Canadians are getting less generous, according to an annual survey of charitable giving by the Fraser Institute.

The practice of donating to charitable causes has been falling since 2005, with both the number of people giving and the amount they give in decline, according to Charles Lammam, co-author of the study.

In 2012, the most recent year that Statistics Canada has data, 22.3 per cent of Canadian tax filers donated to charity, down from the recent peak of 25.1 per cent in 2005. In 2011, 22.4 per cent of Canadians gave.

In 2012, Canadians gave 0.61 per cent of their total income to registered charities, down from 0.81 per cent in 2006.

That’s a substantial drop in dollar terms, Lammam said. Charitable donations totalled about $9 billion in 2012, but would have been $2.9 billion higher if Canadians were still giving at 2006 levels, he said.

“The finding that shows we are not as generous, I think shocks a lot of Canadians, because we have a perception of our generosity,” Lammam said in an interview with CBC News.

More generous Manitobans

Many Canadians give at Christmas, to causes as diverse as health charities, religious institutions, environmental causes and charities that provide basic needs such as food or shelter.

The Fraser Institute study found there is also a difference in levels of giving across the country. Manitobans were the most generous, with 25.4 per cent of tax filers giving an average of 0.81 per cent of their incomes.

Canadian charitable giving 2012

Quebeckers ranked last among the provinces in generosity, giving an average of $726 — less than half the national average of $1,523. But Nunavut, with its small population, had the fewest donors, about 9.3 per cent of tax filers.

Ontario saw the most rapid drop in charitable giving, with 25.7 per cent of tax filers giving in 2007, but just 23.5 per cent giving in 2012.

Lower incomes and difficulty making ends meet is often seen as a key cause of lower charitable giving, said Lammam, who is associate director of tax and fiscal policy at the Fraser Institute.

But even compared to 2009, at the depth of the financial crisis, Canadians gave less in 2012.

Complicated reasons for not giving

 “This is a relatively recent phenomenon, that giving is falling,” Lammam said. “What’s interesting to me is that the decline began before the big recession. There is something beyond that that explains the fall.”

“It’s a very complicated set of factors. It’s not something that we look into.”

While Lammam did not research the reasons for the decline in giving, he could guess at potential reasons based on other research about charitable giving.

Among them:

  • Declining income levels
  • The way the tax system operates.
  • The scope of government involvement in activities traditionally provided by charities.
  • A decline in attachment to religious institutions.
  • Changing perceptions of charities among former donors.

“Charities across the country are providing critical services to Canadians. It’s good for us to get a sense of what resources they have available. They give counselling services, the provision of basic necessities, social programs and education,” Lammam said.  

There is also a “generosity gap” between the U.S. and Canada, which is more longstanding, because incomes tend to be higher in the U.S. and people are more attached to religious institutions. The average level of giving in the U.S. is 25.9 per cent of tax filers.