Charitable giving in Canada on the wane, hits 10-year low

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, December 16, 2016

During the holiday season, many Canadians donate their time and money to their preferred charities. Those who give should be applauded because charities provide important services such as counselling, crisis prevention, basic necessities, and education to vulnerable people in need. Indeed, charities depend on the generosity of ordinary citizens who give privately, of their own money, to enhance the quality of life in their communities and beyond.

So it’s worrisome to learn that donations to registered charities in Canada are at a 10-year low. In a recent report from the Fraser Institute, we measure trends in charitable giving based on donations to registered charities claimed on personal income tax returns. By multiple measures, generosity is on the wane, meaning charities face greater challenges securing resources to help those in need.

First, consider the percentage of tax-filers claiming a donation on their tax return. In 2004, one in four (25.1 per cent) tax-filers donated to charity. By 2014, the latest year of available data, that figure had dropped to almost one in five (21.3 per cent)—a 15 per cent decline over the course of a decade.

Next consider the share of total income donated to registered charities, which is also at a 10-year low. In 2014, Canadians collectively gave 0.56 per cent of total household income to charity, down from 0.78 per cent in 2006, the peak over the past decade. In total, Canadians claimed $9 billion in charitable donations in 2014. Now imagine if Canadians had donated in 2014 at the same rate as in 2006. Canada’s charities would have received an additional $3.6 billion, for a potential total of $12.6 billion.

While there has been a general decline in generosity in the country, some provinces experienced a more marked decline than others. In no other province has the decline in generosity been more pronounced than in Ontario, both in terms of the extent and depth of charitable giving.

In fact, from 2004 to 2014, the percentage of Ontario tax-filers donating to charity fell by 18.7 per cent. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick tied for the next largest decline (14.4 per cent).

In terms of the percentage of total household income donated to registered charities, Ontario saw a 28.4 per cent drop compared to 23.6 per cent in New Brunswick, the province with the second largest decline in the depth of charitable giving.

What about volunteerism? Perhaps Canadians are turning to volunteerism as a substitute to monetary giving?

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 is worrisome because it limits the ability of Canadian charities to improve the quality of life of those most in need, in their communities and beyond.

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