The State of Giving in Canada: What’s Stopping Canadians from Giving

News | November 28, 2017

What’s stopping you from supporting charity?

If you’re like nearly one-third of Canadians, you want to do more for charity. But something is getting in the way.

In last week’s post, I looked at the first of four parts that make up the independent study conducted by our partner, the Angus Reid Institute, the State of Giving in Canada. The theme of Part One was how Canadians view business-supported fundraising efforts.

Today, I’m looking at Part Two. Today is Giving Tuesday, a day when charities encourage Canadians to open their wallets and offset the Black Friday shopping frenzy by donating to causes.

Many want to give, but a number of factors get in the way.

Collectively, these factors are known as “the giving gap.”

The Essence of the Giving Gap

The report from Angus Reid looked at a number of factors that impact how an individual gives, including education level, income, and age.

It also asked how much Canadians trusted charities—how legitimate they believe them to be, and how effective. This, to me, was one of the most interesting questions the study asked.

Lack of Confidence Blocks Donors

According to the study, 30% of Canadians want to give more money—but something is stopping them.

Lack of faith in charity seems to be a major problem. Fully 61% of all Canadians say they would give more to charity if they “had more confidence in the whole thing.”

Additionally, 48% of all Canadians say they would donate more to charity if they could find the perfect cause to suit them, and 40% said they’d donate more if they were approached in the “right” way.

Three Numbers, Three Takeaways

To me, these three numbers prove three points.

1. Canadians don’t trust the institution of charity. If you asked someone on the street whether they trusted a specific charity they’re familiar with to allocate funds wisely and do its job, I doubt you’d hear a no. But ask someone whether they think charities in general can be relied upon, and I suspect the answer becomes more complicated.

2. People are willing to participate more in charity, so long as they can find one that’s the right fit for them. The “perfect cause,” on a personal level, is a nebulous concept. Does that mean a cause that speaks to your passions, and everyday behaviours and interests? It’s tough to pin down, but it seems that Canadians are having a difficult time identifying charities they connect with in a meaningful and engaging way.

3. Because Canadians are increasingly used to getting phone calls or seeing advertisements, or being canvassed to support charity, they are increasingly assuming a passive role. They only give to charity when they are asked. They react, rather than act. As Canadians become more passive, do charities have any other option than fundraising more aggressively?

When I look at these figures, and consider that 30% of Canadians would like to further support charity, but don’t, all I can think is, “We could be doing better.” We need to flip the situation, and make donors the active agents, so that charities can focus less on fundraising and more on making an impact.

The Donor Rides Out: An Analogy

Here’s an analogy. Have you ever seen people riding around town on road bikes? Wearing tight-fitting, brightly-coloured uniforms; pedalling frantically on machines that look like they’re made of paperclips.

Who could take a sport like that seriously? I used to think, “Not for me.”

That’s until a friend convinced me to come along for a ride one day. I had a fun time, but wasn’t completely sold. My legs felt like rubber, and two days after our trip, I could barely stand up. What’s the appeal, I wondered?

But my friend was completely obsessed with road bikes. I couldn’t help but be curious. So I went along on another ride, and this time, it seemed like I was a little faster, had a little more control. I got to see a glimmer of what kept people coming back to cycling.

So I started to do some research. I learned about the different types of bikes, and the strategies behind racing in a team. I learned about aerodynamics, and why those tight uniforms actually made sense. And, before long, I was anxious to get back in the saddle.

Five years later, after telling myself I could never get into road cycling, I was riding ten hours a week and shaving my legs. I was learning about racing, and becoming a better racer. I began to hold strong, informed opinions about the sport, and to really take it seriously. I’d become “one of them.”

Charity is like that. Making a donation can act as an entry point—just like your first time on a road bike. If you want to get good at cycling, you don’t just sit around and wait until your friends invite you out for another ride. You don’t wait for a sales rep to cold call you and tell you what kind of bike you should get.

In the same way, if you want to get good at giving, you can’t just wait until a charity approaches you asking for donations. You don’t wait for someone else to tell you what causes you should support. You get out there, and figure it out for yourself.

You ask questions, and get answers. And then you come up with new, more informed questions. You develop as a donor.

Unfortunately, based on the report, that doesn’t seem to be happening for Canadians.

Are Canadians Developing as Donors?

According to the survey, only 28% of Canadians said they learned more about charity in the past year. Meanwhile, 12% said they had become more confused about charity, and 60% said they hadn’t learned anything at all.

If just over a quarter of the population is growing their knowledge base about charity, there’s a serious problem on our hands: Canadians aren’t developing as donors. Especially since, based on the numbers, the more people understand and engage with charity, the more likely they’ll be able to identify legitimate, effective charities—and trust them.

The State of Giving in Canada splits donors into segments. The “Super Donors” segment is made up of people who donate to many different causes, and donate large amounts of money every year. More than anything else, this group is set apart by how deliberate their giving is.

While “Super Donors” will give to charity if asked to do so, they’re also very proactive. They’re more likely than any other group to say that supporting a certain cause was their idea. And most of them support at least two different charities on an ongoing basis.

When surveyed about how much they had learned about charity over the past year, “Super Donors” were head and shoulders above other groups, with 42% saying they’d learned more about charity in the past year, versus the 28% Canadian average.

Being proactive and learning about charity is the best way to remove the barriers of mistrust and uncertainty that prevent Canadians from becoming donors. The more you actively learn about and engage with charity, the more active you are as a donor. And the more active you are, the more you learn about charity and develop as a donor.

What Can We Do?

Looking at the data from this study, one thing becomes especially clear: the better someone is educated about charity when they’re young, the more likely they are to go on and become a “Super Donor.”

According to the State of Giving in Canada, two-thirds of “Super Donors” report having discussed charity with their parents at home when they were young. The inverse is true of non-donors (those who don’t support charity at all), only one-third of whom reported learning about charity from their parents when they were young.

Canada needs more “Super Donors.” What are we doing to help make that a reality? Fortunately, it seems that, on an intuitive level, most of us understand the importance of educating kids about engaging with charity. When asked, fully 89% of Canadians believe kids should be educated about charity in school.

Where CHIMP Comes In

CHIMP’s mission is to work with and help donors make an impact. We do that partly by offering them a giving account—a place from which they can plan and carry out their giving, and make their own decisions about which charities they’ll support. We work for the Canadian donor, no matter where they give.

It’s clear to me that if we want to produce a more robust charitable environment, one in which donors are proactive and genuinely engaged in the practice of giving, we need to provide tools and support to donors. And, we need to start educating future donors when they’re young.

At CHIMP, for our part, we’ve developed a couple of programs that we hope will shape the next generation of “Super Donors.”

One is Play Better, which allows young people to earn charitable dollars—and use them to support the charities of their choice—by participating in organized sports.

The other is our Charitable Allowance program. It gives teachers charity dollars to distribute to their students. With help from supplementary course materials, students learn about the value of charity, and how to choose and support charities that match their interests. Charitable Allowance is conducted in partnership with Dr. Ashley Whillans of Harvard Business School, who is collecting data on how to better design charitable education programs for youth.

The research is new, and we’re still in the early stages of what I hope will eventually be a sea change in how Canadians connect with and support charity. I see exciting times ahead.



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