Donations to charities are bouncing back after two years of recession, but the weight of philanthropic giving still rests on the shoulders of older Canadians.
Statistics Canada data released Monday show that tax filers claimed donations of just under $8.3-billion in 2010, up 6.5 per cent from 2009. At the same time, the number of donors increased 2.2 per cent to just over 5.7 million Canadians, but the average age of donors remains 53 – a figure that has remained relatively the same for the past decade.
While the rebound in giving is positive news, analysts say there isn't cause for celebration just yet
"For the last 20 years, the percentage of tax filers claiming donations has been steadily going down from about [traditionally]30 per cent," said Marcel Lauzière, the president and CEO of Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization for charities.
This year, the figure climbed back slightly to 23.4 per cent, up from the all-time low of 23.1 per cent in 2009, but Mr. Lauzière fears the overall downward trend, coupled with effects of the recession might, have nudged Canadians out of the habit of donating.
On the other hand, Malcolm Burrows, head of philanthropic services at the Bank of Nova Scotia, suggested that more Canadians could be giving than the data indicates. Many Canadians use online methods of filing taxes, which combine charitable donations under one family unit instead of recording them from individuals.
"Is this indicative of a declining number or due to the way we file?" Mr. Burrows asked.
Those in the charitable sector remain worried about Canada's aging donors.
"We want to not just have the same Canadians giving more ... but to think about a new generation of donors as our society starts to age," Mr. Lauzière said.
The explanation for a drop in the 35 to 44 age group's proportion of total donations may lie in Canada's aging population, according to Imagine Canada. In 2000, 22 per cent of donors were 35 to 44 compared with 17 per cent in 2009, which was mimicked closely in the tax-filer population of that age range falling from 24 per cent in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2009.
Young people can sometimes feel intimidated by philanthropy, says Ryan Hreljac, 20, who started the Ryan's Well Foundation to get clean water in developing countries when he was 6 years old. "They feel like you have to go and become something unbelievable, otherwise it's not worthwhile," he said.
Mr. Hreljac said he has tried to encourage young people to get involved in charity work by showing them even a modest contribution can be meaningful. "I try to tell them you can do this and still sleep in on the weekends and play video games," he said from Halifax where he attends Dalhousie University and runs the foundation in his spare time.
Ian Bird, president of Community Foundations of Canada, said younger Canadians might be more inclined to give their time instead of their money, especially if they're carrying student debt or just starting out in their careers. Statistics Canada is releasing its national survey on giving, volunteering and participating on Dec. 19, which Mr. Bird says should provide a more complete picture of giving.
The national median donation was $260 in 2010, which was also $10 more than the median in 2009.
Donors in Nunavut reported a median charitable donation of $470 per tax filer, the highest among the provinces and territories for the 11th consecutive year. But their median donation amount declined from $520 in 2009, whereas it remained stable or increased in all other provinces and territories.
Individual donors might have been most generous, but as a whole the territory ranked lowest, with only 9.5 per cent of tax filers claiming donations. Manitoba appeared to be the most generous province, with 26.3 per cent of tax filers declaring a donation, followed by Prince Edward Island at 25.3 per cent and Saskatchewan at 25.3 per cent.
Among census metropolitan areas, donors in Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia, had by far the highest median charitable donation at $620, with donors in Calgary and Victoria following, both with a median of $390.
Abbotsford-Mission, which is in the heart of B.C.'s Bible Belt – has a strong faith-based community of both church and gurdwara attendees, which Abbotsford mayor George Peary has attributed as a compelling argument for the urban area's unusually high median donations. This was the ninth year in a row in which they were highest.
With files from Paul Waldie