Demand hits new highs even as charities struggle with drop in giving

Inflationary pressures and other economic woes have seen charitable giving decrease across the country, an issue for local groups such as the United Way Waterloo Region Communities, which has seen donations fall by 15 per cent over this time last year. “[It] is really scary. We are really, really ru

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Jan 04, 23

3 min read

Inflationary pressures and other economic woes have seen charitable giving decrease across the country, an issue for local groups such as the United Way Waterloo Region Communities, which has seen donations fall by 15 per cent over this time last year.

“[It] is really scary. We are really, really rushing to try and get people to try and help, said the agency’s CEO,” Joan Fisk, of the decline in giving.

A new report by Imagine Canada, which provides support to charities and non-profits, finds the United Way is not alone in that regard. The survey found that 48 per cent of Canadian adults were planning on donating during the holiday season, an eight percentage-point decrease compared to 2021. Of those who said that would still make a donation, 38 per cent said they plan to give less this year.

“Close to 40 per cent of individual giving [takes place] in the last eight weeks of the year. Charities and non-profits rely heavily on the season of giving in Canada, so it looks like it’s going to be a difficult time,” said Imagine Canada president and CEO Bruce MacDonald.

As with many charities, the local United Way organization hopes to leverage the holiday season to bolster its fundraising campaigns.

“Our campaign season runs from October to December because some of our workplace organizations like banks run their campaigns then, but right now, this is when we hope individuals in our community will see the importance of donating to United Way.… We really hope to inspire people this time of year because giving seems to resonate with folks now more than any time in the year,” said Fisk.

United Way has also seen a doubling in the amount of funding requested by the organizations it supports. The $2.5 million sought each quarter far exceeds the $700,000 to $1 million that’s available.

“We wouldn’t normally get $2.5 million requested a quarter. And they’re all legitimate requests. There’s nothing in there that you would say to yourself, ‘oh.’ We’re not able to fund people with the amount that they asked. We’re really getting out a third of the asks right now,” said Fisk.

Such increased demands are reflected in data from across Canada, MacDonald explained.

“Not only does inflation impact decreasing resources for charities, there’s an inverse effect. It increases demand for services. If families are struggling, where do they go to for support? They go to charities and nonprofits. So it makes it doubly difficult because organizations are struggling to meet rising demand due to resources,” he said.

One organization bucking the trend this year is Woolwich Community Services. While it’s seen an increase in requests for the Christmas hampers it prepares, the agency has been able to meet the demand.

“So far our numbers have increased as far as the number of hampers we gave out, but we were able to accommodate all those needs from the generosity of the community,” said executive director Kelly Christie.

Unlike the United Way, WCS has actually seen an increase in the amount of donations it has received.

“I’m going to suggest that donations might be slightly up. I have a wonderful sense of that. “We live in a very giving community and very supportive community that really focuses on taking care of each other and we have been able to meet the needs because of the generosity,” said Christie.

“I think smaller communities support themselves a little bit better than the bigger whole because of the compelling nature of it,” Fisk noted.

While MacDonald said it is hard to predict if an ease in inflation would mean increase in the number of Canadians donating to charities, the challenges could persist into next year.

“What we know from experience is that the health of the non-profit sector is linked to the health of the economy. So we are looking at what the economists are saying. They’re saying that the first two quarters of 2023 are likely recessionary times. That will mean that the pressure of increased demand and decreased resources will continue. That will be tough for charities and non-profits,” he said.

Fisk agreed that it is hard to predict what will happen, noting how hard inflation has been for everyone.

“I think inflation has made it harder. Butter used to cost X and margarine used to cost whatever, and now it’s $9 a tub – it’s hard to believe it. Never mind gas, some of these folks don’t have a car or more than one car. So, we look at the power that poverty holds on people. It’s often cyclical.”

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