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Recent data releases from Statistics Canada are helpful but more is needed

Recent data releases from Statistics Canada are helpful but more is needed

Photo credit: Youth Centres of Calgary (YCC).

Having accurate and up-to-date evidence is key to informed decision-making. Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector has been experiencing a data deficit for some time now. Our lack of economic, organizational and employment data means that public policy, funding and organizational decisions are made without access to basic information. 

We, along with many others in the sector, have made getting better data a priority for some time now. As a result, there have been numerous important data releases on the nonprofit sector from Statistics Canada over the past year. In this post, we explore what the data can tell us about the state of our sector, and what’s next for this policy file.

Human resources data on nonprofit and voluntary organizations

In April, Statistics Canada released new data on human resources in the nonprofit sector between 2010 and 2019, including information on the size, demographics, compensation and educational profile of our workforce. We’re able to learn a lot from this new data, including that: 

  • the nonprofit sector employs 2.5 million people, 77% of whom are women;
  • there are persistent racial and gender pay gaps in the nonprofit sector; and
  • the number of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour employed in the nonprofit sector is growing.

Labour force information is valuable to nonprofit workers and leaders because it allows us to plan, identify areas for improvement (such as pay equity gaps), and understand how our roles and organizations fit into the larger nonprofit sector landscape. This data is useful to policymakers because it allows them to better understand the labourforce that their policy decisions impact. Because this data set was collected in 2019, prior to the disruptions of the pandemic, it offers a valuable baseline to help us understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on nonprofit sector employment trends. 

Business conditions data

Since the onset of the pandemic, Statistics Canada has been conducting quarterly surveys about the conditions in which businesses were operating, the most recent of which is from early 2021. The purpose of this data is to assess organizational needs both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. While the survey’s name suggests that it’s focused on the private sector, it is actually a survey of employers, including nonprofit sector employers. The results are a valuable source of information on the challenges facing nonprofit organizations, their long-term outlook, and the pandemic’s impact on revenues. Key findings of relevance to the nonprofit sector include: 

  • The same percentage of nonprofits and for-profits experienced decreased revenues in 2020 compared to 2019 (56%).
  • The future is uncertain: Only 43% of nonprofits can continue operating at current levels of expenses and revenues for 12 months or more before considering layoffs and only 47% can continue operating at current levels of expenses and revenues for 12 months or more before considering bankruptcy or closures. 
  • Nonprofits are making permanent adaptations: They’re more likely to intend to continue to work and offer services virtually and more likely to be planning to adopt or incorporate new technologies than for-profits.
  • Nonprofits were much more likely than for-profits to take COVID-19 mitigation measures and to provide new supports, such as mental health supports, to employees in response to the pandemic. 

This data is helpful as we try to understand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our organizations and how the challenges in the nonprofit sector differ from those experienced by businesses. Statistics Canada will continue to release business conditions data on a quarterly basis, providing us with a rich and regular source of information on the status of nonprofit organizations throughout the recovery.

The economic contribution of nonprofit and voluntary organizations 

In March 2021, Statistics Canada released new data on the economic contribution of the nonprofit sector in 2019 and 2020, including our contribution to Canada’s GDP and the sector’s employment numbers. This data lets us compare the trends of the past year with the period immediately preceding the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, allowing us to better understand the economic impact that the pandemic has had on our sector. Highlights from this data include: 

  • the nonprofit sector contributes 8.7% to GDP;
  • the nonprofit sector employs 2.5 million people; and
  • earlier this year, the nonprofit sector had seen a partial recovery in revenues since the height of the first wave during the second quarter of 2020. 

As we argued in a recent open letter to Minister Freeland about advancing gender equality through investment in the nonprofit sector, the economic contribution of the nonprofit sector is often overlooked due to gendered perceptions of our work as care work. Economic data is a crucial part of making the case that our sector deserves to be treated on par with other male- dominated sectors of the economy. 

This data release, along with the human resources data release above, are part of what is called the Satellite Account of Non-profit Institutions and Volunteering, which presents a descriptive analysis of the size, scope and nature of Canada's nonprofit sector in economic terms. This data was updated regularly between 2004 and 2010, but has only been updated twice since then (once in 2019, and once now, in 2021). We will continue to advocate for this data to be updated regularly going forward.

How did we get here and what’s next on the data file?

After a years-long nonprofit sector data drought, new information has started to trickle out through the updates above and a recent crowdsourced survey on diversity at the board level in the nonprofit sector. Beyond these data releases, The Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector recently put forward three recommendations about data in its second report that, if acted upon by the government, would address some of the nonprofit sector’s longstanding data challenges. Additionally, in Budget 2021, the Government made several data collection commitments, including promises to implement a Disaggregated Data Action Plan and to improve quality of life measures. Limited details are available about these initiatives, so we are seeking clarity on whether they will advance the nonprofit sector’s data priorities. 

The progress being made on this file so far is thanks to sustained advocacy from many in the nonprofit sector. However, with no commitment from the Government to update these data sets regularly or fill numerous other data gaps, we’re still a long way from where we need to be. To seize on the momentum created by these recent developments, Imagine Canada and the Ontario Nonprofit Network will be re-convening our Federal Data Working Group this summer to push this policy file forward.

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