Volunteer Sector - FAQs
What is the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector?
The nonprofit/voluntary sector is comprised of "self-governing organizations that exist to serve the public benefit, generate social capital but do not distribute private profit to members, depend to a meaningful degree on volunteers, involve participation on a voluntary basis and are independent or institutionally distinct from the formal structures of government and the profit sector." The sector includes nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations, registered charities and groups that are not incorporated or registered. In Alberta there are an estimated 19,000 charities and nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations. All the organizations in this sector are governed by volunteer Boards of Directors.
Why are they important?
From sports and recreation, arts and culture, services for people of all ages who need support, offer programs to develop employment skills or help new immigrants settle into community - in all these ways and more, nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations contribute to the quality of life in our communities.
What would our communities be like without the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector?
Linda Graff reminds us in her article "Paradice Paved Over" that:
"...Like Joni Mitchell warned us decades ago, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...Without volunteers and the voluntary sector our communities would be wastelands devoid of nearly all that is human...
-recreational, education and health services would be pared to the bone, with many just disappearing;
-the arts and cultural dimensions of community that enrich our lives and our spirits would surely fail to exist;
-faith communities would wither;
-disaster services including firefighting, paramedic services, and search and rescue teams in many small communities would be skeletal or nonexistent;
-the political system would fail without citizen involvement in campaigns;
-self-help groups would cease;
-there would never be another parade and no one would enjoy the joy of a church choir;
-youth leadership and mentoring programs would not encourage citizenship and future leaders;
-the hospice and adult literacy movements would decline, environmental groups and advocates for social justice, civil rights and many other voices would be silenced"
Think about your own life. The voluntary sector allows you to give assistance, to receive services you need and to make changes locally and globally. Picture your neighborhood, your town, your province. The nonprofit/voluntary sector makes our lives, and those of our neighbors, caring, fun, safe, healthy, responsive, welcoming and inclusive. It is a vital part of an active democracy where all citizens can be involved in the life of their community.
What's the difference between the nonprofit/voluntary sector and volunteers?
Volunteers play a critical role in governing and providing service through their involvement in voluntary sector organizations. They often work together with paid staff that manage and provide other specialized skills important to the success of the organization. Together paid employees and volunteers provide important voluntary action that serves the needs of the wider community.
If the nonprofit/voluntary sector is supported and valued will we be able to attract more volunteers?
Volunteers value meaningful roles in which they can contribute skills, time and energy that make impact in the community. Without adequate support, infrastructure, funding and recognition of the voluntary sector, it is difficult to encourage volunteer involvement. Increased responsibility, liability and expectations related to volunteering discourage volunteerism if the environment is not healthy.
Who speaks for the nonprofit/voluntary sector in Alberta?
No single individual or organization does. Alberta's nonprofit/voluntary sector touches our lives intimately through people volunteering and/or working in over 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations. Many organizations are part of the larger networks of nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations. Together, these networks are trying to raise significant issues that national and provincial forums, Statistics Canada and others have identified within the non profit sector. ANVSI membership reflects sector networks.
Why are there so many nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations? Isn't there a lot of duplication and waste of resources?
There are 600 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations for every 100,000 citizens in Alberta. These organizations represent a wide range of interests from health and social services to religious and cultural issues; from trade associations and environmental groups to minor sports and provision of long term care. Citizen's expectations for choice, coupled with funding practices that reward development of new projects rather than sustaining existing organizations, contribute to this development. Nearly 50% of all revenue required by non-profit organizations is self-generated, suggesting the sector is neither a burden to society or government. It is in fact highly entrepreneurial, creative and efficient.
According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the net number of new registered charities created in Canada in the past 12 months is only 99. (2027 new applications were approved however 1928 organizations were dissolved or registrations revoked in the same period). At the same time a recent CIBC Small Business report predicts 100,000 small business startups in Canada in the next five years. In the past two years alone 25,000 small businesses began operations (Alberta leading the way) however Industry Canada predicts 2 out of 5 will not survive beyond two years: net 12,000 new business organizations formed each year compared to 99 Registered Charities.
Who is involved?
The ANVSI is made up of representatives of the nonprofit/voluntary sector and government representatives, known as the Collaboration Committee, who are working collectively to provide perspectives on cross sector issues. The members are representative of large networks in the province that are committed to building the capacity of the voluntary sector and listed elsewhere on this website.
Can't volunteers replace employees if it's a challenge to find or pay employees?
While Albertans continue to volunteer their time, skills and perspectives at high rates, an aging population, increased demands from employers and families and complexity in the operations of nonprofit/voluntary organizations all contribute to changing patterns of volunteerism. As in the public and private sectors, diverse skills are required to effectively provide programs, facilities and services. Volunteers are the exclusive human resources that sustain the 58% of Alberta's non-profit organizations that have no paid staff. However, the commitment and specialized skills required to operate other organizations, could not realistically be sustained by a solely volunteer workforce. Core services which depend upon sustainable long term workers require a compliment of volunteer and employee contributions to excel.
How can I get involved?
Be a champion --- talk it up and keep in touch for updates. Connect with others in your community and tell them about the ANVSI.