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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Canadians are prioritizing charities in holiday giving, but focus too much on overhead: Survey

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A solid majority of Canadians will show their generosity of spirit this holiday season by giving to charity, but many are overly concerned that their donation will support overhead, according to a survey by Leger on behalf of Imagine Canada.

The survey, which examined holiday season charitable giving and attitudes about charitable donations, found that 62 percent of Canadians intend to donate to charity over the holidays. Eight-in-ten (81 percent) cited “helping the less fortunate” as their motivation to give.

Holiday giving findings:

  • 33 percent intend to volunteer their time, rather than money, to a charitable cause
  • 33 percent want to set an example for their children or others about the importance of giving back
  • 26 percent plan to make a donation in someone’s honour in place of a traditional gift
  • 42 percent say they are donating to experience the joy of giving and celebrate the spirit of the holidays
  • 61 percent of those not making a charitable donation cite lack of funds as the reason

However, the not-so-good news is that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of those surveyed think that charities spend too much on administration. Only seven per cent of those polled disagreed with the notion that charities spend too much on administration.

Overhead costs also emerged as one of the most important factors Canadians consider when they are asked for a donation. Four-in-ten (39 percent) indicated that had made a donation in the past 12 months expressly because the charity had demonstrated that their donation would go to the cause, not overhead.

The only considerations that ranked higher in people’s minds when deciding whether to donate was “interest in the cause” (41 percent) and “the charity shares my values” (40 percent).

“This holiday season Canadians will help thousands of charities serve their respective causes and their generosity is magnificent,” says Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada, the national umbrella organization serving charities. “However, the idea that overhead is bad is a popular misconception. The true measure of a charity’s effectiveness is its impact on the cause it serves. Effective administration enables fundraising, infrastructure and staffing that are essential to fulfilling a charity’s mission. Real impact requires real investment.”

According to Imagine Canada, donor concern about overhead spending raises serious questions about how charities can deliver value if there is little or no appetite to support infrastructure. In fact, research suggests lower administrative costs can limit a charity’s effectiveness.

“Wise spending and financial accountability are important, but overhead is not a measure of how efficiently the cause is being served,” says MacDonald. “We invite Canadians to engage with charities about how money is spent and why infrastructure is essential. The best approach is to get to know the charities and nonprofits you support and explore the potential for making a difference.”

Canadians interested in learning more about charities can access a wealth of free information from Imagine Canada. A good starting point is the Guide to Giving with practical tips for donors; Charity Focus provides a high level look at every registered charity in the country; and Imagine Canada’s Sector Source contains facts and figures about charities and nonprofits.

Additional findings and regional information

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Campaigns for Canadians to Consider this Holiday Giving Season

Through the Stretch campaign (www.imaginecanada.ca/thestretch), Imagine Canada is inviting charities to tell their Members of Parliament to endorse the Stretch Tax Credit in order to help Canadians give more throughout their lifetime to shape communities here and throughout the world. More than half of donors say they would increase their giving if there were better tax incentives. If realized, the Stretch Tax Credit for Charitable Giving could provide Canadians an extra incentive to stretch their giving.

For those thinking of starting their charitable gift giving now, My Giving Moment (www.mygivingmoment.ca) is a campaign to inspire and help more Canadians discover what they have to give to their communities, neighbours, charities and causes. The campaign was inspired by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

GivingTuesday (www.givingtuesday.ca) is a national giving day taking place Tuesday, December 2. Just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season, GivingTuesday is the opening day of the holiday giving season. It celebrates and encourages donations and volunteering activities that support any and all charities and nonprofit organizations. GivingTuesday in Canada is an initiative of CanadaHelps and GIV3. The original movement started in the US in 2012 by the UN Foundation, the NYC 92Y and several other community organizations.


A survey of 1,543 Canadians was completed online between October 27 and October 30, 2014, using Leger’s, LegerWeb panel. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of ± 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

About Imagine Canada

Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities and nonprofits. Our three broad goals are to strengthen the sector’s collective voice, create opportunities to connect and learn from each other and build the sector’s capacity to succeed.

For further information and interview requests:

Leslie Booth
Xposure PR
(905) 339-2209, ext. 6

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