said they volunteered as part of a group project with family members, while 43% volunteered with their friends, neighbours, or colleagues. These figures were essentially unchanged from 2004.
Twenty-three percent of volunteers used the Internet in some way in order to perform volunteer activities for a group or organization, while 10% used the Internet to search for volunteer opportunities. Both of these were modest increases from 2004 when 20% used the Internet for volunteer activities and 8% used it to seek out volunteer opportunities.
Most of the volunteer hours that are contributed in Canada come from a small minority of volunteers. Chart 2.1 groups volunteers according to the total number of hours they volunteered in 2007 and shows the percentage of total volunteer hours each group of volunteers contributed. The top 25% of volunteers (i.e., volunteers who contributed 171 hours or more) contributed 78% of all volunteer hours. The 10% of volunteers who contributed 421 hours or more during 2007 collectively contributed 54% of total volunteer hours.
Expressed in terms of the Canadian population, 4.6% of Canadians (i.e., 10% of the 46% of Canadians who volunteer) accounted for 54% of total volunteer hours, and 12% of Canadians contributed 78% of total hours.
Canadians are most likely to volunteer for four main types of organizations (Chart 2.2).1 More than one in ten volunteered for sports and recreation (11%) and social services organizations (11%), while 10% gave time to education and research and religious organizations. The percentage of Canadians volunteering for each type of organization in 2007 was virtually unchanged from 2004.
Most of the hours contributed went to the same four types of organizations (Chart 2.2). Religious organizations received the largest percentage of volunteer hours (18%), followed by sports and recreation (17%), social services (16%), and education and research organizations (11%). The percentage of total hours each organization type received in 2007 was largely unchanged from 2004.
Volunteers contributed the largest average numbers of hours to religious (141 annually), sports and recreation (119), social services (114) and arts and culture organizations (107) (Chart 2.3). They contributed the least average numbers of hours to health organizations (52) and grant-making, fundraising and voluntarism promotion organizations (44).
The average number of hours volunteers contributed to most types of organizations decreased modestly between 2004 and 2007. The largest declines were seen among law, advocacy, and politics organizations (from 123 hours to 104 hours, or 15%), business and professional associations and unions (which decreased 14%) and arts and culture organizations (11%). In contrast, the average hours contributed to religious organizations increased by 12%.
Most volunteer activity is concentrated on a single organization. Just over half of volunteers (51%) volunteered for only one organization during the previous year, 28% volunteered for two organizations, and 22% volunteered for three or more. In terms of total time allotted, volunteers contributed 77% of their volunteer hours to the one organization to which they contributed the most hours.
There are a number of personal and economic characteristics that distinguish those individuals who are most likely to volunteer and who volunteer the greatest number of hours from others. For example, higher levels of volunteering are associated with increased age, higher levels of education and household income, being employed and having children in the household. While we explore the role of these characteristics separately, it is important to note that many are related to one another (e.g., income generally increases with education).
Generally speaking, the likelihood of volunteering decreases with age while the number of hours volunteered increases (Table 2.2). For example, 58% of 15 to 24 year olds volunteered, compared to 36% of those 65 and over. However, those 65 and over volunteered an average of 218 hours while 15 to 24 year olds volunteered an average of only 138 hours. The exception to this trend appears to be 25 to 34 year olds, who were less likely to volunteer than those aged 35 to 44 (40% vs. 52%) and volunteered fewer hours on average (133 vs. 158). The pattern of volunteering by age is largely unchanged from 2004, with the exception of an increase in the volunteer rate (from 32% to 36%) and a decline in the average hours contributed (from 245 to 218) among those 65 and over.
In contrast, the likelihood of volunteering increases with household income, while the average hours volunteered generally decreases. For example, those with annual household incomes of less than $20,000 were least likely to volunteer (31%), but contributed the largest average hours (200), while those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more were most likely to volunteer (60%), but volunteered much fewer hours on average (155). Those with annual household incomes between $40,000 and $59,999 provided the only exception this trend by contributing the lowest average number of hours (153). While the rates of volunteering were largely unchanged from 2004, the average hours volunteered generally increased in 2007 for most income groups.
Volunteering generally increases with educational attainment. Those with higher levels of formal education are more likely to volunteer than others and they contribute more hours when they volunteer. For example, those with less than a high school education were least likely to volunteer (39%) and volunteered the fewest hours (136), while those with a university degree were most likely to volunteer (57%) and volunteered the most hours (187). In a slight divergence from this pattern, those with some postsecondary education were somewhat more likely to volunteer than those with a postsecondary diploma (50% vs. 47%). These findings are similar to those reported for 2004, with the only major difference being a decrease in the average hours volunteered among those with some postsecondary education (from 166 hours in 2004 to 138 in 2007).
