By Nikki Jamieson
This holiday season, Canadians will be donating $5 billion to charities.
In fact, the amount given from mid-November to the end of December makes up the bulk of what charities are given throughout the year.
“Most years, Canadians give around $12 billion. So 40 per cent of the giving takes place in the last six weeks of the year,” said Bruce MacDonald, CEO and president of Imagine Canada. “It’s an incredibly important time of the year for charities because of that concentration.”
Imagine Canada is an organization whose goal is to strengthen the voice, opportunities and success of Canadian non-profits. Last month, they had released the results of a survey with the headline “Greater transparency would spur charitable donations”.
In a survey of 1,526 random people, completed online, they found that 27 per cent of respondents have little trust in charities and 37 percent were only somewhat trusting of charities. However, 76 per cent saying they made a positive impact with 70 per cent having made a donation in the past year.
However, only 50 per cent said they believed that charities were well managed.
“Charities are very privileged to have a place of high trust in Canadian society. For, let’s face it, over 100 years, Canadian institutions like charities have been working hard, on the ground in communities. I think there is a high place of trust even though attitudes are changing around transparency, and it’s taking time for the sector to catch up. We’re drawing credit on that trust that we’ve been bestowed by Canadian society.”
Although trust in charities has risen in the past few years, it’s a lot of money being given to organizations that aren’t seen as transparent. But according to the survey, and 82 per cent of respondents said that charities were important to Canada.
“First and foremost, Canadians look to give according to their passion or their interests. So quite often you see people who they themselves or a family member has benefited from a service from a charitable organization, they develop more knowledge and affinity for the cause, so quite often, that’s their starting point,” said MacDonald. “That affinity, that cause, is the most powerful reason for giving.”
Currently, there are about 86,000 registered charities in Canada, and the majority of the givers — 58 per cent — research a charity before making a donation, and 86 per cent said that transparency and sound management were key factors when deciding to donate.
“Transparency, as it relates to expectations from Canadians today, is pretty much kind of an open book. Canadians want to know is their money being well spent. Is it delivering on the programs in the communities they hope are making a difference? Are organization open and accountable for those dollars? Are they demonstrating that they are putting their financial statements online, are they talking about who’s on their board of directors? Are they basically taking their impact and evaluation reports and making those publicly available so people can take a look? I think it’s a wide array of things, predominately, it’s about the impact of the programs, and the costs associated with those.”
With the Internet age and rapid advance of technology, what was once seen as transparent in the past is no longer seen that way. Reports and documentations can be accessed by a press of a button, and people expect that these items are readily available, casting suspicion on organizations who don’t do that.
Third party accreditation can help a charity be seen as more transparent. And while financial papers can help you see where the money is being spend, be cautious when looking at what they spend on overhead, since according to the Imagine Canada website, “the measure of an organization’s effectiveness is the impact it makes on the community, not what it spends”, and they do have hard cost, just like everyone else.
Only registered charities are able to provide tax receipts, and the Canada Revenue Agency website can confirm whether or not an organization is a registered charity. Checking the annual reports can also help you see how effective a charity can be, and make sure you know what your rights as a donor are before giving.