Those who are actively religious are more apt to donate to charitable causes, but concerns have been raised that as religious conviction wanes among youth, charitable giving may decline in the future. Graphic by Lucy Barco

What the future holds for charitable giving

By  Mickey Conlon, Catholic Register Special
  • November 3, 2016

A sampling of philanthropists in Canada shows that people who are active in their religion are more generous. It’s unlikely most people would disagree with such a finding.

“Our parishioners are generous in many different ways to the needs of the Church,” said Arthur Peters, executive director of ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto. “Whether it’s through our ShareLife appeal in Toronto, or an annual appeal, or the offertory, special projects or humanitarian relief efforts,” being a part of a faith community “translates into being generous to the works of the Church.”

The Burk Donor Survey recognizes this fact in its annual report. Designed by Penelope Burk and released by Hamilton, Ont.-based Cygnus Applied Research Inc., the survey studies Canadian philanthropy and charts changes in giving year-to-year. It found that in 2015, Canadian donors who were actively religious gave on average $7,700 to charitable causes. Those who declared themselves non-religious, on the other hand, while also generous, gave an average $5,100, while those identifying as “spiritual” lagged further behind, donating on average $4,400.

“There is a connection between being actively religious and giving generously,” it concludes matter-of-factly.

The survey also discovered that along with being more generous and supporting a greater number of causes, actively religious donors are “more likely than less religious donors to maintain or increase their giving, even in a poor economy.”

But religious adherence, we are told incessantly, is on the wane, particularly among younger generations. So it might be asked how does this bode for the future of charitable giving in church circles?

The Burk Donor Survey, now in its sixth year, poses just that question: “How will philanthropy and voluntarism fare in the future in a world where organized religion is less influential in fostering the commitment to give and engage?”

It’s a conversation that has been held within the charitable world, said Quentin Schesnuik, manager of planned giving and personal gifts with the Archdiocese of Toronto. Organizations have been working on solutions to keep charitable giving strong among today’s youth and for generations to come.

Schesnuik said people who are religious are more apt to give — “It’s just part of their DNA.” But it’s not something that can be taken for granted in the future.

“One thing we’ve got to do is get our young people to support the Church,” said Schesnuik.

And it goes beyond just supporting the Church, he said. In an age where kids are more curious, they must be taught why it is important to give back.

“It’s not the amount, it’s the understanding of why it’s important to give back,” said Schesnuik. “Then everything will take care of itself... A consequence of faith is generosity.”

ShareLife has long recognized the importance of working with youth. One of the main components of its annual campaign targets schools. Working in close partnership with the five English Catholic school boards within the archdiocese’s boundaries, ShareLife encourages students to take part in educational and fundraising activities at school and within their communities. Board employees are also encouraged to support the campaign as representatives in the classroom and workplace.

ShareLife tries to show students that by supporting the work of the Church, they are really having an impact on the greater community.

“It brings the work of the Church, the greater work of the Church, to the students,” said Peters. “When we’re fundraising in the schools it teaches the students that giving is part of their faith, which hopefully they will remember as they get older.”

The results can be impressive. St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., alone has raised more than $83,000 for ShareLife since 2008 by donating proceeds from the school’s annual feast day event. But even little events, like King City’s Holy Name Elementary School’s Christmas Candy Gram sales which raised $800, or the $700 raised at Brampton’s Holy Spirit Elementary’s ShareLife hockey game, show students that their contributions are making a difference in their communities. The key is to keep the momentum going.

Peters has seen the results of getting youth thinking about giving back. He often runs into adults who reflect on their past as they recall helping out with the ShareLife campaign.

“It’s something that sticks with them,” he said.

Current trends, however, see young people involved with the Church at an early age, said Schesnuik, but leaving as they grow older, often when they reach university age. Some return, many don’t. The question becomes, how does the Church hold on to these people?

This is where parents can help set the stage for the future, said Schesnuik, and it begins in the parish.

“If we want to get our kids involved in the Church the best place to start is take them to Mass and from there, everything will fall into place,” he said.

(Conlon is a freelance writer in Regina, Sask.)

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