Canadians becoming less generous with their money

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Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, December 15, 2017

During the holiday season, many Canadians donate to charitable causes. Such private monetary generosity plays a vital role in supporting vulnerable Canadians in need and enhancing the quality of life for communities across the country.

But Canadians have become less generous in their giving over the past 10 years. In a recent study, we measure trends in charitable giving based on donations to registered charities claimed on personal income tax returns. By multiple measures, generosity is declining.

Most notably, the share of total income Canadians donate to charity hit a 10-year low. In 2015, the latest year of available data, Canadians collectively donated 0.56 per cent of their combined income to charities. That is down from the 10-year peak of 0.78 per cent in 2006—a decline of more than 28 per cent in the share of income Canadians give to registered charities.

In total, Canadians claimed $9.4 billion in charitable donations in 2015. Now imagine if Canadians had donated in 2015 at the same rate as in 2006. Canada’s charities would have received an additional $3.7 billion, for a potential total of $13.1 billion. That’s a lot more resources that could have been used to support vital services such as counselling, crisis prevention, providing basic necessities and education.

Canadians are not only collectively giving a smaller share of their income to registered charities, but fewer tax-filers are reporting donations to registered charities on their tax return.

In 2005, one in four (25.1 per cent) tax-filers donated to charity. By 2015, that dropped to nearly one in five (20.9 per cent). If Canadians donated at the 2005 rate in 2015, there would have been an additional 1.1 million Canadians claiming donations to registered charities.

The decline in generosity has occurred in every province. But some provinces—Ontario, for example—experienced a larger decline than others.

Specifically, the percentage of Ontario tax-filers reporting charitable donations fell by 19.4 per cent from 2005 to 2015—the largest decline of any province. New Brunswick experienced the second largest decline of 14.3 per cent, which is relatively modest compared to the decline in Ontario.

During the same 10-year period, Ontario also experienced the third largest decline in the percentage of total income donated to registered charity (from 0.94 per cent to 0.63 per cent—a drop of 32.8 per cent). Over this period Ontario moved from being the province that gave the second highest portion of income to registered charities to the fourth.

What about volunteerism? Perhaps Canadians are volunteering more instead of giving money? Not so. According to a recent Statistics Canada study, the percentage of the Canadian population who volunteer has also dropped slightly, and the average number of volunteer hours has fallen by 8.3 per cent from 2004 to 2013.

Put simply, the decline in generosity in Canada means charities face greater challenges securing resources, which limits their ability to improve the quality of life of those most in need. Let’s hope this holiday season, and into the new year, these troubling trends turn around.

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