Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians: Highlights from the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating

    Summary of main findings

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    Giving to charitable and nonprofit organizations
    Volunteering through an organization
    Helping others directly
    Patterns of support and linkages

    Giving to charitable and nonprofit organizations

    Almost 23 million Canadians – 84% of the population aged 15 and over – made a financial donation to a charitable or other nonprofit organization in the 12-month period covered by the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP).1 While the donation rate is virtually the same as that reported in 2004 (85%), the number of donors increased by approximately 2.9%, in part due to a 3.7% increase in the population of Canadians aged 15 and older.

    Canadians donated a total of $10 billion in 2007, which represents an increase of 12% in donations from the $8.9 billion reported in 2004.2 Religious organizations were the biggest beneficiaries, receiving 46% of all donated dollars followed by health organizations (15%) and social services organizations (10%). The average annual donation increased by 9% (from $400 in 2004 to $437 in 2007). Although the average value of donations increased, the average number of donations decreased from 4.3 in 2004 to 3.8 in 2007.

    While the vast majority of Canadians make financial donations, a minority account for most of the dollars donated. The top 25% of donors (who contributed $364 or more annually) accounted for 82% of the total value of donations. The top 10% (who contributed $1,002 or more annually) accounted for 62% of the total value.

    Those who give the most are more likely than others to be older, to have higher household incomes and more formal education, to be married or widowed, and to be religiously active. Although donors with higher household incomes tend to donate larger amounts in absolute terms, those with lower incomes give more when their donations are expressed as a percentage of total income.

    Canadians make donations most frequently in response to a request through the mail, when asked by someone in a public place such as on the street or in a shopping centre, or in response to door-to-door canvassing. In terms of the amounts donated, however, 42% of the total value of donations is collected in places of worship while 16% is donated in response to requests through the mail. Donors who planned their donations in advance and supported the same organizations repeatedly over time give significantly more than those who do not.

    The most frequently reported motivations for making donations were feeling compassion for those in need, wanting to help a cause in which the donor personally believes, and wanting to make a contribution to the community. Donors also give because they or someone they know has been personally affected by the cause of the organization or because of religious obligations or beliefs.

    When asked why they do not give more money to charities and nonprofit organizations, donors most frequently reported that they could not afford to give more, they were happy with what they had already given, or that they had given money directly to people in need, without going through an organization. However, significant numbers of donors also indicated that they did not like the ways in which requests for donations were made, they did not think that the money would be used efficiently, or that they were not asked to make a financial donation.

    Volunteering through an organization

    Almost 12.5 million Canadians or 46% of the population aged 15 and over, volunteered during the one-year period preceding the survey.3 The rate of volunteering is largely unchanged from the 45% reported in 2004. However, the number of volunteers has increased by 5.7% due, in part, to the increase in the size of the population aged 15 and older.

    Canadians volunteered almost 2.1 billion hours in 2007 – the equivalent of close to 1.1 million full-time jobs. This represents a 4.2% increase in hours since 2004. There was, however, little change in the average number of hours volunteered (168 in 2004 vs. 166 in 2007). Most of the hours contributed went to sports and recreation, social services, education and research, and religious organizations.

    Although just under half of Canadians volunteer, a small minority of volunteers account for the bulk of volunteer hours. The top 25% of volunteers, who contributed 171 or more hours annually, accounted for over three-quarters (78%) of total volunteer hours. The top 10% (who contributed 421 hours or more) contributed 52% of total hours.

    The highest rates of volunteering were found among young Canadians, those with higher levels of formal education and household income, those with school-aged children in the household, and the religiously active. Those who contribute the most hours have somewhat different characteristics. They are more likely to be seniors, to have higher levels of education, lower household incomes, no children in the household, and to be religiously active. Similar patterns were seen among top volunteers in 2004.

    The most frequent types of volunteer activities that Canadians reported were organizing or supervising events, fundraising, sitting on committees or boards and teaching, educating or mentoring.

    The role of the Internet in volunteering appears to be increasing slowly. Almost a quarter of volunteers (23%) said they used the Internet in some way during the course of their volunteering, compared to 20% in 2004. Similarly, 10% used it to search for volunteering opportunities during 2007, compared to 8% in 2004.

    The reasons most frequently reported for volunteering were to make a contribution to the community, to use skills and experiences, and having been personally affected by the cause the organization supports. Other reasons, reported by close to half of volunteers, were to explore strengths, to network with or meet people, or because friends volunteered. Volunteers also identified a number of benefits that they received from their activities. The most common benefits were the development of interpersonal skills, communications skills and organizational or managerial skills.

    What keeps Canadians from volunteering more? The majority of both volunteers and non-volunteers identified the lack of time as a barrier and over half reported that they were unable to make a long-term commitment to volunteering. For example, many individuals indicated that they did not volunteer more or volunteer at all because they were not asked. Other barriers included not knowing how to become involved and the financial costs associated with volunteering.

    Helping others directly

    In 2007, 84% of Canadians indicated that they provided direct help to others who live outside of their household (i.e., they did not provide such help through an organization). The rate of direct helping was essentially unchanged from the 83% reported in 2004. The most common types were: help with work around the home; health-related or personal care including emotional support, counseling, providing advice and visiting the elderly; and help by shopping or driving someone to a store or appointments. Almost half of those who provided direct help did so at least once a week. Help was provided most frequently by those aged 15 to 34 and those with higher household incomes and educational attainment.

    Patterns of support and linkages

    The 2007 CSGVP measures three types of prosocial behaviour – charitable giving, volunteering and helping others directly – and these behaviours have strong linkages, such that participation in one is associated with participation in others. Thirty-seven percent of Canadians engaged in all three behaviours while 41% engaged in two behaviours. In contrast, just 17% participated in only a single prosocial behaviour. In addition, the intensity of participation in any given behaviour increases as the number of them undertaken increases. For example, the average amount donated increases with the number of prosocial behaviours that people perform.4

    One manifestation of the linkages among these three behaviours is that support to nonprofit and voluntary organizations is concentrated among a small minority of Canadians. The top quarter of donors (who gave $364 or more) who also volunteered at least one hour during 2007 accounted for just 14% of the Canadian population, but contributed 59% of total donations and 40% of total volunteer hours.


    1. The term Canadians is used throughout this publication to refer to the population targeted by the survey. Residents of Canada who were not Canadian citizens may have been respondents to this survey. For a complete definition of the target population, please refer to Appendix 1, Glossary of terms.
    2. Dollar figures in this report do not adjust for the effects of inflation between 2004 and 2007.
    3. In the CSGVP, volunteering is defined as doing activities without pay on behalf of a group or an organization, and includes mandatory community service.
    4. The top 25% of donors who volunteered are sometimes referred to as core supporters.
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