The Giving Behaviour of Canadians: Who gives, how and why?

publication date: Sep 5, 2018
author/source: Roger Ali, MBA, CFRE

An important report, 30 Years of Giving in Canada, has examined the charitable donations and giving patterns of Canadians from 1985 to 2014. What makes this report landmark is that it offers an in-depth look at the giving behaviour of Canadians – who gives, how and why – and examines how these trends are re-shaping the future of philanthropy in Canada.

The report reveals a philanthropic environment filled with demographic challenges and high-potential opportunities, including: giving patterns of “new” Canadians compared to “native-born” Canadians, the rising voice of women in philanthropy, and the need to bridge the widening (and increasingly concerning) generational gap in giving.

The study, conducted by Imagine Canada for the Rideau Hall Foundation, estimates that individual Canadians gave approximately $14.3 billion in receipted and unreceipted donations to registered charities in 2014. Claimed donations have increased 150% in real terms since 1985.

Interestingly, although donations have increased, the proportion of tax filers claiming donations has been falling steadily since 1990. This means charities are relying on an ever-smaller proportion of the population for donations. Total donations have continued to rise only because those who give are giving more. Recent research comparing levels of charitable giving in several countries found that Canada has the third highest level of giving, following the United States and New Zealand (Charities Aid Foundation, 2016).

So what causes do Canadians support?

Canadians support charities working in a wide variety of areas. However, more than 75% of all donated dollars go to the “big four” causes: Religion, Health, Social Services and International. Giving to religious organizations is decreasing, but still accounts for the largest portion of donations. Large proportions of the population give to health and social services organizations, but the amounts given are low compared to religion. Giving to international causes has increased, both in terms of the amounts donated and the number of Canadians donating.

This Research also found trends relating to gender and income:

Charities have always relied heavily on donations from those who are in the best position, financially, to give. Historically, this meant that wealthy males dominated the donor pool. There is evidence this has changed somewhat over the past thirty years.

Men continue to be more likely to claim donations and to donate more, but women now represent a larger percentage of the donor pool and a greater proportion of the money donated than they did in the 1980s.

Over the same period, however, Canadian charities have become more dependent on affluent Canadians. In 1985, the top 1% of tax filers (then earning $80,000 and up) accounted for only 16% of donations. In 2014, the top 1% (those earning $250,000 and up) accounted for 31% of donations.

With unprecedented information about the last 30 years of giving, one is left to wonder how this information can help navigate the next 30 years of giving. Despite the unquestionable generosity of Canadians, much could be done to increase giving in this country.

The report clearly indicates that the ways Canadians give and the causes they give to are changing. Charities are increasingly connecting with Canadians online, and online giving is becoming more important. Now and into the future charities need to find ways to more effectively engage immigrants and young people. Even small increases in the proportion of Canadians who give and/or small increases in average donation amounts would have an enormous impact. As a result, organizations adept at understanding changing attitudes and preferences will be in a better position to adapt in the coming years.

So what does this mean for you as a donor? In the coming years, you may see charities communicating with you differently. You may have already noticed the charities you support are shifting more towards online communications and integrated communication channels, as they try to reach more donors using integrated technology and in real time. You will also see more on how donors are coming to the table with big ideas and goals and working with charities to realize their dreams. More and more charities are making use of data analytics and AI to shape their strategies and future directions.

The time is upon us to seriously think about the next 30 years and the bigger impact we will make on society by giving our time, talent and treasure.

Roger D. Ali is President and CEO of Niagara Health Foundation and Chair (volunteer) of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Foundation for Philanthropy Canada.

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