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Non-profit and voluntary organizations operate in a wide variety of fields and their economic contribution is significant. Their most common spheres of activity are sports and recreation, and religion, which accounted for 21% and 19% of all such organizations in 2003.
With revenues totalling $112 billion in 2003, non-profit and voluntary organizations play a substantial role in the Canadian economy. Although one-third of this increase is attributable to a relatively small number of hospitals, universities and colleges, the remaining organizations reported revenues of $75 billion. Non-profit and voluntary organizations are also significant employers, with paid staff totalling just over two million people. About one out of three of these workers are employed by hospitals, universities and colleges.
Non-profit and voluntary organizations tend to focus on providing services within their own neighbourhood, city, town or rural municipality. Most serve the general public rather than their own members exclusively. Many also focus on specific groups, such as children, youth, seniors or persons with disabilities.
In 2003, more than half of all non-profit and voluntary organizations were completely dependent on contributions by millions of volunteers—in the form of donations of both time and money. The work done by the volunteers was the equivalent of one million full-time jobs with an estimated replacement value of $14 billion in 2000. The money that Canadians gave to these organizations totalled more than $8 billion.
Even so, most non-profit and voluntary organizations report difficulty fulfilling their missions. In particular, they report having problems recruiting volunteers, obtaining funding and planning for the future.