Undeniably, civic engagement is a hot topic across Canada this fall. One week prior to the federal election, Elections Canada data indicated a record 29 per cent increase in advance voting compared to rates in 2015. While this suggests a growing concern for democratic action, it’s worth remembering that the very idea of social cohesion depends on civic participation – which goes beyond voting – and should be prioritized and encouraged year-round.
Rates of charitable giving and volunteerism are important signals of community health. In 2018, the Rideau Hall Foundation, in partnership with Imagine Canada, released a landmark study, 30 Years of Giving. By analyzing individual tax filer data and survey results on giving and volunteerism, we found that donation rates are dropping across all age groups. The decline is particularly acute among younger Canadians. The pool of older Canadians on whom the sector depends for revenue growth is also shrinking, which means charities and non-profits are chasing an ever-decreasing group of aging, affluent donors.
Compounding this situation, or perhaps driving it, are fluctuating rates of trust in the non-governmental (NGO) sector. The Canadian arm of Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer revealed a surprising shift with trust in NGOs declining by 9 points and only half of the general population saying they trust NGOs. Rates did increase in 2019, but still, only 54 per cent of respondents in the mass population category said they trust the four key institutions: NGOs, business, government and media.
Canada’s charities, non-profits and voluntary organizations play a pivotal role in strengthening and enriching our society. The impact of the sector (and its millions of volunteers) cannot be overstated, whether it’s by bolstering scientific research or enhancing health care, safeguarding our environment, or enriching our communities through arts and culture. The strength of Canada’s charitable sector is a remarkable asset for our country.
What can the charitable and non-profit sector do to foster a stronger culture of giving in our country?
- Place greater value on building the capacity of charities and the non-profit sector to innovate. This will involve investing in infrastructure, capacity and talent.
- More clearly communicate with donors and tell the stories of impact of the sector – how are lives changing for the better? What wouldn’t be possible without a thriving culture of giving and volunteerism in Canada?
- Reinforce the importance of giving as core to our national fabric. We need to do more to celebrate and honour those Canadians engaged with our sector; people who give more than just money, but time and talent as well.
Both leaders and supporters of Canada’s non-profit and charitable sector have a key role to play in increasing trust in our institutions. We can bring people together through important causes and the desire to better serve and strengthen our communities. We can shine a light on the positives – on people helping other people and on the importance of cultivating empathy, not only in ourselves, but in our institutions. Paying more attention to giving patterns stands to benefit not only vital causes and organizations across Canada, but will also strengthen our civic core in an enduring way far beyond a four-year election cycle.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.