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In Canada, Online Giving Reigns

(Sept. 14, 2010) Online giving has surpassed traditional modes of transacting gifts among all Canadian donors under the age of 65, reports fundraising consultant Penelope Burk from her recent survey of more than 7,000 Canadian donors. However, nonprofits continue to underestimate young donors as a source of significant funds.

All Ages Giving Online

"Online giving has surpassed the tipping point," says Burk.  Three out of every four Canadian donors will transact at least one gift online in 2010. That figure rises to nine out of ten among Canadian donors under the age of 35. Particularly interesting, though, is that among Canadian donors over the age of 65, three out of five will give online this year, challenging the assumption that older donors still confine their giving transactions to older technologies. 

Compared with American donors, Canadians are more comfortable with giving online, she says. Only 63 percent of Americans have given or plan to give online this year, compared with 72 percent of Canadians.  

Giving through the mail is the second-most-common choice for Canadians, but there is a big difference between donors 35 years of age and older (50 percent of them plan to give through the mail), and donors under 35, where only 16 percent plan to give this way.

The growing popularity of online giving, though, does not mean that mailing programs have or will become obsolete or that mass-marketing through other traditional programs should be abandoned, Burk says. Instead, these programs can and should be tailored to offer recipients compelling reasons to visit a charity's website, where donors can conduct independent investigation and feel more control of their giving.

Young Donors' Growing Potential

Among the most active respondents whose giving is moving in a positive direction are donors under the age of 35. Sixty-four percent of these young philanthropists reported giving more to charity in 2009 than they did in 2008--a significantly higher percentage than for donors between 35 and 64 years of age (53 percent) and those 65 and older (51 percent).

Also, young donors are more likely to increase their giving this year (39 percent) whereas 22 percent of middle-aged donors and 12 percent of older donors intend to give more in 2010 than they contributed in 2009.

"While younger donors enjoy healthy household incomes (48 percent earn $70,000 or more) and far fewer are supporting children or aging parents, their lower average gift values mask their real current and future potential," Burk says. "This is partly due to fundraising design which is more passive (waits for donors to give at above-average levels before offering meaningful stewardship), than active (offers meaningful stewardship first in order to cause more generous giving)."

A Case for Cultivating Youth

Of all donors in the Cygnus study, young donors (under 35) are the most optimistic about the future and the most willing to increase their giving over the next year. "But," says Burk, "They're on the sidelines of giving and volunteering because they communicate and connect with charities differently. The amount of money they currently give is well below what their demographic profile and their own comments suggest it could be if fundraisers paid more attention to this younger demographic." 

Here are some quick facts about young donors surveyed.

  • 56 percent of young Canadian donors are academics, managers or entrepreneurs
  • 54 percent of those between 25 and 34 years of age (those less likely to still be in college) have household incomes over $70,000
  • 75 percent are not supporting dependents.

"Young donors are also willing but under-utilized volunteers at a decision-making level," says Burk. Only 16 percent have held a position on a board of directors within the last twelve months, versus 35 percent of survey respondents 35 years of age or older.  Burk suggests that ... "Boards need a strong voice from younger donors and volunteers in order to bring new ideas to the table, to help not-for-profits adapt to new technologies, and to communicate in ways that resonate with this generation."

The Cygnus Donor Survey...Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2010, contains feedback from more than 15,000 donors in North America. For more information, visit

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