Giving, Volunteering and Participating: Latest survey results from Statistics Canada

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In late January, Statistics Canada released the results of its 2013 General Social Survey – Giving, Volunteering and Participating (GSS GVP). The bottom line: Giving and volunteering are up; total number of givers and volunteers are down. And the population of donors and volunteers is heavily influenced by adults aged 55+. In 2013, Canadians aged 55 and older accounted for 34% of the total giving population aged 15 and older. However, this group contributed 39% of all volunteer hours and 47% of all donated dollars.

Survey says...

The survey’s numbers are impressive upon quick scanning. But dig a little deeper and a concerning trend begins to emerge.

Stats from the 2013 GSS GVP include:

  • In 2013, 44% of Canadians volunteered their time and almost twice as many (82%) gave money to a charitable or nonprofit organization. While the proportion of Canadians who volunteered their time declined by 3 percentage points between 2010 and 2013, the total number of hours volunteered remained virtually unchanged.

  • In 2013, volunteers devoted almost 2 billion hours to their volunteer activities, or the equivalent of about 1 million full-time jobs. Canadians who volunteered did so for an annual average of 154 hours in 2013.

  • Mirroring patterns in volunteering, the percentage of Canadians donating to charitable or non-profit organizations declined in recent years, falling from 84% in 2010 to 82% in 2013. Donation amounts, however, increased.

  • The average annual amount per donor in 2013 was $531, up $61 from 2010. Overall, Canadians gave $12.8 billion to charitable or nonprofit organizations in 2013, 14% higher than 2010. A range of charitable and nonprofit organizations benefited from these donations.

  • Of the total donated in 2013, 41% or $5.2 billion were donated to religious organizations, 13% or $1.7 billion to organizations in the health sector and 12% or $1.6 billion to social services organizations.

The 2013 survey is the product of the efforts of numerous governmental departments along with the help of national nonprofits Imagine Canada and Volunteer Canada.

So what conclusions about the Canadian “spirit of giving” can be taken away as of two years ago? The answer is a noticeable and real trend of “more from fewer,” according to Cathy Barr, Imagine’s senior vice-president.

More “boom” in the bucks

With a healthy sampling of more than 47,000 households across the nation – excluding the Territories and Nunavut – a clear picture is being formed about the need to somehow better engage millennials and Gen X’ers in the giving and volunteering realm.

The 2013 results are a continuation of a troubling trend that Barr says is consistent with what has been observed in T-1, tax-filer data over the past several decades. "The decline is consistent. Basically, you see a very long-term trend in tax-filers claiming donations, yet the same pattern you get from StatsCan is that the dollars being donated continue to increase.”

Barr adds: “Both the survey data and the tax-filer data show that the proportion of people giving (or claiming donations on their tax returns, in the case of the tax-filer data) is declining. However, those donating are donating more. So the average and total amounts donated continue to rise. It's certainly good that those still giving are giving more, but it's worrying that fewer people are giving.

It’s a trend Imagine has noted for nearly 20 years, dating back to its 1999 Much Comes From the Few report (published as the then-Canadian Centre for Philanthropy) where this evidence was already beginning to emerge.

Today, Barr says, “You could say 'even more comes from the few'.”

And despite the uptick in donations and time volunteered, the demographic and dollar imbalance in giving and volunteering from 2004 to today is steep.

From the 2013 GSS GVP:

  • In 2013, 28% of all Canadian volunteers were aged 55 and older, compared with 26% in 2010, 24% in 2007 and 23% in 2004.
  • Older people, when they volunteer, are more likely to do certain types of activities. For example, in 2013, 42% of volunteers aged 55 and over sat on a committee or board, compared with 34% of volunteers aged 35 to 54 and 26% of volunteers aged 15 to 34.
  • The typical donor is also getting older. In 2013, 35% of all donors were aged 55 and over, up from 29% in 2004.
  • Older donors give more on average. In 2013, donors aged 55 and over gave an average of $702 to charitable or nonprofit organizations, or about $400 more than donors aged 15 to 34.
  • Together with the aging profile of Canadian donors, the proportion of the total amount of charitable donations contributed by Canadians aged 55 and over has increased, from 39% in 2004 to 47% in 2013.

A masking effect

For Barr, the fact that older donors are donating ever-higher amounts is masking the fact that ever fewer people are, in fact, donating. While the average donation comes out to around $500, she says, that average “is masking the fact that the vast majority of the donations are coming from the top 10% of donors in terms of donation amount. In the 2013 survey, fully two thirds of all [donations] come from these donors.

"So we have a donor pool that's shrinking, but the dollar [amount] is being propped up by those that are donating more. This is concerning. We've been trying to increase the proportion of Canadians who are giving, and encourage those who either haven’t been giving to start with, or for those who have given, to increase their giving."

Imagine is also starting to research wealthier Canadians and their donating patterns.

“We're still in the early stages of that research, but what it's suggesting is there are many people whose wealth may have increased, but their donation amounts relative to wealth are fairly small," Barr says. Imagine plans to release its study on this group later this year. Barr adds that Imagine Canada has been campaigning for the stretch-tax credit to grow the donor pool for a number of years now. This credit would address the dual concerns of getting more people donating and getting current donors to donate "a little bit more to stretch their giving," she says. You can read more about this subject in this story.

Imagine's transparency and Standards Program, Barr notes, has also been an ongoing attempt to instill confidence in the donor community and counter some of the negative feelings about charities in the public and suspicions about fundraising and administrative costs. "We want to shift the narrative to the positive impact the sector has and let [donors] focus on other things in the name of also encouraging people to donate more." {For more on this program, click on this 2013 story.)

Some last few stats

The 2013 GSS GVP also shows an interesting breakdown in giving and volunteering by region.

  • While the national volunteer rate average was 44%, both Saskatchewan (56%) and Manitoba (52%) showed much higher rates.
  • Conversely, Quebec (32%) had the lowest rate for volunteerism.
  • As for donor rates, the variance was more even across provinces, with Newfoundland and Labrador at the high end (87%) and the lowest rate in British Columbia (78%).
  • As for average donations in dollars, Alberta ($863), British Columbia ($704) and Manitoba ($699) “reported the highest average contributions in 2013. Conversely, average donations were lowest in Quebec ($264) and New Brunswick ($345),” according to Statistics Canada.

Which part of the country do you operate in? And have you been witnessing the same trends in your work?

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at

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