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General view of a homeless encampment at Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, in Vancouver, on April 7, 2020.

JESSE WINTER/Reuters

Bruce MacDonald is president and CEO of Imagine Canada. Ruth MacKenzie is president and CEO of Canadian Association of Gift Planners and Mike Pedersen is a corporate director.

The current COVID-19 crisis is making it apparent that Canadians depend on each other much more than we thought. For example, millions of us who never believed we would need help from government suddenly do. And our governments have robustly stepped up to this challenge.

Canada’s charities are also striving to meet urgent crisis-related needs. In many respects, they are on the front lines delivering critical services, but in unprecedented and extremely difficult circumstances. Because of COVID-19, needs are up and new needs are emerging, but charities’ revenues are down, their operating models are challenged, and job losses in the charitable sector so far are higher than in the private sector. At this time, Canada’s charities need our help more than ever.

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Imagine Canada and the Canadian Association of Gift Planners have been working to encourage increased charitable giving in Canada. In particular, we urge higher-income Canadians to give at least 1 per cent of their pretax income to charity every year, and we urge all Canadians to leave a gift to charity in their wills.

Many Canadians already give generously to charitable causes, and the total amount of charitable giving has risen roughly 150 per cent in real terms over three decades. However, this increase masks some disturbing trends.

For example, fewer Canadians are giving. The percentage of tax filers who claim a donation has declined from 29.5 per cent in 1985 to just 19.9 per cent in 2016. In other words, fewer than one in five Canadians now claim charitable donations in their tax return.

Further, while charitable giving from the top 1 per cent of tax filers has been rising, and now accounts for 31 per cent of all donations, there are still many higher-income Canadians who do not give. More than half of Canadians making around $150,000 a year, and more than a quarter of those making more than $1-million a year, claim no donations.

And finally, only 5 per cent of Canadians leave gifts to charity in their wills.

Even modest changes in these three giving trends could result in many billions of dollars of additional giving every year.

Imagine the impact of many billions of dollars on current COVID-19-related needs for our health care workers, seniors, the homeless and others.

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And imagine the impact of many billions of dollars over time in a world of income inequality, fiscally constrained governments, an aging population and rising needs in general.

We urge higher-income Canadians who are not in the habit of charitable giving to start now, at this time of intense need. Give at least 1 per cent of annual income to charity every year; most of us can get by on 99 per cent of what we make.

And – for all Canadians – remember a charitable cause in your will.

In the short term, we can make an immediate and very significant difference to charities working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

In the long term, we can create permanently higher levels of community services, more engaged citizens, and a better and even more caring Canada.

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