Giving by Canadians: A 30 Year Retrospective…and What It Means for the Way Forward
Who’s giving to charity in Canada today? How do we give? Are we as generous today as we were 30 years ago? Why do we give? And what stops us from giving?
Thanks to a deep dive that was recently undertaken by Imagine Canada into the giving patterns of Canadians, we now have a more in-depth understanding of the answers to those questions than ever before.
As part of its Giving Behaviour Project, Canada’s Rideau Hall Foundation asked Imagine Canada to mine and analyze all publicly available data sources on Canadians’ giving habits from 1984 to 2014, the result of which is the most comprehensive long-range picture of individual giving in Canada that has ever been compiled.
Canadians Continue to be Generous
Canadians have long demonstrated a strong sense of generosity, and that spirit of giving continues to be evident. Total receipted donations rose from $3.8 billion in 1984 to $9.6 billion in 2014. When unreceipted donations are included, Imagine Canada estimates that giving by individual Canadians totaled $14.3 billion in 2014.
“These numbers indicate that Canadians continue to express generosity through the medium of charitable giving in a meaningful and robust way,” says Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada.
Fewer Donors, Older, More Affluent and Increasingly Female
While Canadians’ generosity continues to be evident, Imagine Canada did find that the makeup of the Canadian donor base is changing, and in 2014, it is best described as smaller, older, more affluent and increasingly female compared to what it was in 1984.
Their analysis highlighted that charities are increasingly reliant on fewer donors, as the proportion of Canadian tax filers claiming donations has declined from a peak of almost 30 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2014.
And if you delve into those numbers, there are further, and in some cases troubling, nuances, including the aging of the donor base. “Back in 1984, the percentage of donations coming from people who were 50 and over was about 54 percent,” notes MacDonald. “By 2014, that had jumped to 74 percent.”
The most elderly group (those aged 70 and over) alone accounted for 31 percent of donations, up from 16 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, donors under 40 accounted for almost 50 percent of donors in 1984 but dropped to about 35 percent in 2014. Even more striking is the drop in donation value among the under 40 population. In 1984, donations from this group represented 26 percent of donations in 1984, while only 11 percent in 2014.
Imagine Canada also found that the donor base is becoming increasingly more affluent. In 1984, the top one percent of tax filers (then earning $80,000 and up) accounted for only 16 percent of donations, whereas by 2014, the top one percent (those earning $250,000 and up) accounted for 31 percent of donations.
The final factor of note is the growing importance of women. Donations from women make up a significantly larger proportion of total donations, up from 36 percent in 1984 to 41 percent in 2014.
Giving by Cause and Method
Religious organizations continue to receive the largest amount of charitable donations, with two of every five dollars donated being directed to them. They also have the largest donation rate, with 41 percent of donors indicating they make gifts to these types of charities. Health-related charities come in second, attracting 13 percent of donations, followed by social services and international development (12 percent and 10 percent respectively). Hospitals rank fifth, attracting just over four percent of donations.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are significant differences in interest in particular causes based on demographics. Older donors are much more likely to give to hospitals, with 22 percent of donors aged 65 and older giving making gifts to hospitals compared with only five percent of donors under age 35.
In terms of giving method, again not surprisingly, there are generational differences, with older donors are much more likely to give through the mail. Among donors aged 65 and up, more than 43 percent make their gifts through the mail compared with only 17 percent among the under-65 cohort. When it comes to online giving, the story is reversed, with less than 6 percent of donors aged 65 and up giving online, compared with 14 percent of those under 65.
Willingness to Give More
One encouraging finding was the healthy number of donors who indicate a willingness to give more. Imagine Canada found that 25 percent of donors who make gifts to charity indicate that while they are happy with what they give, they could give more. “This finding should provide great hope for organizations as they will certainly be connected to some donors who fall into this category,” says MacDonald. “We found that these people tended to be older, have higher incomes and are more likely to be men, which can provide some further direction for charities related to who to look for.”
MacDonald goes on to say they believe that improved communication of impact could be key to unlocking the greater giving potential of this group of donors. “When we were talking with our researchers about these donors, there was a feeling that this group might be receptive to more messages about impact, going to them with quantitative, quantifiable data that talks about where their donation went and the difference that it made in the community.”
Not only do these insights from Imagine Canada’s research help to clarify the state of Canada’s giving landscape, they can also help charities to plan their future fundraising programs. And in planning those futures, it’s critical to take a balanced approach.
“I think there is lots of opportunity in the short term to focus on those committed donors who can give more,” says MacDonald. “But as this group is becoming increasingly older, it’s going to be critical for the future sustainability of organizations that they also work diligently to attract new donors from groups who are not yet showing the same level of philanthropy as those most engaged donors. So, whether it’s new strategies to appeal to young people, leveraging the growing involvement of women as donors or taking advantage of new donation instruments like online or digital based giving, building future donors is going to be essential.”
For more information on Imagine Canada’s report, please visit the Rideau Hall Foundation website. And to hear an interview with Bruce MacDonald about the research and its findings, check out this episode of The Ask, KCI’s monthly podcast that explores issues and topics related to the future of fundraising in Canada.
About the Author
Nicole Nakoneshny is a Senior Vice President and Partner at KCI, Canada’s largest consulting firm focused exclusively on the non-profit sector. As part of the firm’s commitment to advancing philanthropy, Nicole leads KCI’s Thought Leadership activities by curating the knowledge that it generates through its various practices and also keeps an eye on the key and emerging trends in fundraising and philanthropy in Canada and around the world…translating that knowledge and information into useful insights for charities and fundraisers. She serves as Editor of KCI’s online publication, Philanthropic Trends Quarterly and Host of its monthly podcast, The Ask.
 2014 was the most recent year available at the time the research was undertaken.
 Data in this section and Willingness to Give More based on 2013 Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating