Nearly all Canadians say they give to charity in some form. The statistical trend, however, shows that fewer people are claiming tax deductions for their donations. And few people have a sense of how much a good citizen is expected to give.
On average, Canadians give a little less than 1 per cent (0.8) of their annual income to charity. But there are significant differences between communities.
So what do we know about who gives and how much?
The people of the Prairies file for charitable tax deductions at the highest rates, with more than a quarter of all tax filers claiming a donation, making Manitoba and Saskatchewan, by one measure, the most generous provinces in the country.
But when Statistics Canada asked people about whether they made a donation to a charitable cause, the four Atlantic provinces had the highest rates, ranging from 88 per cent in New Brunswick to 92 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador. British Columbia had the lowest at 80 per cent.
About 85 per cent of Quebeckers said they made a donation in 2010, but tax data from 2011 showed they donated just 0.36 per cent of their income, the lowest percentage in the country.
More broadly we know that women tend to give more than men. The old give more than the young. The religious give more than the non-religious. And university graduates give more than those who didn't attend university.
Of course, charity is not only about giving money. Many people give goods such as toys or food, for which they don't claim receipts. They may drop a few coins in a collection jar or buy candy as part of a fundraiser, none of which can be claimed on a tax form. Volunteering is another form of donation. About one in four Canadians say they volunteer at least four hours a month, according to an Ipsos survey. The rates are highest in the West and among those between 60 and 70 years old, the survey said.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are by far the biggest beneficiaries of charitable monies. Of all the donations that were eligible for a tax receipt, roughly 40 per cent – about $4-billion – went to religious organizations (next was the health sector, not including hospitals, at $1.6-billion and then the social-services sector at $1-billion.) In fact, a person's religiosity is among the best predictors of whether and how much they will give to charity.
"Clearly religious people give more, and the more religious you are, the more you give," said John Hallward, chairman of the GIV3 Foundation.
There may be a link between the widespread decline in religiosity in Canada and the decline in charitable giving.
In the late 1980s, almost 30 per cent of Canadians claimed a charitable donation on their taxes, a number that has been falling ever since. Today it sits around 23 per cent, says Cathy Barr, senior vice-president at Imagine Canada, an umbrella group that works with charities. That slide is a source of much consternation in the charitable sector.
"That worries us a lot. We've been looking at that, hoping that trend will reverse," Ms. Barr said.
"The people who are giving are being very generous, but only a small percentage are giving. … The average donation is still quite small. The majority of Canadians are not giving thousands."
The top 10 per cent of donors gave more than $1,000, according to the Statscan survey. But the median amount – the midpoint of all donations – was just $123.
Mr. Hallward is determined to get Canadians talking about how much they should be giving to charity. His survey research shows that eight in 10 Canadians say they have no idea how much they should give. His foundation, GIV3, is named for the idea of giving 3 per cent of one's income, a level far above where Canada stands today.
"The crux of this is we don't give enough. Five years ago, Canadians gave $10-billion. Now we're down to $8-billion," he said. "It's a huge amount. I'm not asking for the value system of the 1960s. If we just gave at the same rate of five to 10 years ago, we'd be getting an additional $2-billion a year to our charitable sector."
How can it be done? Mr. Hallward says research shows that people who are brought up with a role model who gives, or who come from a community that gives, tend to give more.
In Quebec, for example, families historically gave to the Catholic Church, which in turn funded public services such as hospitals, he says. As people left the church in the 20th century, the traditions of giving started to disappear, he says, which in part explains why Quebec has among the lowest rates of charitable giving today.
A province such as Manitoba, on the other hand, consistently tops the list of the most generous communities because a cultural tradition of giving is passed from one generation to the next, he says.
THREE COMMUNITIES IN FOCUS
Lawrence Avenue, Toronto
The three most generous census tracts (usually 2,500 to 8,000 people) in the country are all located in the area around Lawrence Avenue in Toronto.
The community has a large, religious Jewish population, which may explain the very high levels of charitable giving – in some cases 10 times higher than the Canadian average. The area is generally wealthy but has some pockets of very low income, including the Lawrence Heights area.
The concept of tzedakah, or giving, helped a capital campaign at the Shaarei Shomayim Congregation far exceed expectations this year, according to executive director Nicole Toledano.
"Our goal was to raise $1.5-million. We're now at $3.8-million," she said. "We've had gifts ranging from $500 to $1-million."
The people of Abbotsford, a city of 130,000 east of Vancouver, donated 2 per cent of their income to charity, roughly 2 1/2 times the Canadian average. They also had the highest median gift for the 10th year in a row, at $630, way ahead of all other cities. Calgary was next at $400.
In one census tract in particular, where the per-capita income is about $42,000, people gave 6.5 per cent of their income, according to figures compiled by John Hallward of the GIV3 Foundation.
"If your income is $42,000 … you really don't have a lot of leftover cash," Mr. Hallward said. "These communities are truly the heroes. They're the ones giving even when it hurts."
A wealthy francophone neighbourhood in Montreal, the median income of this census tract is a whopping $113,000.
Wealthy people do tend to give more to charity. People with incomes greater than $120,000 are among the likeliest to be considered top donors to charity, along with people over 75, widows and widowers and university graduates. The top quartile of donors – those who gave more than $358, according to Statscan – contributed 83 per cent of all charitable donations in 2010.
Mr. Hallward said it's surprising to see any Montreal neighbourhood among the ranks of the most generous because donation levels in Quebec tend to be much lower than the rest of Canada. "Quebec is the least giving by a long shot," he said.