Canadian philanthropy lags behind Americans

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • January 5, 2007
TORONTO - Canadians are the third most generous people in the industrialized world, but only half as generous as Americans.

A spate of recent statistical reports on Canadian philanthropy draws a picture of a nation that opens its wallet, but not too wide.

Just before Christmas, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians gave a record $7.9 billion to charities in 2005. While total donations were 13.8 per cent higher in 2005 than 2004, the number of donors grew by less than one per cent.

A quarter of all Canadians claimed charitable donations on their 2005 tax returns. The median donation was $240, which is to say half of those who claimed a donation on their returns claimed more than $240, and half less. The average donation (total donated divided by the number of donors) came to $400 per household.

Right-wing think tank The Fraser Institute releases its annual assessment of Canadian philanthropy just before Christmas, and this year reported that Canadians are far less generous than Americans. In 2004 Americans gave 1.67 per cent of their aggregate income to charity. In Canada that number is 0.72 per cent.

Not only do Americans give more, but more of them give. Among U.S. tax filers, 30.4 per cent claim charitable giving, compared to 25.4 per cent of Canadians, according to The Fraser Institute.

The United Kingdom's National Council for Voluntary Organizations ranks Canada third, just barely behind the U.K., in its survey of giving in 12 countries that together generate 53 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Canadian gifts of 0.72 per cent of gross domestic product are five times the rate of giving in France, where the population contributed 0.14 per cent of GDP to charity.

The U.K. study found a correlation between the levels of social security contributions and charitable giving. The higher the percentage of personal income governments extracted from people for social security, the lower their contributions to charity. They also found that the more unequal the society — the wider the gap between rich and poor — the more money that was sent charity's way.

"The wide wealth gap in the U.S. may partly explain its high level of giving," said the U.K. report.

Regular churchgoers give 22 per cent of all Canadian charitable donations and contribute 35 per cent of all volunteer time, according to Statistics Canada, even though they represent only 19 per cent of Canadians. People who go to church every week claimed an average of $877 in charitable donations, compared to a national average of $400 and an average of $284 given annually by people who don't go to church.

It isn't just religion that defines who is generous among us. The higher the income, the less people give as a percentage of their wealth. Households earning under $20,000 give an average of 1.7 per cent of their income. Households with income above $60,000 give an average of 0.5 per  cent. People with household incomes above $100,000 gave an average of $698, less than 0.7 per cent.

In the end, just 10 per cent of donors give 62 per cent of the money in Canada.

The constants in charity are clear from the point of view of the  Franciscan pastor of St. Bonaventure's parish in Toronto.

"For those who do have a well developed Christian faith, giving becomes part of their spirituality — there's a sense of giving back for what they received," Friar Rick Riccioli told The Catholic Register.

Riccioli is not surprised the poor are more generous than the rich.

"Our most generous donors tended to be people in Newfoundland, or very ordinary people who just saw charitable giving as a way of giving back to God, and they sacrificed for that," he said.

As a Franciscan, Riccioli looks to St. Anthony as someone who taught the importance of charity.

"St. Anthony was one who, more than Francis even, was more explicit about the sense of Gospel and charity," Riccioli said. "That the two go together. That to live the Gospel you need to make it concrete and put your money where your mouth is, and have that sense of dependence on God."

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