Sunday, April 22, 2018

Decline in Religious Attendance a Challenge for Charities

In 2014, Canadians gave over $14.3 billion to charity. That’s good news, and worth celebrating.

But there are worrisome signs ahead. Today, fewer Canadians are making donations, and the future is of giving uncertain.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from Imagine Canada titled “30 Years of Giving in Canada.”

The report, which uses taxfiler data to explore how giving has changed over the past three decades, found the number of Canadian taxfilers claiming a charitable deduction is falling.

In 2015 20.9 percent of taxfilers claimed a deduction, compared to 25.1 percent ten years earlier. In 1989 that figure was over 29 percent.

it also found the size of donations is decreasing. Baby boomers give less than their parents. And it appears their children and grandchildren will give less than them, too.

The report concludes that charities will need to find new ways to engage younger people—before it’s too late.

“The Boomer generation, which has been the mainstay of the charitable sector for the past 30 years, is aging,” the report states.

“There is a limited amount of time to tap into the philanthropic impulses of this generation and it is unclear if younger generations will take their place.”

I contacted Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, to get his take on the challenges and opportunities facing the charitable sector today.

“The data is crystal clear,” he says. “The population that does the most giving is getting older.”

These loyal and regular givers are keeping charities alive today, he adds, “but they are aging out, they are literally dying.”

At the same time the best givers are getting older, “the data shows the number of donors is dropping and the percent of tax filers [claiming a charitable donation] is going down.”

It’s like a pipeline, he says. At one end is a bulge of older donors and boomers. At the other end, however, where younger people should be, “the pipeline isn’t full. Instead, it’s shrinking.”

It’s not that younger people aren’t interested in making the world a better place, he states. “They have social justice coded into their DNA.”

But how will they learn about the importance of donating, not just signing petitions or marching for justice?

That's where faith comes in, MacDonald says.

“When I talk to older Canadians about where they learned to give and be generous, many cited their churches or other places of worship,” he shares of how they learned about giving as children.

“That’s where they learned the value of giving, the importance of volunteering and being an active community member.”

But with fewer people—especially fewer younger people—going to places of worship on a regular basis, he wonders where that modelling for giving will take place today.

If people no longer learn about giving at places of worship, he asks, “how do we create new social norms around giving?”

“Liking something on social media isn’t the same as putting money in the collection plate,” he states. 

In its report, Imagine Canada notes that “giving is a learned behavior. Canadians who participate in giving or volunteering activities when they are young . . . are more likely to donate as adults.”

With attendance at worship services dropping, where will the next generation learn to be givers?

Charities—and Canadian society at large—will need to figure that out, and quick. Or, as MacDonald puts it, “we will all be in trouble in the future.”

From the April 21 Winnipeg Free Press. Download the full 30 Years of Giving in Canada here.

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