News | November 24, 2017

The State of Giving in Canada: Black Friday and Charity

I founded CHIMP (Charitable Impact) in order to help Canadians become more engaged, impactful supporters of charity.

Partly, we’ve done this by creating an online giving platform for Canadian donors that makes it easy for them to support the causes they care about. We want Canadians to make giving fundamental and routine—a part, in other words, of everyday life.

To pursue this mission, it’s important that we stay up-to-date with Canadians and how they feel about the charitable landscape. That’s why CHIMP recently partnered with the Angus Reid Institute, a Canadian non-profit foundation committed to independent research.

In early November, Angus Reid surveyed a representative group of over 2000 Canadians about how they support charity, what they care about, and how their giving is likely to change in the future.

The full report is titled The State of Giving in Canada. And what does the data say? Some of it surprised me. Some of it didn’t. But every piece will help to paint the way forward as CHIMP changes the way Canadians support, understand, and engage with charity.

We’re releasing the report in four stages, and I’ll be taking apart Angus Reid’s findings in four blog posts over the course of the next three weeks. This is the first post.

The theme is Black Friday. I’ll look at how Canadians connect with charity through businesses, and what that means for the future of giving.

To keep up with the conversation over the weeks to come, check out #RethinkCharity and follow me on Twitter. And, if you’re interested in what I have to say, share this post with your friends.

Okay. Let’s get started.

Overwhelmingly, Canadians feel a personal responsibility to support charity. And, more and more, they’re being given the opportunity to do so via fundraising efforts coordinated by businesses.

But the way those businesses are reaching out to and engaging with Canadians may be limiting how people participate in charity—by denying them transparency and personal choice. And transparency and choice are key elements to people developing as empowered donors.

Before we get into that, though, we should take a look at the numbers reported in The State of Giving in Canada.

Personal Responsibility

When asked, 71% said they felt a personal responsibility to make the world a better place.

Awesome. That’s a pretty positive takeaway. There’s representation across the board. Even the respondents who don’t regularly support charities feel an obligation to help others—in fact, 57% of them do.

And 83% of the most active supporters of charity—so-called “super donors”—feel this way. It’s clear that, the more people recognize the positive role they have to play in the world, the more likely they are to engage with charitable causes.

Day-to-Day Giving

Have you ever gone to pay for your groceries, and been asked at the till whether you’d like to donate a dollar or two to charity? I know I have. This increasingly common form of fundraising has seen some serious engagement from customers.

Of the Canadians surveyed, 66% said they’d donated money at the till at some point in the previous two years. Of the fundraising techniques measured by the study, this one has the highest levels of participation.

Other consumer appeals also show good numbers. “Shop for a cause” fundraising, in which companies donate a portion of their profits to charity, have seen participation from 54% of Canadians.

After donate-at-the-till, the fundraising technique that saw the most participation was appeals from friends and family. In the past two years, 56% of Canadians donated to charity because they were asked to do so by someone close to them.

Meanwhile, less personal forms of participation fared poorly. Only 21% of Canadians supported charity in response to something they saw on TV. And a meagre 16% responded to telephone calls asking them for donations.

The Power of the Personal

There’s a trend here. Imagine you’re at the till buying two hundred dollars worth of groceries for your family, and the clerk asks if you’d like to spend two dollars feeding people in refugee camps. How can you say no?

Similarly, say your friend asks you for donations to fund research into multiple sclerosis—because their cousin has recently been diagnosed. What would your response be?

When appeals to charity are abstract and distant—coming from a TV ad or a scripted phone call—you’re less likely to respond.

But when charity is close to home, enmeshed in your everyday life, you’re more likely to get involved. You’re being asked to help feed a family in need, at the same time you’re working to feed your own family; you’re being given the chance to help fight a disease, when someone you care about has recently been affected by it. Canadians want to support causes that connect with them meaningfully.

Consumer Perceptions

Even though Canadians are happy to engage with charity through appeals from businesses, they’re realistic—some might say skeptical—about the motivations behind those appeals.

First, the good news. When it comes to “shop for a cause” fundraising, 72% of those surveyed believe they have at least a “fairly meaningful” impact on charitable organizations.

And 75% believe the businesses in question are acting as part of the community to genuinely help out with a cause, with 70% of respondents believing they’re being given a “nice and convenient opportunity” to support that cause.

Now, for the skepticism.

Fully 68% of respondents say “shop for a cause” businesses are only angling for good public relations. And 63% believe they’re using the cause for marketing purposes, trying to attract consumers’ dollars in any way possible.

Consumers also distrust the business’ activities: 65% say those businesses are using consumers’ donations, not their own, to take credit for supporting charity. And 60% believe the businesses aren’t upfront about how much (or how little) of the money is actually going to charity.

The Disconnect

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize that the numbers we have regarding users’ perceptions of “shop for a cause” raise some interesting questions.

If 75% believe that companies are genuinely trying to support causes, and 68% believe they’re only doing it for the sake of PR, there’s an overlap. It seems as though people are holding onto contradictory views.

So, do Canadians trust “shop for a cause” businesses, or not?

The way we view organizations is complex. When you go to buy a car, you know that the salesperson is earning a commission, and that it’s in their best interest to sell you as many add-ons as possible.

At the same time, you know it’s part of their job to help you find a vehicle that fits your needs. If you’re looking for good fuel economy above all else, they’re not likely to outright lie about the number of kilometres per litre.

So, the two objectives are in a state of tension—a kind of tug-of-war between making you spend as much money as possible and trying to sell you a car you won’t regret.

You’re likely to take what the salesperson says with a grain of salt; you’re also likely to more or less trust specific information they give you.

Many consumers approach charitable businesses in a similar way. There’s a certain degree of skepticism and grain-of-salt thinking. But, overall, they’re ready to make a difference any way they can.

As the Angus Reid study shows, most Canadians feel a personal responsibility to make the world a better place.

Opportunity to Grow

Subjects of the survey were asked whether they saw corporate-sponsored charity, like at-the-till donations or “shop for a cause” businesses, as a substitute for more traditional forms of giving—for instance, choosing and supporting a charity you care about.

In total, 75% of respondents replied “No.” Canadians want to make their own choices about charity and engage with causes they care about.

To me, this means that donors still want to feel empowered. Businesses have done some amazing work fundraising, but at the end of the day, the consumer only gets to support a charity someone else has chosen for them.

For instance, imagine if at-the-till donations worked differently: instead of being asked to donate money to a specific charity, you were able to pay for a designated charity token, and then send it to a charity of your choice.

Would that make you think more critically about where your money was going? Would you feel more involved in the decision? And how would this help you develop as a donor?

Likewise, imagine you’re buying a pair of ethically-sourced shoes online, and at the checkout, you’re given a similar token that represents part of the company’s profits, to give away as you see fit.

Would that encourage you to learn more about different causes you could be supporting as you shop, and help you develop as a donor?

The fact that so many Canadians are skeptical about businesses fundraising, but still participate, suggests to me that there’s room for growth.

Read between the lines. Sure, two in three Canadians have donated at the till in the past two years. But what about that third individual? What’s stopping them?

Businesses can better connect with and satisfy their customers by giving them more say in how their donations are spent. And they can assuage fears and suspicions through transparency, and getting the customer engaged directly on the level of choice.

There’s an opportunity for companies to help consumers become empowered to give on their own terms. It’s my belief that, when people are engaged with giving on an individual level, able to learn about the best ways to give and make donations according to their own choices, they develop as donors. They want to engage more in giving. And they want to keep connecting with the businesses that help them do so.

It’s better for business. It’s better for charity. And, down the line, we’ll all benefit.

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