Charitable giving by Canadians

by Martin Turcotte

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Every year, millions of people donate money to charitable and non-profit organizations. By contributing financially to organizations and groups that support causes dear to their heart, donors want to contribute to the well-being of their fellow citizens or advance principles and values that they believe in. In recognition of the difference these donations can make in the community, governments provide income tax credits to encourage giving by taxpayers or match the amount donated by individuals in certain cases.

Sources of funding for charitable and non-profit organizations vary significantly according to the particular sector, each receiving greater or lesser levels of support in the form of government subsidies and grants, corporate donations, foundation grants, etc. Despite this diversity, almost all organizations count on individual donations to fulfil their mission and achieve their objectives. In that regard, gaining a better understanding of donors and their motivations can help organizations to make informed decisions.

This article looks at different aspects of charitable giving by Canadians in 2010. First, it provides information about donors and donations, comparing them with those in 2007. It also profiles the types of organizations that received the largest amounts of donations, distinguishing between religious and other types of organizations. People who give to religious organizations differ in some respects from those who give to non-religious ones.

The last section looks at what motivates people to donate and the reasons they cite for not giving more, including things that may have bothered them when they were approached. This information is important to many non-profit organizations that aim to improve their practices in such a way that donors have confidence in them and continue to give.

All the data presented in this article are drawn from the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP). Respondents were asked to report the amount of money they had given to charitable and non-profit organizations­—and which ones. Not all donations reported to the CSGVP are eligible for a tax receipt and thus these data are not directly comparable to data collected from income tax returns. For more information on these data and for definitions of the different concepts used in this article, see "What you should know about this study."


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What you should know about this study

This study is based on data from the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP), which was conducted on a sample of persons aged 15 and over, totalling 15,482 respondents in 2010 and 21,827 respondents in 2007.

Classification of organizations

Respondents were asked to provide the names of the organizations to which they had made donations during the year. Based on survey results from previous years, it was possible to classify a large number of organizations according to their purpose and main activity (since some are active in several fields). For organizations that were not classified, respondents were asked to specify what the organization did.  The international classification of non-profit organizations was used to divide organizations into 15 main activity groups:

Arts and culture: This category includes organizations and activities in general and specialized fields of arts and culture, including media and communications; visual arts, architecture, ceramic art; performing arts; historical, literary and humanistic societies; museums; and zoos and aquariums.

Sports and recreation: This category includes organizations and activities related to amateur sports (including fitness and wellness centers) and recreation and social clubs.

Education and research: This category includes organizations and activities administering, providing, promoting, conducting, supporting and servicing education and research. This includes: (1) primary and secondary education organizations; (2) organizations involved in other types of education (that is, adult/continuing education and vocational/technical schools); and (3) organizations involved in research (that is, medical research, science and technology, and social sciences).

Universities and colleges: This category includes organizations and activities related to higher learning. This includes universities, business management schools, law schools and medical schools.

Health: This category includes organizations that engage primarily in outpatient health-related activities and health support services. This includes: mental health treatment and crisis intervention and other health services (that is, public health and wellness education, outpatient health treatment, rehabilitative medical services, and emergency medical services).

Hospitals: This category includes hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and activities related to rehabilitation such as in-patient health care and rehabilitative therapy.

Social services: This category includes organizations and institutions providing human and social services to a community or target population. Three subgroups are included: (1) social services (including organizations providing services for children, youth, families, the handicapped and seniors, and self-help and other personal social services); (2) emergency and relief; and (3) income support and maintenance.

Environment: This category includes organizations promoting and providing services in environmental conservation, pollution control and prevention, environmental education and health, and animal protection. Two subgroups are included: environment and animal protection.

Development and housing: This category includes organizations promoting programs and providing services to help improve communities and promote the economic and social well-being of society. Three subgroups are included: (1) economic, social and community development (including community and neighbourhood organizations); (2) housing; and (3) employment and training.

Law, advocacy and politics: This category includes organizations and groups that work to protect and promote civil and other rights, advocate for social and political interests of general or special constituencies, offer legal services, and promote public safety. Three subgroups are included: (1) civic and advocacy organizations; (2) law and legal services; and (3) political organizations.

Grant-making, fundraising and voluntarism promotion: This category includes philanthropic organizations and organizations promoting charity and charitable activities including grant-making foundations, organizations promoting and supporting voluntarism, and fundraising organizations.

International: This category includes organizations promoting cultural understanding between peoples of various countries and historical backgrounds, as well as those providing emergency relief and promoting development and welfare abroad.

Religion: This category includes organizations promoting religious beliefs and administering religious services and rituals (for example, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, shrines, seminaries, monasteries and similar religious institutions), in addition to related organizations and auxiliaries of such organizations.

Business and professional associations, unions: This category includes organizations promoting, regulating and safeguarding business, professional and labour interests.

Groups not elsewhere classified


Average annual donation

This is the average amount donated by donors to charitable and other non-profit organizations during the 12-month reference period preceding the survey. It is not the average over the entire population.


These are people who made at least one financial donation to a charitable or other non-profit organization in the 12-month reference period preceding the survey. This definition excludes people who donated loose change in coin collection boxes located beside cash registers at store check-outs, in malls at Christmas, at entrances to stores, etc.

Financial donation

A financial donation is money given to a charitable or other non-profit organization during the 12-month reference period preceding the survey. Money given to the same organization, on multiple occasions, through the same solicitation method, is considered only one donation. For example, all money donated to a particular religious institution through a collection at the place of worship, over the 12 month period preceding the survey, would be considered a single donation.

In order to compare the amounts donated in 2010 to those donated in 2007, the amounts for 2007 were adjusted using the Consumer Price Index to account for inflation.

Top donors

Top donors are defined as the 25% of donors who contributed the most money.

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Donations totalled about $10.6 billion in 2010

In 2010, the total amount of financial donations that individuals made to charitable or non-profit organizations stood at $10.6 billion, about the same amount as in 20071 (Table 1).

Table 1 Donors and donations, population aged 15 and over, 2007 and 2010Table 1 Donors and donations, population aged 15 and over, 2007 and 2010

The average annual amount per donor was $446 in 2010, while the median amount was $123. A median amount means that half of donors gave less than this amount and the other half gave more.2

In addition to financial donations, many people gave clothing, toys or household items to charitable or non-profit organizations (79%) and others gave food (62%) (Chart 1). Overall, almost all Canadians aged 15 and over (94%) gave goods or food, or made a financial donation.

Chart 1 Percentage of people giving to charitable and non-profit organizations, by type of donation, population aged 15 and over, 2007 and 2010Chart 1 Percentage of people giving to charitable and non-profit organizations,