Charitable giving on the wane in Canada

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Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, January 12, 2022
Charitable giving on the wane in Canada

Every year, millions of Canadians donate their time and money to charities. These charitable donations help vulnerable individuals and families access basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. Unfortunately, data from personal income tax returns show that the generosity of Canadians has declined over the last two decades.

Most notably, the percentage of Canadians donating to registered charities has hit a new low. In 2000, more than one in four tax-filers (25.5 per cent) donated to charities. By 2019, the latest year of comparable data, that number dropped to 19.0 per cent—or less than one in five tax-filers.

Canadians are also donating a smaller share of their income than they did in previous years. Collectively, Canadians contributed 0.53 per cent of their household income to registered charities in 2019—down from 0.60 per cent in 2000 and a steep drop from the peak of 0.72 per cent in 2006.

In 2019, charitable donations by Canadians totalled nearly $10.3 billion. But if Canadians donated at the same rate as they did in 2000, charitable giving in 2019 would have been $1.3 billion higher, reaching more than $11.6 billion. That would have meant more money to support foodbanks, shelter spaces for victims of domestic violence and mental health counselling.

These numbers are particularly concerning given that the decline in generosity was already occurring prior to the pandemic. Today, many Canadian families are dealing with a loss of income, job uncertainty and a growing cost of living. This means that many more families are likely in need of charitable services.

The decline in charitable giving in recent years is not unique to any one province. Over the last decade, the proportion of tax-filers donating to charities has decreased by at least 14 per cent in each province. And donations as a share of income declined in all but one province (British Columbia) over that time period.

However, some provinces experienced larger declines than others. From 2009 to 2019, Saskatchewan recorded the largest drop (23.1 per cent) in the percentage of tax-filers reporting charitable donations followed by Alberta (22.1 per cent) and Nova Scotia (21.7 per cent).

Newfoundland and Labrador experienced the largest decrease in the share of household income donated over the last decade, dropping 29.4 per cent (from 0.42 per cent to 0.29 per cent) followed by Prince Edward Island (with a 20.6 per cent decrease).

So donation numbers are down everywhere. But what about volunteerism?

Conceivably, if Canadians were volunteering more of their time instead of donating money to charities, this might help explain the drop in giving. However, recent data from the Conference Board of Canada find that between 2004 and 2017, average annual volunteer hours per person declined by 7.3 per cent, and the share of the Canadian population that volunteered dropped from 45.2 per cent to 43.6 per cent.

Clearly, the decline in charitable giving in Canada means charities have been increasingly strapped for resources and face larger financial obstacles when trying to improve the quality of life for vulnerable Canadians. As concerns over cost of living loom for many Canadian families, let’s hope these troubling trends turn around.