The Giving Gap: What stops Canadians from donating more to charitable organizations?

by David Korzinski | November 27, 2017 6:30 pm

Legitimacy, effectiveness of charities a significant driver of why those who want to give more, don’t

November 28, 2017 – After days of shopping their brains out in-store and online, Canadians will be prompted this Giving Tuesday to instead spend their time, treasure and talents on charitable causes in the community.

And while two-thirds say they’re comfortable with their own levels of charitable contribution, a significant segment (30%) say they feel they should be doing more.

What’s driving this gap between intention and action? The second report in a four-part study from the Angus Reid Institute and in partnership with CHIMP: Charitable Impact Foundation[1] finds lack of financial means to be a major factor for some.

But skepticism and doubt about whether their dollars are well and effectively spent by charities also looms large in the decision to give or not.

Further, a group of younger, wealthier and more-educated Canadians – a crucial segment of the population with the potential to morph from one-off to ongoing donors – say they would give more if they felt confident in the charitable sector, connected enough to the causes they care most about, and were being approached in a different way.

More Key Findings:



Part 1: The Giving Gap – Do Canadians feel they give enough?

Three-in-ten say they should do more

Giving Tuesday began five years ago as an initiative of New York’s 92nd Street Y. Founding partners including the media company Mashable, Skype and Cisco aided in generating initial awareness. The day was conceived as a counter-balance to the commercial frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, aiming to shift people’s focus to generosity. According to analysis by Blackbaud – a software company designed for non-profit organizations – donations in the United States jumped 53 per cent online in the first year, 90 per cent in the second, and continued to grow in each subsequent year.

Canada has embraced the day as well. Charitable donations, according to CanadaHelps[2], increased 169 per cent in the first year, and another 75 per cent in the second. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Governor General David Johnston both endorsed the campaign in 2014, and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was tweeting about the day before his time as federal leader:

As Giving Tuesday grows in awareness and donation funds, how are Canadians feeling about their level of giving? Most feel comfortable with their level of contribution, but a significant group say they wish they were doing more.

Nearly one-in-three Canadians (30%) – the equivalent of more than eight million adults – say they feel they should be donating more to charity. That said, the majority are comfortable with their current level of charitable giving, and very few say they are spending too much, as seen in the following graph:

Drivers of donation deficits

Financial concerns top the list of reasons Canadians offer for giving less than they would like to charity. Half of those who say they would like to be doing more cite their finances as “the whole reason” that they are not doing so. This concern is particularly pronounced among lower income households, which, of course, have less money to give.

That said, previous research has indicated[3] that while they are unable to give as much in a raw dollar amount, lower-income individuals are often more generous with their money – in terms of the percentage they donate – than wealthier people.

Expressed as a portion of the total population, the number of Canadians who feel they should be donating more, but can’t afford to do so, is roughly one-in-six (15%). This equates for more than four million people who would like to be more charitable, but feel they can’t for financial reasons.

At least half of those who would like to do more say they hold concerns about charitable organizations themselves. Among them, six-in-ten (58%) say that their apprehension about the effectiveness of charities is a factor preventing them from donating more, and 54 per cent aren’t sure about the legitimacy of some of the organizations soliciting donations:

One element that seems to be less of a problem is the access to knowledge about charities and their causes. Most who feel they are not giving enough say a lack of information about charities is “not an issue” for them (57% say this). Only 7 per cent say it is “the whole reason” they don’t donate more (see comprehensive tables for greater detail[4]).


Four segments of the population based on charitable behaviour

As discussed in greater detail in the first installment[5] of this comprehensive ARI-CHIMP study, researchers sorted Canadians into four categories – Non-Donors, Casual Donors, Prompted Donors, and Super Donors – based on their charitable giving habits.

These segments are based entirely on Canadians’ behaviours – how much money they say they donated and to how many causes – rather than on any opinions they offer about charity or charitable organizations, more broadly.

The relative sizes of the four segments can be seen in the following graph.


The Non-Donors, as their name implies, are defined by their almost non-existent charitable behaviours. Members of this group do not give money to any of the 11 types of causes canvassed in this survey (which will be discussed later in this report), and give less than $100 to charity in a year. Seven-in-ten (71%) report donating no money at all.

The Casual Donors are slightly more active in their charitable behaviour than the Non-Donors. Most members of this segment support at least two different charitable causes in a year, but none of them report giving more than $250 to charity in total.

