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Blog > Trends in Charitable Giving in Canada

Trends in Charitable Giving in Canada

posted on Dec 3, 2018

by Maria Lahiffe

Canada’s social sector is huge and diverse, with over 170,000 organizations nationwide contributing an average of 8.1% of Canada’s total GDP. [1] To put that into context, our sector contributes more to the economy than the retail trade industry, and almost as much as the mining, oil, and gas extraction industry. [1] We are active in every community in the nation, meeting the health, education, social, cultural, recreational, and spiritual needs of Canadians at every stage of their lives.

Masters as we are at stretching a dollar, we cannot do what we do without money. Our revenue comes from many sources, including government, foundations, business, and social enterprise. These sources notwithstanding, almost no charitable or non-profit organization can meet our mandate without the contributions of individual donors. [2] For this reason, it is important to pay attention to trends in individual giving. Earlier this year, Imagine Canada published a comprehensive study of giving trends over the past 30 years. Click here for the full report, and read on for highlights.

Total Giving

Canadian donations amount to 0.77% of our total GDP, which puts us in third place worldwide. Only New Zealanders and Americans are more generous, per capita. Total donations also increased significantly between 1985 and 2008, when the financial crisis hit. Since 2008, annual donation amounts (normalized to 2014 dollars) have been unstable year to year, but still greater than they were in any year earlier than 2005. In 2014, the most recent year for which there is data, Canadians donated about $9.6 billion.

Although the total has increased steadily for 30 years, the number of individual donors has decreased over the same time period, as shown in the graph below. This means that charities are dependent on an ever-shrinking pool of donors, which points to possible trouble ahead if these few generous individuals stop donating, perhaps because they pass away.


Who gives the most?

Men tend to donate in higher numbers, and give more money, than women. Older people also donate in greater numbers, and more generously, than their younger compatriots. Donations from people in lower income groups have declined faster since 1985 than those in higher income brackets. This is likely because of increasing income disparity, which means that the purchasing power of lower earners has declined over this time. [3] [4]

Other correlates of high donation rates are

  • marital status (married people donate the most);
  • employment status (employed people donate more);
  • frequency of religious attendance (people who practice their faith at least once a week donate the most); and
  • citizenship status (citizens, both native-born and naturalized, donate more than non-citizens)

What causes get the most donations?

There are two things to consider here: number of donors and total donation amount. As we have seen above, total donation amounts have increased over 30 years while the number of donors has declined. A wider donor base is probably more sustainable in the long term, particularly if individuals can be persuaded to increase their donation amount even by a small amount like 10%.


Here are the most significant trends:

  • Giving to Religious organizations is decreasing, both in terms of number of donors and amounts donated.
  • Giving to International organizations is increasing, both in terms of number of donors and amounts donated.
  • The amounts donated to Social services organizations have increased, even though the number of donors has remained flat.
  • The number of donors to Health organizations and Hospitals has declined significantly, although the amounts donated have been less affected.

Methods of Donation

The most popular methods of donation have been at a place of workshop, in response to a mail request, and on the donor’s own. Online donations only appear in the data in 2013. More recent data shows that online giving has been quite variable over the past 6 years. Younger donors are much more likely to respond to an online request for donations, while Boomers are more likely to respond to a request by physical mail. [5]

Want to learn more?

Check out the full report here.

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Related blog posts:

"Sector Impact," Imagine Canada Sector Source, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 October 2018]. D. Lasby and C. Barr, "30 Years of Giving in Canada," 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 October 2018]. "Earnings and Incomes of Canadians Over the Past Quarter Century, 2006 Census : Highlights," Statistics Canada, 13 October 2009. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 October 2018]. T. Dolphin and A. Silim, "Purchasing Power: Making consumer markets work for everyone," Institute for Public Policy Research, London, UK, 2014. "The Ultimate List of Charitable Giving Statistics for 2018," Non-Profit Source, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 October 2018]. "Canada's Changing Religious Landscape," Pew Research Center, 27 June 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 October 2018].
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