Charitable giving continues to decline in Canada

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Appeared in the Edmonton Sun, December 13, 2023
Charitable giving continues to decline in Canada

The holiday season is a time of giving and many Canadians donate their time and money to charities to help vulnerable individuals and families. As the cost of living rises, charitable donations are critical to help these Canadians obtain basic necessities such as food, housing and clothing.

Unfortunately, data from personal income tax returns show that the percentage of Canadians donating to registered charities has declined over the past 20 years.

In 2001, more than one in four tax-filers (25.2 per cent) donated to charities. By 2021, the latest year of comparable data, that number plummeted to 17.7 per cent.

Canadians are also donating a smaller share of their income than they did in previous years. As a collective unit, Canadians contributed 0.55 per cent of their household income to registered charities in 2021—down from 0.58 per cent in 2001 and a steep drop from the peak of 0.72 per cent in 2006.

In 2021, charitable donations by Canadians totalled $11.8 billion. But if Canadians donated at the same rate as they did in 2001, charitable giving in 2021 would have been $702.4 million higher, reaching more than $12.5 billion. That would have meant more money to support vulnerable Canadians via foodbanks, shelter spaces for victims of domestic violence, and mental health counselling.

These numbers are particularly concerning given that many Canadian families have been dealing with a growing cost of living, particularly for food and rent. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of Canadians believe the cost of living is one of the top issues facing the country today. And one-third (32 per cent) of Canadians feel housing affordability is a top three issue.

This should not come as a surprise. Nearly two million Canadians accessed food banks in March alone this year, and the average Canadian rent price reached an all-time high in October.

The decline in charitable giving in recent years is not unique to any one province. Over the last decade, for instance, the proportion of tax-filers donating to charities has decreased by at least 17 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 2011 to 2021, Saskatchewan recorded the largest drop (30.7 per cent) in the percentage of tax-filers reporting charitable donations followed by Prince Edward Island (29.6 per cent) and Alberta (28.8 per cent).

Newfoundland and Labrador experienced the largest decrease in the share of household income donated over the last decade, dropping 20.4 per cent, followed by P.E.I. (with a 19.5 per cent decrease). So donation numbers are down everywhere. But what about volunteerism?

If Canadians were volunteering more of their time instead of donating money to charities, this might help explain the drop in giving. But according to Statistics Canada, 65.3 per cent of non-profit organizations in the country struggled with a shortage of volunteers in late-2022.

A declining proportion of Canadians are donating to charities—meaning charitable organizations are increasingly strapped for resources and face larger financial obstacles when trying to help vulnerable Canadians meet their basic necessities. Cost of living concerns loom large for many families, so let’s hope these troubling trends turn around this holiday season.

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