Please Sir, May I Have Some Statistics?

statisticsI subscribe to The Daily from Statistics Canada and I think you should too! For those wondering what I am talking about, everyday, StatsCan releases a list of up-to-date statistics and data related to a wide range of sectors, as well as economic and social indicators that reflect and affect our lives.  As an employee in the nonprofit/voluntary sector (NPVS) within a capacity/backbone organization, I am most interested in information related to this sector. What I find is that the existing statistics on the NPVS are not widely available and the nonprofit sector is often a lens that is not used when reporting statistics.

Why do I care? Simply put, it is about context and opportunity. I am often asked fairly basic contextual questions that can be more difficult to answer than they should be. Questions like: how many Alberta nonprofits are there? What is the economic impact of the sector in Alberta? How many employees? What are the rates of volunteerism? This information is often inadequately collected, what is available is often outdated, not well reported and not regionally specific (Alberta vs Canada). Without consistent and reliable contextual information, the NPVS finds itself saying different things (is it 19,000 nonprofits or 23,000?) and struggling with the perennial issue of demonstrating the scope and size of the sector. Additionally, it is not just about trends and size of the sector, but about having accessible statistics to help identify opportunities and challenges. Statistics are what other sectors use to spot future challenges and proactively shift to mitigate or capitalize on them. By paying attention to shifts in labour market attitudes, economic indicators, increases or decreases in certain social indicators, among other information, the NPVS will be better positioned to be an integrated partner in designing our future communities and economies.

The solutions as I see them are at least two-fold. First, better data collection on a reasonably frequent basis is required. For example, in a world where data is collected constantly, it is surprising to me that basic information on the economic impact of the sector is not easy to find. I recognize this is easier said than done; however, if the system to collect this type of data is not in place – let’s work together to develop it. The second solution is openness. I know a number of institutions collect information on the NPVS. Governments collect nonprofit and charity registration information, academia is always conducting research and studies, and banks and other large private sector organizations collect information on NPVS as well. The thing about all the information collected is that it is our information; it is about us as a sector: who we are, what we do, and how we do it. But it seems like the nonprofit/voluntary sector is the last to find out what others know. A greater commitment by these large organizations to making the information they collect available and open for the NPVS to look at and analyze would go a long way in addressing the information deficit.

In recognizing the data challenges the NPVS faces, some sector organizations have taken it upon themselves to fill the void. There is great research and information available through CCVO, Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada and our own CSGVP analysis, please use it. Also, I would encourage all of us to assist in the efforts of these organizations and commit to participating in surveys and interviews when asked so as to help paint the picture of our sector. In our current rush to demonstrate impact, let’s not forget that numbers combined with stories have the most influence. Let’s make sure we use statistics that are available and consistently advocate for more information to be collected and shared with us.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager