Sunday, April 22, 2018

Decline in Religious Attendance a Challenge for Charities

In 2014, Canadians gave over $14.3 billion to charity. That’s good news, and worth celebrating.

But there are worrisome signs ahead. Today, fewer Canadians are making donations, and the future is of giving uncertain.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from Imagine Canada titled “30 Years of Giving in Canada.”

The report, which uses taxfiler data to explore how giving has changed over the past three decades, found the number of Canadian taxfilers claiming a charitable deduction is falling.

In 2015 20.9 percent of taxfilers claimed a deduction, compared to 25.1 percent ten years earlier. In 1989 that figure was over 29 percent.

it also found the size of donations is decreasing. Baby boomers give less than their parents. And it appears their children and grandchildren will give less than them, too.

The report concludes that charities will need to find new ways to engage younger people—before it’s too late.

“The Boomer generation, which has been the mainstay of the charitable sector for the past 30 years, is aging,” the report states.

“There is a limited amount of time to tap into the philanthropic impulses of this generation and it is unclear if younger generations will take their place.”

I contacted Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, to get his take on the challenges and opportunities facing the charitable sector today.

“The data is crystal clear,” he says. “The population that does the most giving is getting older.”

These loyal and regular givers are keeping charities alive today, he adds, “but they are aging out, they are literally dying.”

At the same time the best givers are getting older, “the data shows the number of donors is dropping and the percent of tax filers [claiming a charitable donation] is going down.”

It’s like a pipeline, he says. At one end is a bulge of older donors and boomers. At the other end, however, where younger people should be, “the pipeline isn’t full. Instead, it’s shrinking.”

It’s not that younger people aren’t interested in making the world a better place, he states. “They have social justice coded into their DNA.”

But how will they learn about the importance of donating, not just signing petitions or marching for justice?

That's where faith comes in, MacDonald says.

“When I talk to older Canadians about where they learned to give and be generous, many cited their churches or other places of worship,” he shares of how they learned about giving as children.

“That’s where they learned the value of giving, the importance of volunteering and being an active community member.”

But with fewer people—especially fewer younger people—going to places of worship on a regular basis, he wonders where that modelling for giving will take place today.

If people no longer learn about giving at places of worship, he asks, “how do we create new social norms around giving?”

“Liking something on social media isn’t the same as putting money in the collection plate,” he states. 

In its report, Imagine Canada notes that “giving is a learned behavior. Canadians who participate in giving or volunteering activities when they are young . . . are more likely to donate as adults.”

With attendance at worship services dropping, where will the next generation learn to be givers?

Charities—and Canadian society at large—will need to figure that out, and quick. Or, as MacDonald puts it, “we will all be in trouble in the future.”

From the April 21 Winnipeg Free Press

Monday, April 2, 2018

Giving for Relief & Development is Up, But Why? And Who is Doing the Giving?

In a previous post, I noted that between 2000-13 there was an increase in the number of Canadians donating to international relief and development.

In that time frame, 1.2 million more people made a donation to an international NGO (from 1.9 million to 3.1 million).

By 2013, 10% of donations were going to international relief and development, up from 5% in 2000.

That made it the fourth most popular cause in terms of giving, after religion, health and social services.

What accounts for the increase? I have a few ideas.

One reason is growing need, both in Canada and around the world—earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, hurricanes and hunger emergencies have been in the headlines.

Another reason is that NGOs are getting better at fundraising and marketing.

In the 1980s, when I started in the sector, there were very few fundraisers and virtually no marketers or marketing campaigns.

To be honest, fundraising was considered sort of grubby and dishonorable, a dark and unseemly art.  

Things are very different now. Every NGO employs people today whose main task is to ask for money, and many have sophisticated marketing campaigns. (Bought a goat or chicken recently?)

Then there are the government matches for humanitarian disasters.

Since the first 1:1 match in 2004 following the southeast Asia tsunami, there have been 13 matches to date. Altogether, they have raised over $600 million from Canadians for disasters around the world.

It’s no surprise they’ve worked so well; Canadians love a deal. The prospect of seeing a donation doubled is very appealing.

The rise of social media might have helped, too; it’s never been easier to share information about needs in the developing world.

Anyone else have other reasons to suggest?

Who is Giving?

That’s the why for giving to international causes, but who is giving? What characteristics do they have?

According information supplied by David Lasby of Imagine Canada, the significant predictors of the likelihood of donating to International causes include age, level of education, marital status and religiosity.

As for age and marital status, research shows that married people (or those in long-term committed relationships) and older people give more to charity in general. 

But why to they also give more to international causes? Maybe it's just because married and older people give more, period, and NGOs are among the beneficiaries. (But if anyone has another answer, let me know.) 

In the end, there aren’t huge variances for age and marital status; the groups are separated by only a few percent. (Although older people tend to make larger donations.)

The bigger differences are in education and religion.

It’s no surprise that people with higher educations donate to international causes; they are likely more aware of events in the world.

But what about religion—why is that a predictor?

There are at least two reasons.

First, religion teaches that people have a duty or obligation to help the needy. And almost every major religion subscribes to some form of what Christians call the Golden Rule (treat others they way you want to be treated).

And as a 2017 Angus Reid survey discovered, religiously committed Canadians are twice as likely as others to say “concern for others” is one of the most important things for them.

Second, places of worship regularly tell attenders about the needs of the world, through pastoral prayers, sermons, sharing, Christian education classes or before the offering.

Church mailboxes for members are also filled with appeals from groups that churches support.

This correlation between religiosity and giving is supported by research from Statistics Canada, which also found that religiously-active people also donate far more than others ($1,004 vs. $313, 2010 figures).

But here’s the thing about religion and education; while the number of people attending university has grown since 2000 (currently holding around 2 million students a year), the number of people who attend religious services is falling.

Indeed, the fastest growing “religion” in Canada today is the “nones”—people who, when asked which religion they affiliate with, say “none of the above.”

That figure stands at 24%, up from 1% in 1961. Most of these “nones” are younger people.

Since there is a strong correlation between attendance at worship services and donating for relief and development (or giving and volunteering in general), decreasing attendance is a worrisome thing for NGOs (church and non-church alike, since religious people also give outside their church groups).

So while NGOs can celebrate the rise in giving to international relief and development, there are some danger signs on the horizon.

Graphs courtesy of David Lasby of Imagine Canada. Photo at top: Somali family, 2011. Credit Frank Spangler, ADRA.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Counting Engagement by Canadians in International Relief & Development; are NGOs Missing an Important Metric?

Number of Canadians donating to NGOs rising

Canada’s government recently increased its foreign aid budget. Now Canadian NGOs want to show the ruling Liberal Party they made a good decision—and that lots of Canadians support it.

But how to do that? 

Plans are underway for postcard, e-mail and letter writing campaigns, among other things. The hope is that tens of thousands of Canadians will show the government they care about people in need in the developing world.

And also that Canada should keep moving in this positive direction.

But what if it could be shown that lots of Canadians already do care? Not tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, but millions? And that this support is increasing?

What am I talking about? Giving money.

Now, I've met some people who think giving money is the least important way people can show commitment to the cause. 

Letters, MP visits, e-mails, attending events—those are considered to be far superior.

As a fundraiser, I know that isn’t true. Writing letters and e-mails is important, but so is making a donation.

Giving money to a charity is a serious and deliberate act. People don’t give it away easily.

And when you consider the many other options people have for spending their hard-earned dollars, making a donation—especially a larger amountis a significant expression of commitment to a cause.

But if giving money is another important way to measure engagement, how much is being given by Canadians to international causes? And is it growing or decreasing?

That’s what I set to find out. I started by searching online.

The only thing I could find was a 2002 a report titled An Analysis of Canadian Philanthropic Support for International Development and Relief.” It was commissioned by the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and published by the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy—now Imagine Canada.

That report, based on the 2000 Statistics Canada National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating, showed that 5% percent of Canadian donors—about 1.2 million people—supported international causes that year, giving about 3.4% of total donations to NGOs.

The report noted that “Canadians provide only modest philanthropic support for international development and relief efforts.”

However, it went to say there “appears to have been substantial growth in the amount of donations provided to international organizations between 1997 and 2000, which far surpassed the overall growth in charitable donations.”

While that was a hopeful sign, data from 2000 wasn’t going to cut it. So I contacted David Lasby, Director of Research and Evaluation for Imagine Canada, and one of the authors of the 2002 report.

I asked him if Imagine Canada had any updated data on giving for international relief and development. 

He said no; they didn’t.

But, to my surprise—and delight—David took this on as a challenge.

He crunched the numbers for giving to international causes in 2013 (the most recent year for which data was available), using information from that year's National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating.

And what did he find?

“Briefly, things have changed quite a bit somewhat since the earlier numbers,” he reported back to me.

“As of 2013, about 12.8% of donors, or 10.5% of Canadians, donated to International development and relief organizations.”

Collectively, he added “organizations working in this area presently account for about 10% of the total value of donations to all organizations.”

According to Lasby, this totaled about $1.3 billion donated to international NGOs in 2013.

In terms of number of donors, Lasby says his research shows that about 3.1 million Canadians donated that year to help those in need in the developing world—an increase of almost 1.2 million people over 2000.

According to a recent report from Imagine Canada and the Rideau Hall Foundation’s latest report, Thirty Years of Giving in Canada, giving to international relief and development is now the fourth most popular cause for Canadians to give to, after religion (41%), health (13%) and social services (12%).

Or, as that report puts it: "Giving to international causes is increasing, both in terms of the amounts donated and the number of Canadians donating." 

(Above graphic from Imagine Canada; see also this table from Statistics Canada for the donor rate and amounts donated to different organizations in 2013.)

But was that just a blip? Maybe there was a big disaster in 2013 that skewed the numbers.

As it turns out, there was.

That was the year of Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines, a huge disaster that dominated the news.

Canadians donated over $85 million to international NGOs that year to help victims of that disaster. (Spurred on by a government match of 1:1.)

Despite this, Lasby says the data shows there has been a steady climb in donations for relief and development since 2000.

“Looking at the intervening surveys, the increases in percentage of total donation value have been quite consistent,” he says.

His comments made me wonder; could his information be supported by an increase in donations to Canadian NGOs?

With David’s help, I checked out giving to some of the country’s largest and best-known NGOs.

It turns out the answer is yes.

Of the nine major NGOs I looked at, all except one saw their giving increase between 2003 to 2016-17. Some of them increased quite a lot. (See list below.)

So: What does this mean?

When it comes to demonstrating to the government that Canadians care about foreign aid and international development, maybe NGOs have been selling themselves short.

Perhaps there are many more people engaged in our mission than we thought—people who care whether Canada’s aid budget goes up or down.

So maybe instead of only counting postcards, petitions and e-mails—all important things—we can also show politicians our fundraising totals.

That might also tell a very important tale.

Examples of giving to NGOs, 2003-16 (individual donations)

Save the Children: 2003, $3.3 million; 2016, $7.1 million.
Oxfam Canada: 2003, $5.3 million; 2017, $7.1 million.
Plan Canada: 2003, $44.7 million; 2017, $93 million.
Red Cross: 2003, $25.8 million; 2017, $224 million.
Islamic Relief: 2007 (first year of operation), $40,765; 2016, $18.5 million.
World Vision: 2003, $145.1 million; 2016, $348.7 million.
Samaritan’s Purse: 2003, $8.4 million; 2016, $30 million.
Compassion Canada: 2003, $10.5 million; 2017, $61.2 million.
CARE: 2003, $5.4 million; 2017, $5.4 million.

Monday, March 5, 2018

#MeToo Movement Comes to the Aid Sector

So far, the #MeToo movement has encompassed so many worlds—sports, police, military, political, Hollywood, religious, theatre, opera, university, symphony, art, popular music, business, technology, media and publishing.

And now it has also come to my world, the international relief and development sector.

The story broke last month. It involved sexual misconduct by Oxfam UK staff in Haiti seven years ago.

In response, Oxfam UK issued profound apologies, and a senior executive resigned. The organization promised the government, its supporters and others that it will do better in the future.

That wasn’t enough for about 7,000 people in that country, however, who cancelled their regular donations.

Two of the organization’s ambassadors, Minnie Driver and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also quit.

Tutu’s resignation was seen as some as a bit rich, given his church’s record when it comes to sexual abuse.

And his timing was bad; about the same time the Oxfam scandal was breaking, it was revealed the Church of England is facing over 3,000 sexual abuse claims against clergy and others in its parishes. 

The Oxfam scandal also produced calls in Great Britain for the government to reduce the level of money it devotes to foreign aid. It currently gives 0.7% of gross national income, making it one of the most generous countries in the world. 

Prime Minister Teresa May refused. She told the British House of Commons that although the development sector needs to get its house in order, it’s “absolutely crucial that we continue our support through aid for those who are most vulnerable.”

She added, “they [people in the developing world] also deserve to be treated by the same high standards that we would expect to be treated ourselves.”

Which is exactly how those of us who work in the relief and development sector in Canada also feel.

For us, the scandal is absolutely heartbreaking.

Working with some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, our sector is supposed to be better than that—much better. 

We owe it to the people we serve, and to our donors, to operate by the highest ethical and moral standards.

And we do. That doesn’t mean we can rest easy, though. The scandal prompted many aid organizations in Canada to reexamine their policies around misconduct and abuse.