Turning to labour force status, those who were employed were most likely to volunteer (50%), while those who were not in the labour force (44%) or unemployed (38%) were less likely to volunteer. However, those who were unemployed or not in the labour force contributed more hours (205 and 190 average hours, respectively) than those who were employed (150). This pattern is similar to that reported in 2004, with the exception that those who were unemployed were less likely to volunteer and contributed fewer hours than they had in 2004.
The likelihood of volunteering is higher among those with school-aged children in the household than among others.2 Those with only school-aged children present were most likely to volunteer (62%), followed by those with both pre-school and school-aged children (54%). In contrast, those with only pre-school-aged children (41%) or no children in the household (39%) were least likely to volunteer. Those with either pre-school children only or with both pre-school and school-aged children reported the fewest average volunteer hours (110 and 147, respectively) while those without children in the household contributed the most hours (184). Compared to 2004, there was a modest increase in the likelihood of volunteering among those with only school-aged children in the household.
Top volunteers – the 25% of volunteers who volunteered 171 hours or more annually and accounted for 78% of all volunteer hours – are a key resource for charitable and nonprofit organizations. These top volunteers can be distinguished from others by their religious activity, education, income and the presence of school-aged children in their household.
Those who report attending religious services at least once a week are much more likely than others to be top volunteers (23% were top volunteers vs. 9% of those who did not attend weekly) (Table 2.3). The likelihood of being a top volunteer also tends to increase with educational attainment and household income. For example, 17% of those with a university degree were top volunteers, as were 14% of those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more. Top volunteers are also more likely to be found in households with only school-aged children present (14% of those from these households were top volunteers).
The likelihood of volunteering in later life appears to be linked to a number of early life experiences during one's primary or secondary schooling.3 Those who had these prior life experiences were more likely than other Canadians to volunteer. These experiences include:
The frequency of attendance at religious services is linked to all forms of prosocial behaviour measured by the CSGVP, including volunteering. Those who attended religious services on a weekly basis were much more likely to volunteer than those who did not (66% vs. 43%) (Chart 2.4). Similarly, weekly attendees who volunteered tended to volunteer more time (232 hours vs. 142 hours) (Chart 2.5).
Weekly attendees accounted for 17% of Canadians but contributed 35% of total volunteer hours in 2007. They contributed 85% of total hours volunteered to religious organizations and 23% of hours volunteered to non-religious organizations.
There were few notable changes in the role of religion between 2004 and 2007. The only exception was a modest increase in the rate of volunteering among those who attended religious services on a weekly basis (from 62% in 2004 to 66% in 2007).
Immigrants were less likely than native-born Canadians to volunteer (40% vs. 49%). However, those immigrants who did volunteer contributed slightly more hours (171 vs. 163).
The likelihood of volunteering does not change greatly with the length of time immigrants have been in Canada, with the exception that those who have been in Canada the shortest amount of time (from 1999 to the present) were least likely to volunteer (Chart 2.6).4 Immigrants who have been in Canada for longer periods tend to volunteer more hours than those who arrived more recently. For example, those volunteers who arrived before 1971 contributed an average of 224 hours annually, compared to 137 hours for volunteers who arrived in Canada in 1999 or later. While immigrants are less likely to volunteer than native-born Canadians, those who arrived before 1971 volunteer more hours, on average (224 vs. 163). As previously noted in the context of charitable giving, it is important to understand that the volunteering behaviours of immigrants are likely to be related to personal and economic characteristics they possess in addition to their immigrant status.
The types of organizations that immigrants volunteer with are generally similar to the pattern for native-born Canadians (Chart 2.7). There are, however, some significant exceptions. For example, immigrants were less likely than native-born Canadians to volunteer for sports and recreation (7% vs. 13% of Canadian-born) and social services organizations (8% vs. 12%). On the other hand, immigrants were slightly more likely to volunteer for religious organizations (13% vs. 10%).
Turning to the hours contributed, immigrants contributed almost a third (32%) of their volunteer time to religious organizations, compared to 16% for native-born Canadians. In contrast, Canadian-born volunteers contributed more time to social services organizations (18% vs. 10%) and sports and recreation organizations (18% vs. 13%) than did immigrant volunteers.
