Fraser Forum

Canadians less generous than Americans when giving to charity

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The charitable sector provides valuable services to those in need such as counselling, crisis prevention, basic necessities and education. However, when it comes to private donations to registered charities, Canadians might be surprised to learn that, collectively, they are less generous than their American counterparts.

In our latest annual comparison, we examine three measures of charitable giving in Canada and the United States: the percentage of tax-filers donating to charity, the percentage of total income donated to charity, and the average value of charitable donations in local currencies. On every measure, Canada lags behind the United States.

In 2015 (latest year of available data), 20.9 per cent of Canadian tax-filers reported donations to registered charities compared to 24.5 per cent of American tax-filers. Put differently, a larger share of American tax-filers made and claimed donations to registered charities on their personal tax returns.

The gap is even larger when we consider the percentage of total income donated to registered charities. Canadians collectively gave 0.56 per cent of their total income to charity while Americans gave at a rate more than two-and-a-half times higher (1.43 per cent). If Canadians had given the same percentage of their total income to registered charities as Americans, Canadian charities would have received $14.6 billion more in donations, for a potential total of $24.0 billion.

The gap between Canada and the U.S. is largest when we consider the average amount donated to charities. The average U.S. donation in 2015 was US$6,058—more than three-and-a-half times the average Canadian donation of C$1,699.

The report’s overall Generosity Index ranks 64 jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. (including the 10 provinces, three territories, 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia). American states dominate the top of the rankings. Manitoba is the highest ranked Canadian jurisdiction but comes in just 37th overall. The next highest Canadian province is Prince Edward Island (ranking 48th). Quebec is the lowest ranked province (ranking 59th). The only state to rank below Quebec is West Virginia (ranking 62nd). The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are at the bottom of the list, ranking 63th and 64th, respectively.

This result is not a single-year phenomenon. Canadian jurisdictions have consistently performed poorly compared to American jurisdictions over the years. While it’s not clear why Canadians are less generous than Americans, one thing is for sure: this generosity gap limits the ability of Canadian charities to improve the quality of life in their communities and beyond.


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