Are they sufficient? Should they be strengthened? And how do we make sure they are communicated throughout our entire organizations, and to our partners on the ground?

There are at least two reasons why we want to make sure these policies are strong, and scrupulously adhered to.

First, to protect the people we serve from any and all harm. Second, to preserve the trust donors place in us to do the right thing with the money they give us, and for the people we serve on their behalf.

That trust is one of our most valuable possessions. It is also a frangible thing. We work hard to earn reputations for efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and ethical conduct.

But it can be lost quickly through poor or bad decisions on the part of staff or management.

And once lost, it is very hard to get back. 

That’s the case in Great Britain, where a recent poll found declining support for charitable giving in that country in the wake of the scandal.

More than a third of those polled said they were less likely to donate to aid groups because of what happened at Oxfam. 

I don’t expect the same thing to happen in Canada. 

So far, nobody has called my organization to cancel their giving. And the Canadian government has reiterated its support for Oxfam Canada and Quebec, and the wider aid sector. 

As bad as it hurts, the scandal will be a significant turning point for all aid groups, including Oxfam.

In an op-ed in the Toronto Star, Oxfam Canada Executive Director Julie Delahanty wrote that this “is not the time for Oxfam to run or hide from these awful stories or make excuses.”

Instead, she stated, “it is the time to wholeheartedly commit to putting in place the people, policies and systems to ensure such events never happen again.”

What happened in Haiti in 2011 was deplorable. What happens next will set the bar even higher for the entire aid sector.

From the March 3, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Turning Newspapers Into Charities: A New Model for the Future?

It’s no secret that Canadian newspapers are struggling.

Some would say they are dying, the victims of a broken business model—done in by the Internet.

People in the newspaper industry are looking for a fix, something to help them survive.

One idea that is getting some traction is the idea of enabling Canadians to make charitable donations to newspapers—turn them into charities that can accept donations and issue tax receipts.

The Canadian government is prepared to give that some thought.

In the most recent budget, it promises to explore "new models that will enable private giving and philanthropic support for trusted, professional, non-profit journalism and local news."

This "could include new ways for Canadian newspapers to innovate and be recognized to receive charitable status for not-for-profit provision of journalism, reflecting the public interest that they serve.”

Here in Winnipeg, Free Press publisher Bob Cox says this is “good news and certainly welcome.”

He notes there is a growing non-profit news industry in the United States, thanks to tax-deductible donations from supporters.

These are media like NPR and PBS, which many Canadians are familiar with, but also outlets such as the Texas Tribune, MinnPost and ProPublica.

I have to admit I’m intrigued by the idea. Even though I'm no expert on newspaper economics, I think it’s worth a try.

But before newspapers rush headlong into the charity model, there are a few questions that come to mind.

Although I'm not an expert on newspaper economics, I know a thing or two about fundraising. 

And if there's one thing fundraisers know: Raising money isn't easy.

Definition of a Charity

But before talking about raising money, we need to first take a look at Canada's Income Tax Act and charities.

The Act uses a common law to define what a charity is, something inherited from Great Britain.

In Canada, an organization is a charity if it fits under one of four things: Relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; or other purposes that benefit the community in a way the courts have said are charitable.

Currently, journalism is not covered by the definition.

Maybe no change is needed; if the government wanted, it could put newspapers under education, or the catch-all “other purposes” that benefit the community.

Whatever way it goes, someone would need to make that ruling.

Advocacy and Benefits

Then there's the issue of advocacy and benefits.

Currently, charities are prohibited from spending more than 10% of their funds on political advocacy.

For newspapers, would this mean needing to be careful how they report about political issues, parties or candidates? 

Would they have to restrict the number of opinions calling for changes in government policies? 

Could they no longer support particular candidates or parties in an election?

For an enterprise worth hundreds of millions of dollars, that might be moot. But the question would still need to be addressed. 

Then there is the matter of benefits.

One of the ideas being suggested to help newspapers is to let people get a charitable tax receipt for buying a subscription to a newspaper.

It would seem like a win-win—the newspaper gets the money, and the subscriber gets a tax break.

It's a great idea, except it's not permitted. 

Canada Revenue Agency rules are very clear that donors should get no benefit from a donation.

It's one of the cardinal rules of fundraising; breaking it can get you into big trouble.

This is why if you go to a fundraising banquet, you get a donation receipt for the amount you gave less the cost of the meal. (That is your benefit.)

