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New Study Examines Charitable Giving Trends in Canada

In a report recently released by The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, author Abigail Payne examines the landscape for charitable giving in Canada.  For Payne, the timing of the analysis is particularly important given that the federal government is currently reviewing tax credits for charitable giving.

“Once we have a better understanding of the giving landscape in Canada, only then can we better evaluate whether and how to change it,” Payne writes. For organizations and individuals interested in steering public policy in this area, the study presents several note-worthy findings related to trends in charitable donations over the past two decades:

  • Giving is at an all-time high in Canada. Between 1992 and 2008, contributions to charitable organizations more than doubled, going from $4 billion to over $9 billion.
  • Donations to charitable foundations grew at an even more remarkable rate: more than 250 percent over the same period.
  • Charitable giving is by-and-large dominated by high-income earners who predominately give to a small number of large charities and foundations rather than a large number of small organizations.
  • Donations from low and medium-income earners are on the decline.

For Payne, the reasons for these trends are unclear, although she points to some evidence that the more ethnically diverse our country has become, the less inclined we are to donate.  She is also inconclusive on whether the uneven patterns in giving (the richest Canadians being primarily responsible for the rise in donations) are cause for concern. 

What the author does argue for is more evidence-based analysis to guide policy change for charity operations in Canada.  She concludes that the guiding principles for any change should include the consideration of –

  • The balance between private and public support for charitable goods and services.
  • The benefits of tax incentives for different groups of taxpayers.
  • The differences in the operations and needs of charities based on size and mission. 
  • The importance of striking the right balance between promoting the long-term sustainability of charities and addressing their short-term needs or fluctuations. 

The full report “Changing Landscapes for Charities in Canada: Where Should We Go?” can be found at

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