Immigrant volunteers and Canadian-born volunteers generally report similar reasons for their volunteering. However, immigrants were more likely than Canadian-born volunteers to report religious beliefs as a reason for volunteering (34% vs. 20%) and less likely to indicate that they volunteered because they or someone close to them had been personally affected by the cause the organization supports (52% vs. 60%) or because their friends volunteered (43% vs. 47%).
Immigrants who did not volunteer were more likely than Canadian-born non-volunteers to report almost all barriers to volunteering (Chart 2.8). In particular, they were more likely to say that they did not know how to become involved (33% vs. 22% of Canadian-born non-volunteers), that the costs associated with volunteering were a barrier (23% vs. 15%), and that they were dissatisfied with a previous volunteer experience (11% vs. 7%).
Volunteer activity varies substantially among the provinces and territories (Chart 2.9). The volunteer rate was highest in Saskatchewan (59%), the Yukon (58%), Prince Edward Island (56%) and Nova Scotia (55%). It was lowest in Quebec (37%).
The largest average hours volunteered were reported in Nunavut (186), Nova Scotia (183), the Yukon (176), Newfoundland and Labrador (176) and New Brunswick (175) (Chart 2.10). The fewest hours were reported in Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan (both 147).
In comparison to 2004, the volunteer rate increased in most provinces and territories. The largest increases occurred in Prince Edward Island (from 47% to 56%), Nova Scotia (48% to 55%), and Saskatchewan (54% to 59%). In contrast, the rate of volunteering declined in Ontario (50% to 47%). Between 2004 and 2007, the average hours volunteered declined in many provinces. The largest decreases were seen in Saskatchewan where average hours dropped 21% (from 188 hours in 2004 to 147 hours in 2007) and British Columbia, which fell by 14% (from 199 hours in 2004 to 172 hours in 2007).
Volunteer contributions tend to be focused on a few specific types of activities, notably organizing or supervising events (reported by 45% of volunteers) and fundraising (44%) (Chart 2.11). One third of volunteers reported serving on a committee or board while 30% reported that they provide teaching, educating or mentoring. Other frequently reported volunteer activities include: providing counseling or advice (28%), collecting, serving or delivering food or other goods (27%), and engaging in office work, bookkeeping, or other administrative work (24%). Less than 20% reported other types of activities such as maintenance work or repairs, canvassing and first-aid, fire-fighting or search and rescue. There has been little change from 2004, with two main exceptions. Activities aimed at conservation or environmental protection increased from 16% of volunteers in 2004 to 19% in 2007 and participation in 'other' activities increased from 10% to 18% in 2007.
To understand how much time volunteers devote to different types of activities, respondents were asked to report what they did for the organization to which they contributed the most hours. Volunteers spent most of their time organizing or supervising events (15% of hours), teaching, educating or mentoring (14%), sitting on committees or boards (9%), engaging in office work, bookkeeping, administrative, or library work (9%), and fundraising (9%) (Chart 2.12). These findings are very similar to those reported in 2004.
Just under half of volunteers (45%) said that they approached an organization on their own initiative to become involved as a volunteer, while 48% were asked to volunteer by someone. Those that approached the organization on their own learned about the volunteer opportunity in a variety of ways – 14% said they became involved because they responded to an advertisement such as a poster or in a newspaper, 3% responded to a public appeal on TV or radio, 3% learned about it on the Internet, and 2% were referred by another agency.
Although less than half of volunteers became involved after approaching the organization on their own initiative, these volunteers contributed more hours, on average (148 vs. 108), than others and contributed over half of all volunteer hours (53%).
Compared to 2004, there were no significant changes in the methods by which volunteers became involved with charitable or nonprofit organizations.
The reasons people have for volunteering with a charity or nonprofit organization can range from the altruistic to the instrumental (e.g., to learn skills). But simply wanting to volunteer may not be enough. Some people may have to overcome barriers to their participation such as competing demands for time or simply not knowing how to get started. The CSGVP asked a series of questions to understand why individuals volunteer and why some volunteer more than others.
Volunteers were asked whether a number of possible reasons for volunteering were important to their decision to volunteer for the organization to which they contributed the most hours. Most (93%) agreed that the desire to make a contribution to their community was an important reason for their volunteering (Chart 2.13).5 Other frequently reported reasons were the desire to make use of personal skills and experiences (77%) and having been personally affected by the cause that the organization supports (59%). Around half of all volunteers reported that they volunteered to explore their own strengths (50%), to network or meet people (48%) and because their friends volunteered (47%). Improving job opportunities (23%) and fulfilling religious obligations or beliefs (22%) were less frequently cited as reasons. In comparison to 2004, there has been little change in the reported motivations of volunteers.
