Non-profit Sector

What is the non-profit/voluntary/third sector?

The non-profit sector is home to general charities, trades unions, social enterprises, public arts organizations, companies, community organizations, independent schools, faith groups, housing associations, which broadly exist for public benefit. These organizations are eligible for a range of income and property tax exemptions.

  • The purpose of the voluntary sector is to improve and enrich society; It exists to create social wealth rather than material wealth.
  • It is sometimes referred to as civil society, the third sector, the voluntary and community, non-profit, not-for-profit, charity, social and even beyond profit sector. It is made up of many different categories of activity affecting many aspects of society.
  • The common understanding behind the sector is that it is separate from government and exists to make a difference to society rather than to make financial profits.

Sector Visual - large printWhat is a non-profit/charity?

  • A type of organization that does not earn profits for its owners
  • All of the money earned by or donated to a nonprofit organization is used in pursuing the organization’s objectives and keeping it running
  • All charities are nonprofits, but not all nonprofits are charities
  • Organizations wishing to be recognized as registered charities must apply to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which will look at their purposes and determine if they meet the requirements of operating exclusively for charitable purposes

 The courts have identified four types of charitable activity:

    1. The relief of poverty
    2. The advancement of education
    3. The advancement of religion
    4. Other purposes that benefit the community in a way the courts have said is charitable

What about careers in the non-profit sector? 

Let's bust some myths!

Myth #1: There aren't many jobs in the non-profit sector.

Within Canada’s 170,000 nonprofits (85,000 of which are charities), 2 million people are employed by the non-profit sector (11.1% of economically active population). 71% are employed full-time.

Myth #2: Careers in the non-profit sector are not stable.

According to the HR Council of Canada, more than half of all employees in the non-profit sector have been with their current employer for more than five years, and nearly one third have been with them for more than 10 years.    

Myth #3: Working for a non-profit is not really a career path. 

Working in the nonprofit sector sometimes is considered taking a break from the “real world,” with the implied assumption that it is not an option to spend a lifetime doing this work. In reality, the nonprofit sector provides many people with a lifetime of exciting work. Nonprofits also tend to offer young people more leadership opportunities than other sectors.  

Myth #4: Non-profits only do direct service work. 

The most visible nonprofits are often soup kitchens, mentoring programs, and other organizations that involve people working directly with other people who need some form of assistance. But many people who work for nonprofits are accountants, computer programmers, sales people, human resources professionals, managers, fundraisers, and executives. Many more are researchers and advocates for certain issues or supporting the work of direct service organizations. 

Where can I learn more about the non-profit sector?

Sector Source (resource by Imagine Canada)
Canada's Nonprofit Sector: Get the Facts (MaRS Discovery District)
What is a social enterprise? (Centre for Social Innovation)
Check out this TEDTalk by Dan Pallota