Thursday, February 1, 2018

Giving in Canada Falling: Generosity Index

“The general trend in recent years is that a declining percentage of Canadian tax filers are donating to charity and they are donating less as a percentage of income.”

That’s the finding of the annual Generosity Index from Canada’s Fraser Institute.

According to the Index, which measures the percentage of tax filers donating to charity, and the amount Canadians donate per person, in 2015 (latest year of available data) 20.9% of Canadian tax-filers reported making donations to registered charities.

This figure is the lowest it has been in 30 years; in 2005 25.1% of Canadians claimed donations when filing their taxes.

Of Canada’s provinces, Manitoba had the highest percentage of tax filers claiming charitable deductions at 24.6%; New Brunswick and Quebec had the lowest (19.3%).

Manitobans also donated the highest percentage of their aggregate income to charity among the provinces (0.83%), while Quebec donated the lowest (0.26%).

Nationally, Canadians gave 0.56% of their aggregate income to charity.

Says the Institute: “What is most striking about these trends is that the extent of charitable giving fell in every Canadian jurisdiction. All of the provinces and territories saw a drop in the percentage of tax filers donating to charity.”

The provinces where the drops were most pronounced were Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

This comes as no surprise to many fundraisers, who over the past number of years have struggled to reach their fundraising targets.

Although the amount Canadians give has risen dramatically since 1984, the money is coming from an ever-decreasing number of people.

The question, though, is: Why are fewer Canadians making charitable donations?

Before answering that question, it’s important to note that while studies find that over 80% of Canadians say they donate to charity, many of those donations are loonies and toonies into a collection box at the grocery store—not donations requiring a tax receipt.

The Generosity Index, on the other hand, measures the donations people claim for income tax purposes—the kind of larger donations charities really depend on.

But back to the question: Why is giving falling?

One answer is the economy; as I have written about before, many Canadians today feel precarious about their lives.

A lot of people today operate in what is called the “gig economy”—contracts from year to year or less.

Others worry about downsizing, as is happening in retail, or off-shoring as jobs leave for countries with cheaper wages.

Then there’s the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots; a lot of truckers are feeling nervous these days, and Amazon just opened its first cashier-free grocery store.

Another reasons could be the decline in attendance at worship services.

Since religiosity is one of the best predictors of whether someone gives to charity, the drop-off in participation in faith groups could be having implications for donations.

Research shows that people who are religious donated three times as much as those who claim no religion.

Then there's the matter of modelling; kids give because they see their parents or others give. 

One of the best places to learn about giving is a faith group. Seeing the collection plate passed every weekend is a physical reminder of the importance of being generous, along with hearing prayers and sermons about needs in Canada and around the world.

Then there is my generation—the Baby Boomers.

Although more numerous than our parents and grandparents (the great and silent generations), we give less than them. 

More worrisome, the amount we give is falling, and the donation rates of the generations following us are lower still.

Which leads to my final reason: The best givers—the ones who gave regularly, and in the largest amounts—are dying.

As the silent and great generations pass away, their generosity is not being replaced (as the paragraphs above indicate). 

Anyway, read the report, and add your thoughts; why do you think generosity is declining in Canada?

And one other thing; if you do read the report, ignore the way the Fraser Institute contrasts Canadian so negatively with giving in the U.S.

First off, it’s often apples and oranges; Americans give so much more, I think, because there are so many fewer state supports for people in need as compared to Canada.

(It's rare for a Canadian to organize a crowd funder for a medical need, for example.)

Second, the Fraser Institute just seems to have a thing about the U.S.—everything is better there. 

Stick with the Canadian findings and you’ll be fine. 

Another great source of information about giving is this 2018 report titled Thirty Years of Giving in Canada by David Lasby and Cathy Barr of Imagine Canada.

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