Many Canadians perform community service in response to requests by authorities such as schools and employers or by nonprofit and charitable organizations themselves (e.g., a nonprofit daycare that requires parents to volunteer). To assess the extent of such 'mandatory' community service, volunteers were asked if they were required to volunteer for the organization to which they contributed the most hours.6 Just 7% said that they were required to do so. This community service provided a minimum of approximately 119 million volunteer hours or close to 6% of the total hours contributed to nonprofit and charitable organizations in 2007.7 There were no substantial changes in reported mandatory community service between 2004 and 2007.
Almost half of those who provided mandatory community service said they were required to do so by the organization for which they volunteered (46%). Just under a third (32%) said their school required them to do so, 6% cited their employer and 16% some other authority.8 Mandatory community service is most common among young Canadians and those with lower levels of educational attainment. Thirteen percent of 15 to 24 year olds provided mandatory community service (compared to 7% overall) with 61% of them doing so because their school required it. The likelihood of being required to provide community service generally declined with age, educational attainment and household income.
Those who engaged in mandatory community service tended to contribute more hours to the organizations they supported than those who volunteered without being required to do so (141 hours vs. 125 hours).9
One of the benefits of volunteering is the opportunity it provides volunteers to learn new skills. Two thirds (66%) of volunteers reported that their volunteering had provided them with interpersonal skills, such as understanding and motivating people or being better able to handle difficult situations (Chart 2.14). Almost half (45%) indicated that they acquired communication skills, 39% obtained organizational or managerial skills, and 34% reported increased knowledge about specific subjects like health, women's or political issues, criminal justice, or the environment. About a third (32%) acquired fundraising skills and 25% obtained technical or office skills (e.g., first aid, coaching, computer skills, and bookkeeping).
Any effort to develop approaches to encourage volunteering should also examine the extent to which volunteers and non-volunteers face barriers to their participation. Volunteers who contributed less than 1,500 hours in the previous year (and therefore might be expected to be interested in doing more volunteering) were asked whether each of a list of possible barriers kept them from volunteering more of their time. Non-volunteers were asked whether each of the same barriers kept them from volunteering at all.
Volunteers were most likely to indicate that they did not contribute more hours because they did not have the time (75%) (Chart 2.15). About half (52%) reported that they were unable to make a long-term commitment to volunteering and 41% reported that they had already contributed enough volunteer time. Just less than a third (31%) indicated that they preferred to give money rather than volunteer time, while 20% reported that they had no interest in volunteering more time. Somewhat fewer (16%) identified health problems or physical disabilities as an obstacle to greater volunteering and 11% pointed to the financial costs associated with volunteering.
Charitable and nonprofit organizations may be able to take action to reduce the impact of some of the barriers to increased participation reported by volunteers. For example, 30% reported that they did not volunteer more because they were not asked, 15% indicated that they did not know how to become involved and 9% identified dissatisfaction with a previous volunteer experience.
Comparing findings to 2004, volunteers were more likely to report almost all barriers to volunteering more. Although most of these increases were modest (less than 4 percentage points change) the uniformity of the increase merits attention.
Non-volunteers, like volunteers, were most likely to report time factors as barriers to volunteering (see Chart 2.16). Over two-thirds (68%) indicated that they did not volunteer because they did not have the time and 62% indicated that they were unable to make a long-term commitment. About half (53%) reported giving money rather than time and 44% indicated that no one had asked them to volunteer. Around a quarter (27%) had health problems or physical disabilities that kept them from volunteering, 26% had no interest and 24% did not know how to become involved. Relatively few identified financial costs associated with volunteering (18%) or dissatisfaction with previous volunteer experiences (8%) as barriers.
Comparing current findings with those from 2004, non-volunteers were more likely to identify almost all of the barriers we explored as being a reason why they did not volunteer. Although most of the increases were modest (a maximum of four percentage points), the consistent pattern across all potential barriers may be significant.
Young Canadians aged 15 to 24 were more likely to volunteer (58% volunteered) than Canadians in any other age group. Those aged 15 to 19 were much more likely to volunteer than were 20 to 24 year olds (65% vs. 47%). However, 20 to 24 year olds volunteered more hours on average (182 vs. 116). Compared to 2004, the volunteer rate for 15 to 19 year olds held steady, but the rate for 20 to 24 year olds declined somewhat to 47%. The average annual hours reported by 15 to 19 year olds declined 9% (from 127 hours in 2004 to 116 hours in 2007) while the average annual hours increased 13% among 20 to 24 year olds (from 161 hours to 182 hours).
