Volunteer work has an important role in fostering social cohesion and shaping communities. Canada has a strong volunteer work sector that helps to drive positive changes in the country and strengthen the connections between individuals and communities.
In this article, we have collated statistics on volunteer work in Canada. You will find information on how many Canadians actively contribute their time and skills voluntarily, the demographics of Canadian volunteers, and the significance of volunteering across Canada. We have also included a brief section on the benefits of volunteering for anyone interested in but not yet taking part in volunteer work.
Volunteer Work Statistics for Canadians
- In 2018, 79% of Canadians aged at least 15 years took part in some form of volunteer work.
- Canadians volunteered approximately 2.5 billion hours in total in 2018.
- Among formal volunteers, hospital work had the highest number of volunteer hours.
- In 2018, the voluntary work in Canada was worth approximately $55 billion.
- Canadians from the iGen age group are the most likely to volunteer but the oldest Canadians spend the most hours volunteering.
- Baby Boomer and Millennial women are more likely to volunteer than men from the same age groups.
- 93% of Canadian volunteers say they are motivated by making a contribution to their community.
- Organising events and activities is the most popular formal volunteer activity in Canada.
- Almost half of informal volunteers help others with chores at home or in the garden.
- More than half of Canadian charities had less volunteer workers in 2022 than before the pandemic.
Volunteer Work in Canada
The last large-scale survey on volunteering in Canada is from 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, around 79% of Canadians aged 15 years or older were taking part in some type of volunteer work. Some were volunteering on their own, others did it as part of an organisation. In total, 24 million Canadias gave their time and shared their skills for free in 2018.
How Many Hours Canadians Volunteer?
Volunteers in Canada make a significant contribution to society through the time they give. In 2018, the total hours Canadians volunteered reached approximately 2.5 billion. This is equivalent to roughly 2.5 million full-time jobs. On average, Canadian volunteers contribute around 206 hours each, which is almost 26 eight-hour working days.
This figure alone demonstrates the impact of volunteering in Canada. Without their input charities, non-profits, and numerous other organisations would have to spend a lot more money on paying for services rather than using their funds to benefit those in need.
Sectors With the Highest Volunteer Hours
In 2018, hospitals had the highest annual hours of formal support by volunteers. On average volunteers dedicated 111 hours per year to hospital work. The next highest number of hours were dedicated to volunteer work in the religious sector with 110 hours on average spent on volunteering in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious organisations.
The sports and recreation sector also saw a high number of volunteer engagement with 105 hours. Only slightly behind was the arts and culture sector where volunteers gave on average 104 hours per year.
Canadians who volunteered on their own rather than on behalf of an organisation spent around 137 hours per year helping someone who was not part of their immediate household, for example, a friend, family member, or neighbour. In addition, 45 hours on average were dedicated to improving the community each year, for example, maintaining parks or other public spaces.
What is the Economic Value of Volunteer Work in Canada?
The economic value of the skills and time provided by volunteers in Canada is huge. The economic value is often referred to as ”volunteer dollars” and in 2018, was worth approximately $55 billion.
Volunteer Age Demographics
There is no such thing as a typical volunteer in Canada. Instead, Canadians from all walks of life take part in volunteer work. However, there are differences between age groups, men and women, and socio-economic backgrounds.
In 2018, Canadians born in 1996 or after were the most likely age group to take part in volunteer work. 52% of people from this age group, known as the Internet generation or iGens, had worked as volunteers in 2018 or 2017.
The oldest Canadians, born in 1945 or earlier, were the least likely to volunteer with 32% of the age group having volunteered in 2018 or 2017. However, this age group gave the most hours averaging 222 hours per year compared to 82 hours for the iGens.
The older generations were also more likely to be ”top” volunteers, which is a term used to define the 25% of volunteers who give the most hours. In 2018, this meant giving at least 132 hours per year. 40% of Canadians born in 1946 or before, 31% of Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1965), and 18% of iGens were considered top volunteers in 2018.
These percentages reflect the fact that older Canadians have more free time to dedicate to volunteering since they are no longer part of the active workforce. It also shows that many older Canadians are looking to use their free time to benefit their communities. It can also offer them a way to remain more social, especially if they live on their own.
Other Volunteer Demographics
In Canada, women are more likely than men to work as volunteers. The differences were mainly driven by Baby Boomers and Millennials (people born between 1981 and 1995). The difference in the number of women/ men volunteering was not noticeable in other age groups.
Canadians who are employed and have higher levels of education take part in volunteer work more frequently. Regionally, the highest volunteer rates were in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, while British Columbia and Nova Scotia had the highest average volunteer annual hours.
Why Canadians Volunteer
There are several reasons why Canadians contribute their time and skills in voluntary activities. But the main reason is the wish to contribute to their community at 93%. Using skills and experiences (78%) and having been personally affected by the organisation’s cause (59%) are the second and third biggest motivators.
