The final week of April saw Canada celebrate National Volunteer Week. In honour of this event, TD Bank released a report that estimates volunteering in Canada creates $50 billion in economic value each year. To put it into perspective, that is almost 3% of Canada’s national economy.
In fact, the report also calls that $50 billion figure “conservative,” as it’s only about half of Statistic Canada’s estimation of the value add from the non-profit sector in Canada. The discrepancy comes from the fact that this figure doesn’t include capital investment (not to mention intangible outcomes).
The report begins with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of a volunteer as an individual who performs “unpaid non-compulsory work; that is, time individuals give without pay to activities performed either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.”
As volunteer work is unpaid, the report argues that one way to measure economic value from volunteering is by the opportunity cost for spending time on unpaid work as opposed to paid work. Multiply the average hourly wage rate ($24) by the total Canadian volunteer hours (2.1 billion) and you are left with the $50 billion figure that would have been produced if those volunteer hours were instead spent on paid work.
Again, this is a meager estimate as it doesn’t include economic value from the social capital generated. These are the intangible benefits associated with volunteering, such as skills developed through volunteering that are applied to a paid job, or socio-economic outcomes that benefit vulnerable groups.
Putting aside the calculation of this figure, let’s talk about why it is important.
For the most part, volunteering is recognized by its altruistic characteristics like selfless acts and giving back to the community. While these characteristics are important to our society’s well being, they are difficult to quantify and do not demonstrate economic value. Without these things, it is far too easy to undervalue the important role that volunteerism plays in our economy.
We’ve seen first hand what this undervaluation can do. There are many aspects of volunteering that go neglected causing ongoing struggles for organizations working with volunteers. This creates a burden on volunteering that could be overcome with more investment into a supporting infrastructure. Technological innovation in the sector is particularly lackluster, current tools leave much to be desired and innovation is stagnant in favour of more profitable markets.
This study reminds Canada how critical volunteering is for our economy. It becomes clear that volunteerism that is not only worth protecting, but also bettering. We call upon our friends in the volunteer sector to join us in thinking big, innovating, and working to improve accessibility so that our volunteer hours (and dollars) continue to be put to great work.
With better tools, support, and innovation, who knows what the world of volunteerism can achieve?
- Kevan and Jon