The picture of giving in Canada

Charitable giving

Reflecting on the “how,” “when” and “why” of charitable giving among Canadians.


With approximately 86,000 registered charities across Canada, and with so many different types and methods of giving, there’s no shortage of options for Canadians when it comes to charitable endeavours.1 And regardless of where, through what means or how much individuals give, the majority of Canadians do have charitable values and do give in some way. In fact, one public opinion poll notes that 82 percent of Canadians believe charities are important, and a 2018 Ipsos poll also notes that seven out of ten Canadians have given to charity over the past year.2, 3  

From a financial impact standpoint, what that translates to, according to Statistics Canada data from 2017, is $9.6 billion in total donations reported by Canadian tax filers, which is up from $8.9 billion in 2016. But interestingly, while the total amount of charitable donations increased that year, the number of individuals making those donations dropped slightly—and this is a trend that’s been ongoing since 2011.4 Similar findings are mirrored in The Giving Report (2018), which states that while Canada experienced growth in population per year from 2006 to 2016, and while Canadians donated more total dollars to charity during that time frame, individuals on average are progressively giving less (at least in regard to what’s being reported by tax filers—statistics such as these may also indicate that fewer people are claiming their donations on tax returns or they’re giving in different ways).5

Trends in giving

In general, Canadians tend to be more spontaneous with their giving, with the majority of individuals making donations in response to a request (whether that’s a mail or online campaign or an appeal following a tragedy or natural disaster, for example) or to support an event, activity or cause (such as attending a charity dinner, a contribution in memory of someone, a donation at work or via canvassers in a public place).6 There’s also a sharp increase in giving around the holiday season, with approximately 30 percent of donations taking place in December.7

And when it comes to the “who” of giving from a demographics standpoint, those aged 65 or over represent the largest donor base and account for over 40 percent of total donations, and also have the highest average donation amount—$2,500, compared to the national average of just over $750.8

Within Canada’s charitable sector, one of the most notable trends in recent years is the growing shift towards online donations, especially among younger generations. Of all methods of giving, Millennial and Gen X Canadians (those born roughly from 1980 to 1993 and 1960 to 1979, respectively) prefer more non-traditional forms (such as online donations) and are more likely to participate in crowdfunding.9 Digital giving has also expanded through a number of different avenues such as consumer or shopping websites, including donation requests or options as an add-on to a purchase, and crowdfunding websites, which are growing in popularity.

Social media has been another strong driver of digital donation trends, as it can offer an easy and quick environment to generate support and to connect with those who may share the same beliefs in and commitment towards a cause. When it comes to donating via social media, according to a recent Ipsos poll, approximately two in ten Canadians have donated to a charity in response to a request that came through their social media account, and again here, younger generations are the most likely to have made this type of donation.10

four volunteers embracing

What’s also important to recognize is the noticeable impact that the rise of crowdfunding and social media charitable requests has had on some charitable organizations, as many donations those charities may have otherwise received are now going to these new types of sources instead (which may not be qualified charities).

What is crowdfunding?

It’s a practice of funding a project, initiative or need by raising funds from a large number of people, and this typically takes place online. Keep in mind that unless you’re donating to a crowdfunding campaign set up by a Canadian registered charity, you won’t receive a charitable donation tax receipt. Also, given the structure of crowdfunding, there’s generally no accountability for where or how the funds get used or reported back to you as the donor. 

Where Canadians focus their giving

Among Canadians, the top five areas or causes that individuals give to are social services, health, public benefit, religion and education, and The Giving Report (2018) notes that when it comes to where Canadians donate, there’s quite a bit of divergence, as these five categories each received over 19 percent of the number of donations, whereas the bottom five categories each received 10 percent or less (the total exceeds 100 percent, mainly because certain gifts can apply to more than one category; for example, a donation for education in the field of health).11

Research also indicates that donors tend to spread their giving out to various causes, as more than three-quarters of donors give to more than one cause, and almost one-quarter support four to five charities.12 While some may view this as an effective way to support multiple charities or causes they care about, another important consideration with this approach is whether it dilutes the impact their giving may have.

Drivers of giving

When you drill down to the “why” behind giving, the main motivations Canadians note include a compassion towards those in need, a personal belief in the cause, wanting to make a contribution to the community or being personally affected by a cause.13

In general, giving—in all of its forms—is something that most Canadians feel provides a sense of fulfillment or that helps them and their families make a difference by contributing to causes they care about.

Regardless of where you and your family may fit in terms of the trends, levels or types of giving, the “why” is an important aspect to zero in on. Giving thought to your charitable motivations and potential philanthropic intentions may help you better define your beliefs in and values, which may then be incorporated into more structured forms of giving that enable you to strengthen those values and to create a more meaningful difference over time.

Building a more meaningful approach

If you’re someone who has philanthropic intentions, or if you’re interested in finding ways to pursue philanthropy or to create a lasting impact, there may be a number of benefits that a more structured approach offers, depending on your goals and objectives.

