As we head into the holiday season, charities across Canada are hoping that the next two months will be kind to them. Holiday giving is crucial to non-profit organizations, which typically raise the largest portion of their funds at this time of year. Charities may have good reason to be optimistic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that charitable giving may be stabilizing as the economy finds its footing.
At the start of the recession in 2008, charities took a hit as people reduced the amount they donated from stretched family budgets. Canadians donated $8.19-billion to charities in 2008 - a 5.3-per-cent drop from the previous year. Statistics for charitable giving in Canada in 2009 are not yet available, but there was a decline of 3.6 per cent in charitable contributions among American charities last year as the economy continued to suffer. This year, recent activity among several Canadian charities indicates that donations in 2010 may be flat, rather than down, compared with last year.
Last Thursday, Project Sunshine Canada held its fourth annual fundraising gala in Toronto. This year the charity, which provides free educational, recreational and social programs to children facing medical challenges and their families, had to move to a larger facility to accommodate a growing number of guests and still managed to sell out earlier than ever before. For the first time, the event also had a lead sponsor. But while the event reached its fundraising goal, the charity's organizers noted that it took a lot of hard work to get to that level.
"Project Sunshine Canada is doing really well in a tougher economic environment as witnessed by the success of our annual fundraiser last week, but on the other hand, some of our loyal donors had to reach into their own pockets to pay for corporate level sponsorship tables," says Caroline Bell-Ritchie, president of the board at Project Sunshine Canada. "It is still a very uncertain time for charities but I believe people want to stay loyal to the causes they've traditionally supported. They understand that the charities still need the money."
It is a similar case at WWF Canada, one of the country's leading conservation organizations. "Our early indications are that it will be as good a year as last year or better," says Christina Topp, vice-president of marketing and communications at WWF Canada.
Ms. Topp notes that during the recession, the charity's donors were loyal and continued to give, but gifts became smaller. WWF Canada was able to offset the decline through an increase in the number of donors. Donors "didn't go away because of the recession, but they altered their levels based on economic realities," she says. "To really see the trends, we'll know on January 5. The next two months will tell the story."
If you usually make charitable giving a part of your holiday season, the message from charities is to continue to give, even if your cheque is a little smaller. If you aren't a regular donor but want to start, this is a year when your money can really make a difference for good causes.