Year-round generosity

December 24, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 1
Darren Pries-Klassen |

The Christmas holiday season brought a bombardment of consumerism. Retailers hoped you’d blow your shopping budget on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But the day after this festive frenzy is now known as Giving Tuesday, a day that demonstrates how charities, businesses and individuals can transform the way we think about, and participate in, this season of giving.

What began in 2012 as a grassroots effort with 2,500 non-profit agencies, grew to include 20,000 charities in 2014, and donors responded. Online donations on Giving Tuesday were up 90 percent in 2013 and a further 60 percent in 2014. While Giving Tuesday has raised awareness of giving by designating a day for charitable activity, real success will happen by an overall increase in year-round generosity.

Henry Timms, the high-profile philanthropist and founder of Giving Tuesday, stated the goal of the event this way on Forbes.com: “The most passionate givers come to celebrate the cause [their charity of choice] on a year-round basis. . . . There’s nothing more valuable to a non-profit than recurring giving.”

Canadians are already making recurring gifts, as evidenced by the relatively consistent $9 billion given annually since 2008. This might indicate stability, but there is more to consider. The number of donors is decreasing, while the number of charities in Canada is growing. The pie hasn’t grown; there’s just more competition for who gets a piece and how big to slice it.

According to current research on giving attitudes and motivations, more and more people are interested in being part of something that makes a difference. This is great news for the sector. According to research by BMO, $1 trillion is expected to pass from one generation to the next in Canada over the next couple of decades. Most will go to family, but some will also go to charity. If charities want more of those dollars, they’ll need to do four things:

  • Prove themselves worthy recipients. Charities need to clearly articulate their purpose using a variety of media, including print resources, mailings, social media and the website.
  • Focus on impact and engagement. Charities need to tell stories of the difference they’re making in people’s lives, and show donors how their contributions make this happen. People give to causes, not to “overhead” and “administrative costs.”
  • Incorporate gift planning—legacy giving, future gifts and deferred gifts—into their promotional and fundraising efforts. Charities should encourage donors to consider bequests along with gifts of life insurance, securities and RRSPs. The majority of planned gifts in Canada come in the form of bequests from generous people who consider charitable causes in their wills.
  • Change the mindset from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking. In the late 1980s, almost 30 percent of Canadians claimed a charitable donation on their taxes. That number has been steadily declining, falling to 23 percent last year. On average, Canadians now give less than 1 percent of their annual income to charity. If charities can get people to focus on their blessings, people will be more likely to give.

The $9 billion pie is capable of significant growth in Canada, but it requires more than just a generous heart on Giving Tuesday. We need year-round generosity. For those who join Mennonite Foundation of Canada in believing that we serve a God of abundance, and that generosity is a form of worship, the message is clear: Our God is generous all the time. We should be too!

Darren Pries-Klassen is executive director of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.

—Posted Jan. 2, 2015

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