Why do we give?

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Canadians have always had a reputation for being kind, polite and generous. While it’s tough to quantify kindness and politeness, generosity is a more measurable subject.

According to recent Ipsos Reid statistics, around 80% of Canadians give to charity every year. That means close to 25 million of us make some sort of philanthropic gesture per annum. It’s an incredible stat.

Factoring altruism

Glenys Babcock, Ipsos Reid’s vice president of public affairs trends division, says the numbers merely reflect the extant, diverse reasons behind Canadian giving.

“Canadians tend to give at a stable rate yearly,” she said. “But they also go above and beyond when disaster strikes. For instance, after the [2004] tsunami they gave more.”

Survey results gathered by Babcock’s organization consistently show that we Canucks are highly-motivated to give. Consider the following:

Six in 10 Canadian adults feel that "it is important to contribute in some way to improve the life of people in their city," and "believe strongly in donating to charities."

Of the 80% of us who do give, the breakdown in giving shakes out as follows:

  • 20% give $1,000 or more each year,
  • 67% give to three or more different charitable organizations
  • The number one type of charity donors give to is health or disease-related charities (63%), followed by charities for children (29%) and religious organizations (21%)
  • 2 in 10 donors give to the exact same charities year after year
  • 8 in 10 donors give to one or more new charities each year

(Note: All figures are based on Ipsos Reid surveys of a representative random sample of 1,000 Canadian adults. Margin of error: +/- 3.1 percentage points.)

But why?

It’s pretty clear that we’re a generous bunch. But what is the impetus? Is it faith-based? Tax incentives? Other? The answer is...yes.

While respondents to surveys will say they contribute because they want to give and help their fellow man, there is more to it.

Giving for joy

Lisa Hartford, manager of media relations and communications at Imagine Canada, points to the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP). “Basically, Canadians give for pretty altruistic reasons,” she says.

Want proof? The CSGVP found the following:

  • 89% of donors give because they feel compassion for those in need
  • 86% give to help a cause in which they personally believe
  • 79% give to make a contribution to their community

“Throughout the three iterations of this survey, things like tax credits and religious obligations rank relatively low,” Hartford said. “That's interesting, because 45% of the value of all donations in 2004 went to religious organizations.”

Similar conclusions are being reached by numerous sources, although tax savings do play a part for some.

The taxman giveth

According to survey results released November 30th by Scotiabank's Scotia Private Client Group, nearly all their respondents (97%) indicated that their philanthropy is based on a charitable cause.

The wrinkle in this survey is that it was targeted at 1,518 Canadians with investable assets of $250,000 and above. A notable motivator for many in this group is the increased tax savings and incentives now being allowed by the government for legacy planning.

The report states that, “while tax savings may not be the primary reason for making a charitable contribution, 66% of those who have established or considered making a legacy gift indicated that a tax reduction was important in determining the size of the assets for their legacy gift.”

But the survey concludes that beyond the tax factor, 94% of respondents said they are “driven by personal values” to donate.

And so giving always seems to return to the intangible subjects of altruism and the personal value structures of individual donors.

Working with the philanthropic

In Toronto, Sherry Clodman, CFRE and principal at EH Pearce Consultants, is effusive in her praise of Ontarians’ giving nature.

“Over the past 20 years, it has been my observation that people want to believe that they are here for a purpose, and that their being here will make a difference either in the present or in the future,” Clodman says. “Being able to work in this field is an honour, an inspiration, and in every sense of the word a ‘gift’. I feel privileged to facilitate individuals and organizations to help build a better society through philanthropy.”

As an expert on planned giving, Clodman has also noted the wide array of reasons for donations.

“There are a number of powerful factors that will influence [charitable] decision making,” she says. “Usually, those factors are proactive motivations such as gratitude, self-interest, a sense of community, identification with a cause, social responsibility or a desire to share their achievement. Conversely, strong reactive emotions such as anger, fear, compassion, protection, guilt, pride and nostalgia can also positively impact on their philanthropic behaviour.”

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear, Canadians give and we will keep on giving.

Holiday spirit

Lastly, to warm the heart as the holiday season approaches, another recent survey found that, on average, Canadians donate $183 to charity during the holiday season. Which means, by the time Christmas is over this year, some $5 billion will have been funneled to our most needy for the New Year.

Happy holidays.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is president of WordLaunch professional writing services in Toronto. He can be reached at andy@wordlaunch.com.

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