General Social Survey - Giving, Volunteering and Participating (GSS GVP)

Quinquennial (5 year)
Record number:

The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well-being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest.

The purpose of this survey is to collect data regarding unpaid volunteer activities, charitable giving and participation. The results will help build a better understanding of these activities which can in turn be used to help develop programs and services.

Detailed information for 2013 (Cycle 27)

Data release - January 30, 2015


This survey is the result of a partnership of federal government departments and voluntary sector organizations that includes Canadian Heritage, Health Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Statistics Canada, Imagine Canada, and Volunteer Canada. This survey is an important source of information on Canadian contributory behavior, including giving, volunteering and participating.

The objectives of the survey are threefold:

1) to collect national data to fill a void of information about individual contributory behaviors including volunteering, charitable giving and civic participation;

2) to provide reliable and timely data to the System of National Accounts;

3) to inform both the public and voluntary sectors in policy and program decisions that relate to the charitable and volunteer sector.

Statistical activity

This record is part of the General Social Survey (GSS) program. The GSS originated in 1985. Each survey contains a core topic, focus or exploratory questions and a standard set of socio-demographic questions used for classification. More recent cycles have also included some qualitative questions, which explore intentions and perceptions.


  • Labour
  • Society and community
  • Unpaid work
  • Volunteering and donating

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population includes all persons 15 years of age and older in Canada, excluding:
1. Residents of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut
2. Full-time residents of institutions.

Respondents were contacted and interviewed by telephone. Thus persons in households without telephones could not be interviewed. However, persons living in such households represent less than 2% of the target population.

Instrument design

The questionnaire was designed based on research and extensive consultations with data users. Qualitative testing, conducted by Statistics Canada's Questionnaire Design Resource Center (QDRC), was carried out, with respondents in four cities, representing three provinces, who were screened in based on representative criteria. Questions which worked well and others that needed clarification or redesign were highlighted. QDRC staff compiled a detailed report of the results along with their recommendations. All comments and feedback from qualitative testing were carefully considered and incorporated into the survey when possible.


This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.

Data for the 2013 GSS GVP were collected by the Halifax, Sherbrooke, Sturgeon Falls, Winnipeg and Edmonton regional offices. About 47,100 households were be sampled.

The survey, like most household surveys conducted by Statistics Canada, uses a probability (random) sample to ensure that its results are unbiased and that we can estimate their reliability. It is a computer assisted telephone interview (CATI) survey.

This cycle used the Residential Telephone numbers file (RTF) as the sampling frame. However, to be more efficient, telephone numbers belonging to the same address were grouped together using the Dwelling Universe File (DUF). Both files are the result of Statistics Canada's common frame for household surveys.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2013-09-03 to 2013-12-31

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

Data collection is conducted by Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) methods.

An introduction letter, along with a brochure, is sent in advance to respondents for which an address is available.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Error detection

All survey records were subjected to computer edits throughout the course of the interview. The CATI system identified 'out-of-range' values as they were entered. As a result, the interviewer could immediately correct the information provided to resolve the issue with the respondent. If the interviewer was unable to correctly resolve the detected errors, it was possible for the interviewer to bypass the edit and forward the data to head office for resolution. Interviewer comments were reviewed and taken into account in head office editing.


All imputations involved donors that were selected using a score function. For each item non-response or partial non-response records (also called recipient records), we compared certain characteristics to characteristics from all the donors. When the characteristics were the same between a donor and the recipient, a value was added to the score of that donor. The donor with the highest score was deemed the "closest" donor and was chosen to fill in missing pieces of information of the non-respondents. If there was more than one donor with the highest score, a random selection occurred. The pool of donors was made up in such a way that the imputed value assigned to the recipient, in conjunction with other non-imputed items from the recipient would still pass the edits.


When a probability sample is used, as was the case for the GSS, the principle behind estimation is that each person selected in the sample represents (in addition to himself/herself) several other persons not in the sample. For example, in a simple random sample of 2% of the population, each person in the sample represents 50 persons in the population (himself/herself and 49 others). The number of persons represented by a given respondent is usually known as the weight or weighting factor.

The 2013 GSS GVP was a survey of individuals and the analytic files contain questionnaire responses and associated information from 14,714 respondents.

A weighting factor is available on the microdata file:

WGHT_PER: This is the basic weighting factor for analysis at the person level, i.e. to calculate estimates of the number of persons (non-institutionalized and aged 15 or over) having one or several given characteristics.

In addition to the estimation weights, bootstrap weights have been created for the purpose of design-based variance estimation.

Quality evaluation

Quality assurance measures were implemented at every collection and processing step. Measures included recruitment of qualified interviewers, training provided to interviewers for specific survey concepts and procedures, observations of interviews to correct questionnaire design problems and instruction misinterpretations, procedures to ensure that data capture errors were minimized and edit quality checks to verify the processing logic. Data are verified to ensure internal consistency and they are also compared to other published sources.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

Data accuracy

The methodology of this survey has been designed to limit the number of errors and to reduce their potential effects. However, the results of the survey remain subject to both sampling and non-sampling error.

Sampling error:
As the data are based on a sample of persons, they are subject to sampling error. That is, estimates based on a sample will vary from sample to sample, and typically they will be different from the results that would have been obtained from a complete census. More precise estimates of the sampling variability of estimates can be produced with the bootstrap method using bootstrap weights that have been created for this survey. The bootstrap method was used to estimate the sampling variability for all of the estimates produced based on the data from the 2013 GSS GVP. Estimates with high sampling variability are indicated in this publication and all of the highlighted differences between subgroups of the population are significant at the 5% level.

Non-sampling error:
Even a census of the population of interest produces estimates subject to error. While these are called non-sampling errors, estimates from samples still contain errors of this type. Common sources of these errors are imperfect coverage and non-response.

Coverage errors (or imperfect coverage) arise when there are differences between the target population and the surveyed population. Households without telephones, as well as households with telephone services not covered by the current frame, represent a part of the target population that was excluded from the surveyed population. To the extent that the excluded population differs from the rest of the target population, the results may be biased. In general, since these exclusions are small, one would expect the biases introduced to be small.

The overall response rate for the 2013 GSS GVP was 46%. Non-response could occur at several stages in this survey. There were two stages of information collection: at the household level and at the individual level. Some non-response occurred at the household level, and some at the individual level. Survey estimates have been adjusted (i.e. weighted) to account for non-response cases. To the extent that the non-responding households and persons differ from the rest of the sample, the results may be biased.

Other types of non-sampling errors can include response errors and processing errors.