Tracking generosity in Canada

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, has created a "Generosity Index" that uses tax data to measure how and how much is given to charity across the country. The 2011 index is now available, and raises some interesting points for charities in troubled economic times.

The Fraser Institute’s Generosity Index uses readily available data to measure private monetary generosity in Canada and the United States.  Two key indicators are used to measure generosity: the extent of generosity is indicated by the percentage of tax filers who donated to charity, while the depth of charitable giving is indicated by the percentage of aggregate personal income donated.  The 2011 Generosity Index was calculated with 2009 data, the latest data available.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest percentage (20.8%) of tax filers that donated to charity during the 2009 tax year, while Manitoba had the highest (26.0%).  Newfoundland and Labrador ranked 9 out of 13 jurisdictions for “percentage of aggregate income donated to charity”, and 12 out of 13 for “average charitable donation”.  When taking the United States into account (50 states plus Washington, DC), Newfoundland and Labrador ranked 50 out of 64 for the “percentage of tax filers donating to charity”, 60 out of 64 for “percentage of aggregate income donated to charity”, and 63 of 64 for “average charitable donation”, which was only $934.  The jurisdiction with the highest average charitable donation was South Dakota ($7,580).  Newfoundland and Labrador’s Generosity Index was 2.2 (score out of 10) and it ranked 58th of 64 jurisdictions.  The top ranked jurisdiction was Utah with a score of 8.8.  Canada’s highest ranked province was Manitoba, which ranked 34th overall and had a Generosity Index of 3.8.  Quebec ranked last among Canadian provinces, placing 59th with a score of 2.0.  The three territories fell at the bottom of the list with Yukon placing 60th, Northwest Territories placing 63rd, and Nunavut placing 64th.

The percentage of tax filers donating to charity fell in almost every Canadian province between 1999 and 2009.  The results of the Generosity Index indicate that a smaller number of citizens are donating to charities over time.  However, results using 2010 data indicate a reversal in this trend.  The 2011 Generosity Index shows that private monetary generosity in Canada is much lower than in the United States.  Nevertheless, comparisons between Canada and the United States are problematic because each government has a different support system for social services. 

Notes: Earlier editions of the Generosity Index incorporated donations of time as well as money, but the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) no longer collects data on volunteer time.  This data is collected through Statistics Canada, but it is only published every three years, and results lag by two years.  This causes the survey results to not match the years of tax data used for the Generosity Index.  It should also be noted that in Canada, it is possible to carry charitable contributions forward for up to five years after the year in which they were originally made.  Thus, donations reported for the 2009 tax year could include donations that were made in the previous five years, and those made in 2009 may not have been claimed.  However, in the United States charitable contributions must be made before the end of the tax year to be deductible.

References and More Information