First, it’s important to understand some of the key differences between charitable giving and philanthropy and then to determine the right balance with your approach to giving. Where charitable giving is more immediate and reactive in nature, philanthropy is a more structured and targeted approach. Philanthropy is about developing a long-term vision for your giving and enables you and your family to be more proactive with it. Additionally, building structure into your giving enables you to organize and map out how and when you will give, providing the means to better reflect your values and to ensure you leave a lasting legacy, if that’s something you feel strongly about.

woman holding multicoloured balloons

Options for giving

As part of a philanthropic approach, there are a wide range of options to consider, including giving directly to a charity (with cash, securities, possibly non-cash gifts or even life insurance policies) or indirectly through a private or public foundation, for example. Giving can also be incorporated into your estate plans and in transferring wealth to the next generation. This may take place directly through charitable bequests in your Will, including legacy planning by making a bequest to a donor-advised fund or private foundation. Using a foundation may also allow the next generation to be involved and carry on your legacy after your lifetime. Personally or within your family, it’s about finding the right level and approach that aligns with your philanthropic objectives.

Note: When it comes to the type and timing of the giving strategy you want to pursue, it’s important to consult with your qualified tax advisor to ensure that potential restrictions, taxes and potential advantages or drawbacks are properly accounted for.

Defining your philanthropic “big picture”

When determining if a structured approach to giving may be something you want to pursue or in deciding how you may want to pursue it, take some time to really reflect on your current giving and what goals you have. In doing so, consider your personal and family motivations for giving, now and in the future, as well as how much time and involvement you want to devote to philanthropic endeavours. Depending on your personal situation and family dynamics, you may also want to start having a dialogue and conversations with family members to establish some initial goals and parameters. It’s also crucial to consult with your qualified advisors in mapping out or implementing any giving strategy.

As you engage in this process, keep in mind that philanthropy is individual to each person and family, and it’s a journey that may follow different paths as your goals and objectives shift over time.

For more information on giving and philanthropy, please read the Spring 2018 Perspectives article, “Creating a lasting impact.”

As part of your philanthropic exploration and planning, the Imagine Canada Guide to Giving may be a helpful resource to consider.

  1. Canada’s Charities & Nonprofits. Infographic on Imagine Canada website. Accessed March 2019.
  2. The Guide to Giving. Imagine Canada, 2017. .
  3. “More Canadians Giving, and in Different Ways, to Charity.” Ipsos, February 28, 2018.
  4. “Charitable Donors, 2017.” The Daily, Statistics Canada, released February 8, 2019.
  5. The Giving Report. CanadaHelps CanaDon, 2018.
  6. 30 Years of Giving in Canada. Rideau Hall Foundation and Imagine Canada report, 2018. .
  7. The Giving Report. CanadaHelps, 2018.
  8. “Charitable Donors, 2017.” The Daily, Statistics Canada, released February 8, 2019.
    “More Canadians Giving, and in Different Ways, to Charity.” Ipsos, February 28, 2018.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Giving Report. Canada Helps, 2018.
  12. “More Canadians Giving, and in Different Ways, to Charity.” Ipsos, February 28, 2018.
  13. 30 Years of Giving in Canada. Rideau Hall Foundation and Imagine Canada report, 2018. .

This document has been prepared for use by the RBC Wealth Management member companies, RBC Dominion Securities Inc.*, RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc., RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company (collectively, the “Companies”) and their affiliate, Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). *Member – Canada Investor Protection Fund. Each of the Companies, RMFI and Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliates. “RBC advisor” refers to Private Bankers who are employees of Royal Bank of Canada and licenced representatives of RMFI, Investment Counsellors who are employees of RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc. and the private client division of RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Senior Trust Advisors and Trust Officers who are employees of The Royal Trust Company or Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, or Investment Advisors who are employees of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RMFI which is licenced as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RMFI, Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, The Royal Trust Company, or RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Estate and trust services are provided by Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company. If specific products or services are not offered by one of the Companies, clients may request a referral to another RBC partner. The strategies, advice and technical content in this publication are provided for the general guidance and benefit of our clients, based on information believed to be accurate and complete, but neither the Companies, RMFI, nor Royal Bank of Canada, nor any of its affiliates nor any other person can guarantee accuracy or completeness. This publication is not intended as nor does it constitute tax or legal advice. Readers should consult a qualified legal, tax or other professional advisor when planning to implement a strategy. This will ensure that their individual circumstances have been considered properly and that action is taken on the latest available information. Interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change. This information is not investment advice and should only be used in conjunction with a discussion with your RBC advisor. None of the Companies, RMFI, Royal Bank of Canada nor any of its affiliates nor any other person accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this report or the information contained herein. In certain branch locations, one or more of the Companies may carry on business from premises shared with other Royal Bank of Canada affiliates. Notwithstanding this fact, each of the Companies is a separate business and personal information and confidential information relating to client accounts can only be disclosed to other RBC affiliates if required to service your needs, by law or with your consent. Under the RBC Code of Conduct, RBC Privacy Principles and RBC Conflict of Interest Policy confidential information may not be shared between RBC affiliates without a valid reason.

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