If subscribers were to be able to claim their subscriptions as a donation, there would need to be a significant change to the way the CRA currently operates.

The Charitable Landscape

Those are logistical questions. They involve lawyers and accountants. With the right legislative changes, and enough money and expertise (lawyers and accountants are expensive!), the changes can be made.

It’s what happens next that ultimately determines whether the effort is successful: Fundraising.

And the fact of the matter is fundraising is hard—and it’s not getting easier.

First off, the number of Canadians claiming a charitable tax deduction is falling, from 25.1% in 2005 to 20.9% in 2016.

Added to that is the fact that the country’s best givers—older people—are literally dying. There is no guarantee their places will be taken by younger donors.

Speaking of which, younger people tend not to read newspapers, in print or online. They will be a very hard group to fundraise from.

Then there’s the competition; there are over 86,000 charities in Canada, all competing for a decreasing amount of donated money.

It's not like there's a huge well of untapped money out there just wanting for someone to ask for it.

If anything, when it comes to asking for money there are almost more hunters than rabbits.

People are already being asked, again and again. At some point, they might just be tapped out.

What about Foundations?

If appealing to thousands of small donors is difficult, what about foundations? That’s where the big money is, right?

Not as much as you think, at least not here in Canada.

We have fewer foundations than in the U.S. in general and, as far as I can tell, just one dedicated to media. (The Canada Media Fund, which supports TV and digital productions.)

The U.S. meanwhile, has over 1,000 foundations that contributed $1.86 billion to media between 2009-11.

These foundations made over 12,000 grants, but mostly to web and mobile media, vastly outpacing support for traditional media (TV, print, radio).

The foundations making these grants include well-known names like Gates, Knight, MacCarthur, Annenberg and Lilly.

But even if a foundation decides to make a grant to a media outlet, here’s the thing about foundations: They are usually not in it for the long term.

They don’t tend to make lengthy commitments. Three-to-five years is normal. Many prefer to give money to get things started, not hang around forever.

A typical goal is sustainability—being able to survive without the foundation.

Then there’s the application process itself, pages and pages of forms and documents and plans and projections.

This is why many charities today employ full-time grant writers.

But maybe that's OK; what I hear from newspapers is they just want short-term help to tide them over until they find a new model.

It all depends on whether those dollars are available. It would be interesting to find out.

Which Brings us Back to Fundraising.

Whether or not foundations come on board, newspapers will still need to raise funds from smaller donors.

The last thing any organization wants to be is too-reliant on a single source of income. Spreading donations out among thousands of smaller donors can provide longer-term stability.

But fundraising is a unique skill. People take courses, workshops and spend their entire careers trying to figure it out.

Not everyone can do it. It takes a unique personality to be a good fundraiser.

For one thing, you have to be able to ask people for money. Some people would rather gouge out their eyes with a sharp pencil than do that.

When it comes to the media, I can’t think of many journalists who consider it to be high on the list of things they really want to do in life.

If media outlets want to get into the fundraising game, they are going to have to hire fundraisers, marketers and communicators—people with those special skills.

Just putting an ad in the paper and hoping the money rolls in won’t cut it.

The media will need to do marketing, learn about creative offers, designated giving, matching appeals, and donor relations (the “donor journey”).

Figuring out what donors want to give to is art, science and a bit of alchemy these days.

Not only that, increasingly donors want to designate their donations to specific projects, types of work or countries.

This is something charities resist; the best donation is the one marked "use where needed most," since it provides the most flexibility. 

("Where needed most" can also be used for rent, heat, water, electricity bills and staff salaries, since people tend not to designate for those things.)

But donors like to choose countries, people (girls, women, children) and programs (water, food, education, health); it helps them feel more connected through their giving. 

What if they want to do that for newspapers, too? Arts and sports might be the big winners, while international of school boards loses out.

And here’s another thing about donors: They aren’t forever. They come and go. Donor retention is one of the bigger challenges facing any charity today.

Then there’s accountability and transparency—where was the money spent? How much is spent on overhead and salaries? Donors want to know.

Raising money is hard work, in other words. And there are no guarantees.


Boy, do I sound like a downer! I don’t mean to be. I think being able to donate to keep my local newspaper alive is good idea, and one worth exploring.

In fact, it’s already being done, albeit on a small scale, with church-related publications in Canada. Without donations, most wouldn’t be able to survive.

Will it also work for the mainstream media? I don’t know. I'm sure people who work for newspapers and other media outlets have already been thinking about the various issues and questions.

It won't be easy. But I’m game to find out.

I’d even send in a donation.