Generosity in Canada reaching new lows

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, December 19, 2019
Generosity in Canada reaching new lows

Every holiday season, millions of Canadians donate their time and money to charities. These charitable donations help the vulnerable, feed the homeless and ensure children around the world have access to basic necessities. However, according to a recent Fraser Institute study based on data from personal income tax returns, the generosity of Canadians has been waning over the last two decades.

For example, the share of total income Canadians donate to charity has hit the lowest point since 2000. Collectively, Canadians contributed 0.54 per cent of their household income to registered charities in 2017 (the latest year of available data), down from 0.61 per cent two decades ago a steep drop from the peak of 0.78 per cent in 2006.

Moreover, in 2000, more than a quarter of tax-filers (25.2 per cent) donated to charity compared to 19.9 per cent in 2017 (or less than one in five tax-filers).

Smaller donations by fewer tax-filers has produced a decline in the total dollar value for charitable giving in Canada.

In 2017, charitable donations by Canadians totalled $9.7 billion—down several hundred million from the previous year. In fact, if Canadians had donated at the same rate as they did in 2000, charitable giving in 2017 would have been $1.2 billion higher, reaching $10.9 billion to help provide essential services such as clothing for children, shelter spaces for the homeless and mental health counselling.

And the decline in charitable giving is not unique to any one province. Over the last decade, donations as a percentage of income have decreased by at least 10 per cent in every province, and the percentage of tax-filers donating to charities declined in every province.

However, some provinces experienced larger declines than others.

Saskatchewan recorded the largest decrease in the share of household income donated over the last decade, dropping 36.1 per cent (from 0.87 per cent to 0.56 per cent), followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (a drop of 35.6 per cent).

Saskatchewan also experienced the largest decline (20.8 per cent) in the percentage of tax-filers reporting charitable donations from 2007 to 2017, again followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (19.4 per cent) and Prince Edward Island (19.3 per cent).

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 decline in giving. However, recent data from the Conference Board of Canada finds 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.

Unfortunately, the rapid decline in charitable giving over the last two decades means Canadian charities have been increasingly strapped for resources and face larger financial obstacles when trying to improve the quality of life for vulnerable Canadians. Let’s hope this holiday season, and into the new year, these troubling trends turn around.

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