Why Nonprofits Matter: 3 Major Contributions of the Nonprofit Sector

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By Jessica Powell, CCVO Policy Analyst

Nonprofits Vote: Albertans Go to the Polls in 2019

As noted in a previous post, CCVO is rolling out an election toolkit to provide nonprofits with resources, tools and information to engage in policy advocacy in the upcoming provincial election. The date of the election is not yet released, but will need to be called by the end of May 2019. The full toolkit will be published in the new year. Please follow the CCVO blog as we release installments of the toolkit to help you engage in the provincial election.

In advance of the upcoming provincial election, it’s important for nonprofits to recognize the potential influence they have, and meaningfully engage in public policy dialogue to capture the attention of political parties and candidates. Nonprofits have a profound impact in Alberta and it’s important that organizations talk about the value of the sector as a whole – but it can be challenging to communicate the greater value of the sector to government. To help articulate this, we’ve highlighted three major contributions of the nonprofit sector that demonstrate its collective impact on society and the economy.

1. Nonprofits Contribute to Social and Cultural Fabric

Nonprofit organizations play a vital role in society, providing key services for Albertans. Their work touches on social, cultural, and environmental issues and values that are otherwise underserved. Nonprofits have been historically formed to fill a gap in services not otherwise provided by government or private businesses. For example, in the 1990’s, the Government of Alberta outsourced the delivery of essential services to nonprofits to reduce the cost of government services. This government outsourcing led to the formation of many nonprofit organizations within Alberta to provide essential services and support for citizens.

Nonprofits are incredibly diverse and enrich Albertan’s social and cultural experience through a variety of subsectors, including: arts and culture, sports and recreation, religion, social services, development and housing, environment, education and research, health, and advocacy among others. Unique in their direct work with community groups, nonprofit organizations harness insights and promise solutions to complex societal challenges. They serve diverse populations, geographical locations, and employ different approaches to solving complex challenges. With thousands of organizations providing much needed services, nonprofits are significant contributors to the communities they serve, and to the social and cultural makeup of our province.

2. Nonprofits are Cornerstones of a Thriving Economy

Nonprofit organizations play a critical role within our economy. Canada’s nonprofit and charitable sector is the second largest in the world, employing over two million people. There are more than 170,000 nonprofit organizations in Canada that represent 10.5% of the labour force and contribute to 8.1% of Canada’s GDP.

In Alberta, the nonprofit sector is equally important to the economy and creation of jobs. Its impact has grown substantially in the last decade and will continue to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the province.

In Alberta, the sector is comprised of:

·         More than 26,000 nonprofits in Alberta (increased from 19,000 in 2003)

o   More than 6,000 nonprofits in Calgary

·         $9.6 billion in GDP (nonprofit and voluntary sector)

·         417,000 nonprofit employees (187,000 full-time and 230,000 part-time)

·         262 million annual volunteer hours

3. Nonprofits are Crucial to Democratic Participation

Nonprofits play a vital role in democratic participation by bringing the voice of the communities they represent to public discourse. They work to increase awareness and understanding of issues by addressing policies, laws, and regulations relevant to their cause or the communities they serve and are well positioned to hold governments and decision-makers accountable. Political candidates and parties seek out open dialogue with organizations in efforts to better understand and respond to their constituents’ needs. This provides a platform for nonprofits to engage in advocacy relevant to their cause. 

Despite the importance of democratic participation, nonprofits and charities have a longstanding hesitation towards policy advocacy; with some organizations even distancing themselves entirely to avoid risking their charitable status. This hesitation stems from the interpretation of the regulations outlined in the Income Tax Act that limit a charity’s ability to engage in certain types of political activities. To clarify, registered charities are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities, such as endorsing a candidate for public office. However, they are permitted a certain amount of nonpartisan political activity, such as communicating a call to action. These regulations do not apply to nonprofit organizations without charitable status. More information on these regulations can be found at the CCVO blog post on this topic.

All nonprofit organizations – including charities – have an important role in advocating for good public policy. This participation becomes even more important in advance of the provincial election.


Follow CCVO for more nonprofit election resources at @calgarycvo and tweet us using #nonprofitsvote

Are there other topics or resources you’d like to see? Send us an email or comment below!