The Prompted Donors, by contrast, are significantly more charitable than the first two groups. They spread their donations around, with most supporting several causes annually and donating more than $250 in total. That said, members of this group are relatively unlikely to support causes on an ongoing basis or to make donations based on their own initiative. Rather, they tend to give in response to specific requests from preferred causes. This is what makes their donations “prompted.”

Like the Prompted Donors, the Super Donors support lots of causes and donate large amounts of money each year. What sets members of this group apart is the deliberate nature of their giving. While they often give in response to specific requests, they are significantly more likely than any other group to say supporting a given cause was their own idea, rather than a reaction to specific circumstances. Most provide ongoing support to at least two causes.

For more information about each group’s demographic composition and attitudes toward charity, see behavioural tables[6] or part one[7] of this four-part project.

Related – Black Friday and Charity: Are retailers really helping out or just cashing in?[8]

Notably, an individual’s charitable behaviour group does not have a significant impact on their comfort with their giving level. Among Super Donors, seven-in-ten (68%) say they are comfortable with the amount they are giving. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Non-Donors, this number is only five points lower.

Likewise, significant portions of each segment believe they should be doing more to support their favourite causes. This includes nearly one-in-four Super Donors (23%), who are already giving more to charity than anyone else in Canada:

Looking at the reasons members of each segment give for feeling that they should do more to support charitable causes, a clear pattern emerges.

Members of each segment are roughly equally likely to rate concerns about the legitimacy or efficacy of charitable organizations as “the whole reason” preventing them from donating more. The segments vary wildly on financial concerns, however, with three-quarters of Non-Donors who would like to give more saying money is the sole consideration holding them back. Among Super Donors, the number saying finances are “the whole reason” drops to one-in-four (26%):

The segments’ reactions to the other three reasons canvassed are summarized in the following tables:


Attitudinal drivers of giving gaps

Another measure of the “giving gap” can be seen in Canadians’ willingness to donate more of their money under specific circumstances, regardless of whether they believe their current level of giving is adequate.

Fully six-in-ten Canadians (61%) agree with the statement, “I would give more money to charity if I felt more confident about the whole thing,” and sizeable proportions say they would give more if they found the right cause or were approached in the right way, as seen in the following graph:

Individuals who agree with these three statements can be found across the four segments (see behaviour tables[9]), as well as among those who say they are comfortable with the amount they donate currently:

These three statements provide a window to a different sort of giving gap: One based less on the belief that one’s current level of charitable giving is insufficient and more on the ability to see oneself donating more in the future if something changed.

To further investigate the relationship between these three statements, Angus Reid Institute researchers conducted a cluster analysis – a multivariate analytical technique that can uncover shared mindsets within a dataset. This analysis yielded a group of Canadians – representing 20 per cent of the total population – who are united by their outlook on the various attitudinal statements presented in this survey.

Members of this group – called “Would Give More” in the graph that follows – agree with each of the three statements at a rate of at least 78 per cent:

These Canadians skew younger, wealthier, and more educated than the general population. They are also markedly less likely than the general population to cite financial concerns as the main thing preventing them from giving. Rather, members of this group cite concern about the legitimacy and efficacy of charitable organizations – as well as their own lack of knowledge – as significant barriers to their giving:

Though most Canadians in this segment of the population are comfortable with their current level of charitable contributions, the fact that they say they would do more under certain circumstances is notable. It suggests that the giving gap extends beyond those who feel an obligation to donate more money, and includes people who may not feel a strong compulsion to give more, but nonetheless see themselves doing so in the future, provided the right conditions are met.


Part 2: Giving initiative, giving inertia

What causes do Canadians support most?

Just as there are countless charitable organizations for Canadians to decide between, there are many different causes to support. The area that Canadians are most likely to choose is related to health and disease research. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the scale of initiatives by organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and others.

In terms of volunteerism, the largest number of Canadians (14%) have devoted their time to religious, church or faith groups, over any other type of cause:


One-time donations vs. ongoing support

While many charitable organizations generally prefer[10] recurring gifts, which help to provide funding stability for programs, some donors opt to donate in larger chunks. These one-time donations can be in response to a call-to-action, or centered around tax time or holidays.

Within this discussion, it becomes evident just how foundational Super Donors are to the giving network in Canada. This group is substantially more likely to provide ongoing funding to organizations that they support. Within the most popular giving sector, health care, 54 per cent of Super Donors give in a recurring fashion.

The area with the most-connected base of supporters appears to be faith-based community. Six-in-ten supporters who donated to their religious or church groups say they do so on an ongoing basis. No other charitable area has more than 39 per cent of its donors who say this.