Young Canadians are more likely to perform mandatory community service – 16% of those aged 15 to 19 and 7% of those aged 20 to 24 were required to volunteer for the organization to which they contributed the most hours. The 15 to 19 year olds who performed mandatory community service were most likely to be required to volunteer by their school (66%), followed by the organization itself (20%) or some other body (14%). The 20 to 24 year olds were most likely to be required to volunteer by their school (36%), followed by the voluntary organization itself (24%), their employer (17%), or some other body (23%). These figures were virtually unchanged from 2004.
Turning to the types of organizations to which young Canadians contribute their time, 15 to 19 year olds were more likely than either 20 to 24 year olds or those over 25 to volunteer for almost all of types of organizations (Chart 2.17). They were much more likely to volunteer for education and research organizations (28% vs. 9% for 20 to 24 year olds and those 25 and over) and sports and recreation organizations (15% vs. 10% for 20 to 24 year olds and 11% for those 25 and over) and somewhat more likely to volunteer for social services organizations (15% vs. 11% vs. 10%).
Young Canadians generally report the same types of barriers to volunteering as older Canadians (Chart 2.18). However, young volunteers, particularly 15 to 19 year olds, were more likely to report that they did not volunteer more because they were not asked (45% of 15 to 19 year olds vs. 39% of 20 to 24 year olds and 27% of those 25 and over) or because they did not know how to become involved (35% vs. 21% and 11%). The 15 to 19 year old group was also more likely to report being dissatisfied with a previous volunteering experience (13%). On the other hand, 20 to 24 year olds were more likely than others to report that they did not volunteer more because they did not have the time (79%) and because of the financial cost of volunteering (15%).
In addition to volunteering for charitable and nonprofit organizations, Canadians also help each other directly on their own. The CSGVP asked Canadians whether they had helped individuals living outside their household, without involving an organization, over the previous year. In 2007, 84% of Canadians aged 15 and over helped each other directly, at least once, during the previous year. The rate of helping is virtually unchanged from 2004 (83%).
During 2007, Canadians helped others directly in a number of ways (Chart 2.19):
Compared to 2004, the percentages of Canadians providing these forms of direct help were largely unchanged, with the exception of an increase in the percentage of Canadians providing health-related or personal care (from 50% to 53% in 2007).
Those who provided each form of direct help were asked how frequently they helped others over the course of the previous year (Chart 2.20). The most frequent types of help offered were teaching, coaching or tutoring (provided at least once a week by 42%), providing health-related or personal care (provided at least once a week by 39%), and doing work around the home (33%). These figures are largely unchanged since 2004.
As is the case with volunteering, the likelihood and frequency of providing direct help varies according to the personal and economic characteristics of individuals. For example, those with higher levels of education and income are more likely than others to provide help, but when they do so, they provide it less frequently.
Approximately three quarters (74%) of people with annual incomes less than $20,000 helped others directly, compared to 89% of those with incomes of $100,000 or more (Table 2.4). However, 22% of those with household incomes less than $20,000 helped on a daily or almost daily basis, compared to 15% of those with household incomes of $100,000 or more.
The same pattern holds for education. Nearly nine tenths of those with a university degree (88%), a postsecondary diploma (87%) or some postsecondary education (87%) provided direct help, compared to 77% of those with less than a high school education. However, those with lower levels of education tended to provide assistance more frequently. One fifth (21%) of those with less than a high school diploma provided assistance daily or nearly daily, compared to 13% of those with a university degree.
In contrast, the likelihood of helping others directly decreases with age. Those aged 15 to 24 were most likely to help others directly (90%), while seniors were least likely to do so (70%). Those aged 15 to 24 were also the most likely to provide such assistance on a daily or nearly daily basis (24%).
The provinces with the highest rates of helping others directly were Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador (both 87%), followed by Alberta, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island (all 86%) (Chart 2.21). The lowest rates of helping others directly were reported in the Northwest Territories (67%), Nunavut, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia (all 83%).
Compared to 2004, the rate of helping others directly increased in most provinces. It increased the most in western Canada (3% to 5% increases, depending on the specific province) and the Yukon (from 76% to 85%). The rate decreased in Ontario (from 86% to 83%), and the Northwest Territories (86% to 67%).