Canadians are also encouraged to volunteer by their friends, with 48% of volunteers giving their time because their friends do. The same percentage is also using volunteer work as an opportunity to explore their own strengths. Volunteering is also seen as a way to network (46%) and improve job opportunities (22%). 21% of Canadians also volunteer because of their religious beliefs or obligations.
However, the key motivations to volunteer differ between age groups. Among younger Canadians, improving job opportunities was an important motivator for 38% of volunteers compared to 22% across all volunteers. Often, the volunteer work was linked to their graduation or job requirements. Around 10% of volunteer hours given by iGens were mandatory unpaid work.
While younger Canadians volunteered to improve their chances for finding paid jobs, people from older generations were more likely to cite using their skills, religious or spiritual beliefs, or supporting a social or political cause as reasons to volunteer.
The Most Common Types of Formal Volunteering in Canada
In 2018, the volunteer rate for formal volunteering in Canada was 42%. The most common types of formal volunteering were fundraising and organising events. 18% of Canadians had helped to organise, coordinate, or supervise events or activities. Canadians from iGen were most likely to participate in these types of voluntary activities.
16% of Canadians helped to raise funds for organisations in 2018, 13% sat on a board or committee, 12% volunteered as teachers or mentors, 11% collected, served, or delivered food, and 10% provided advice or counselling.
The Most Common Types of Direct Volunteering
In 2018, 74% of Canadians aged 15 or older engaged in informal volunteering. This means helping others on their own rather than through an organisation or group. 52% of informal volunteers only contributed informally, while the remaining 48% did both formal and informal volunteer work.
49% of Canadians involved in informal volunteer work said they helped others with housework, home and outdoor maintenance. 39% had driven others to appointments or helped with personal or health-related care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, informal volunteering included, for example, arranging appointments and driving others to their COVID-19 vaccinations.
When doing informal voluntary work, younger Canadians were more likely to teach, coach, and tutor than the oldest Canadians. Helping others with paperwork, taxes, and banking were more common activities among Millennials, Gen X Canadians (people born between 1966 and 1980), and Baby Boomers than the other age groups.
How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Volunteering?
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, many charities in Canada reported getting fewer volunteers than they did before the pandemic. In 2022, 22.4% of charities said they now had significantly fewer people volunteering than they did before the pandemic. 32.7% of charities had noticed a moderate decrease in the number of volunteers.
In total 55.1% of Canadian charities had fewer volunteers in 2022 than before COVID-19. Because the number of volunteers has decreased but the demand for services provided by charities has increased, 50.8% of charity managers or coordinators in Canada have concerns about staff burnout.
Great Reasons to Volunteer
- Volunteering is a great way to bring new experiences into your life. It may help you discover new interests or start a new hobby.
- You can use volunteering to connect with others. Through volunteering, you can meet new people and expand your network.
- Doing volunteer work can help you gain professional experience. It can even be useful in ”getting your foot in the door” and provide you with a great reference.
- Volunteering can improve your level of happiness. It can work as a psychological enhancer, alleviating boredom and possibly even depression.
- It is possible that volunteering can even boost your health. Some studies also show that people who volunteer may have a longer life expectancy than those who don’t.
Volunteering is popular with Canadians. In 2018, 79% of the population had taken part in at least one form of voluntary activity. While the volunteer rate doing formal voluntary work was 42%, many more Canadians engaged in informal voluntary work such as helping neighbours, friends, or relatives.
The most common fields for formal voluntary work were healthcare and the religious sector, while helping out with housework, in the garden, or with maintenance was the most common type of informal voluntary work.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers of volunteers have fallen in Canada. Over half of Canadian charities said they had fewer volunteers in 2022 than before the pandemic. However, considering the commitment Canadians have shown to volunteer work in the past, we can hope that the numbers pick up now life has returned to more normal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Almost four in five Canadians volunteered in some capacity in 2018. While 79% overall engaged in either informal or formal volunteer work, the rate for formal volunteer work was 42%. The total number of Canadians aged 15 or older who volunteered formally or informally in 2018 was approximately 24 million and the number of formal volunteers was 12.7 million.
Canadian volunteers come from all age groups and economic backgrounds. The portion of volunteers is the greatest among the iGen Canadians at 52%. However, older Canadians who no longer have other work commitments spend the most time on voluntary activities. Women are more likely to participate in voluntary activities than men as are Canadians with higher educational and occupational background.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a disruptive effect on volunteer work in Canada, making it harder for organisations that rely on support from their volunteers to deliver their services. Following the pandemic, charities have also seen fewer people volunteering than before. This has put a strain on charities and non-profit organisations, especially as the demand for many charities’ services has grown during and since the pandemic.