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What’s all that volunteer work worth? Try $50-billion

Volunteers in Toronto shout out support to participants in the Harry's Spring Run-Off to Conquer Prostate Cancer. A recent study suggests that about 13 million people in Canada do volunteer work.

Philip Cheung/The Globe and Mail

The social value of shovelling a neighbour's driveway or collecting cans for a food drive might be clear – but what is the economic value of all this activity?

A new report looks at the 13.3 million people in Canada who do volunteer work and pegs the economic value of their activity at a hefty $50-billion a year.

That puts the value of volunteer work at almost 3 per cent of the country's GDP or equivalent in size to Manitoba's whole economy. If the value of volunteer work were a company, it would be one of the largest in Canada, at a little larger than Canadian National Railway, the report by Toronto-Dominion Bank says.

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And that's probably understating the value. "This figure, though undoubtedly impressive, is likely a conservative estimate that does not include any capital investment, nor improved skills and attitudes," said the report's authors, economists Craig Alexander and Sonya Gulati.

They estimated the value of volunteering based on time spent, at 2.1 billion hours (or the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs), in these activities in 2010, using an average wage of $24 an hour (the most recent average hourly wage in Canada).

The International Labour Organization defines a volunteer as someone who performs unpaid, non-compulsory work through an organization, or directly for others.

Around the world, almost a billion people volunteer their time each year, the TD economists said, citing researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly half of Canadian adults, or 47 per cent, did some sort of volunteer work in 2010, with the highest volunteer rates in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, according to Statistics Canada.

The benefits are broad; for volunteers, it can improve their skills, give them useful work experience or a chance to try out a job before changing careers. It, naturally, benefits the recipients, and can bolster both social cohesion and socio-economic outcomes.

The study was produced in conjunction with National Volunteer Week.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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