Prompted donations vs. unprompted donations

As their name suggests, Prompted Donors are more likely to donate reactively than Casual Donors – in most cases, twice as likely. Super Donors are more likely to donate whether prompted or not.

As the graph below shows, the latter group is much more likely to seek out a cause on their own accord than the other giving groups.


Part 3: The Information Gap – How much do Canadians know about charity?

Most feel knowledgeable, but would welcome more information

Just as awareness of Giving Tuesday has grown in recent years, so too has knowledge about the charitable sector. In fact, Canadians are twice as likely to say they’ve become more knowledgeable (28%) about charitable giving over the last few years as they are to say they have become more confused (12%). A majority (60%) say they’ve stayed about the same.

Super Donors, being the most connected to giving, are much more likely than other segments to say that their knowledge has improved:

The role of the internet cannot be understated in the growth of knowledge about charity in Canada. Nearly every charitable organization offers web donation services and information for potential donors, and public opinion reflects this relatively new reality. Asked if they would know where to look for info about a specific charity, one-in-five (20%) say they “definitely” would and nearly half say “I think so” (48%). Only 7 per cent would have “no idea where to look.

Again, this varies significantly by one’s charitable behaviour. Non-Donors express some doubt that they would be able to find this information without a little digging:

So what role do charities have to play in aiding potential donors in accessing the necessary resources to give? It would appear that a large proportion of Canadians would appreciate extra materials or information.

Respondents were asked whether they would find each of the following useful:

Large majorities (at least 74% for each) say each of the charitable information sources canvassed would either “definitely” or “possibly” be useful to them. The most popular option is more easily accessible information:

The importance of education

Charity has evolved over the years. Certainly, there are foundational organizations that have been around for decades and are recognizable to most everyone – the Red Cross, World Vision, UNICEF – but the sector in 2017 bares little resemblance to the one that began to emerge after the Second World War. Consider that today, there are 85,000 registered charities and 170,000 non-profit organization in Canada alone.

One of the elements that has changed in Canadian society is the linkage between schools and giving. As the following graph shows, younger Canadians say they are much more likely to have discussed these issues in the classroom:

Familial conversations also appear to play a role in Canadians’ giving propensity. Overall, half say that they had conversations with their parents about charity and charitable giving when they were growing up, while half say they did not.

The importance of these conversations is evident when considering the responses between Non-Donors and Super Donors. Two-thirds (64%) of those who give the most say they were exposed to these concepts at home, while the proportions are inverted for Non-Donors – two-thirds (64%) of whom say they were not.

Twice as many Canadians say charitable giving was a lower priority for their parents than it is for them. (31% lower vs. 14% higher), though a plurality says “about the same” (39%).

One area where Canadians appear relatively unified is the idea that it is important to continue to teach children the importance of giving. Overall, nine-in-ten (89%) agree with this concept; even eight-in-ten Non-Donors (78%) agree, though they’re much less likely to do so “strongly” as seen in the following graph:

Coming up next

The third installment of this Angus Reid Institute-CHIMP partnership – to be released next week – will focus on the giving habits of Canadians under age 35. Data from Statistics Canada[11] suggests that people in this age group are less likely to donate to charity, and typically give less money than other age groups. This ARI-CHIMP research interrogates the reasons for this pattern, and considers the attitudes and behaviours that set the Millennial generation apart from other Canadians when it comes to charitable giving.


Notes on methodology

To streamline the survey data regarding Canadians’ overall charitable giving, ARI researchers sorted respondents into four main donor types; in relative order of their respective involvement in charitable giving, these four groups are: Non-Donors, Casual Donors, Prompted Donors and Super Donors.

This analytical exercise first involved assigning an a priori definition to the two “goalpost” groups:

Finally, the 21 per cent of Canadians we have qualified as Super Donors give a minimum of $100 to charity per year (the mean amount they give is much higher, well over $1,000).

Then, dealing with the roughly two-thirds of Canadians landing in between these two poles involved some further analysis of people’s reactions to different modes of charitable appeal.


The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.


Summary tables follow. For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here[12].

For detailed results by the four behavioural segments, click here[13].

Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology[14]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[15]

  1. CHIMP: Charitable Impact Foundation:
  2. CanadaHelps:
  3. research has indicated:
  4. see comprehensive tables for greater detail:
  5. the first installment:
  6. see behavioural tables:
  7. part one:
  8. Related – Black Friday and Charity: Are retailers really helping out or just cashing in?:
  9. see behaviour tables:
  10. generally prefer:
  11. from Statistics Canada:
  12. click here:
  13. click here:
  14. Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology:
  15. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

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