Karen McCleave, former Assistant Crown Attorney, sounds alarm on Canadian charitable giving 


As a former Assistant Crown Attorney working in the criminal courts of the Greater Toronto area, Karen McCleave understands the essential role nonprofits can play in supporting our vulnerable citizens and addressing society’s most intractable social issues.

When families fracture, when economic circumstances, addiction or mental illness result in homelessness, the intervention of nonprofits can be the difference between success and catastrophic failure.

So when McCleave read the latest figures detailing charitable giving in Canada, alarm bells rang. According to a report recently issued by the Fraser Institute, philanthropic donations are at their lowest level in two decades across Canada. Fewer people are giving; those who do, give less. The slide has been steep — from approximately one quarter of Canadians making charitable donations 20 years ago, to about 19 percent today.

“Many people assume that charitable giving is not as necessary in Canada as in some other places because of our government social programs,” says McCleave. “But this safety net is not as comprehensive as we might believe. Many individuals and families are falling through the cracks, and it is frequently only the kindness of strangers that can keep them from poverty, hopelessness and despair.”

According to the survey, Canadians were most generous in 2006, the year of peak giving. But even that peak wasn’t exactly a mountain, with an average of 0.72 percent of gross income being earmarked for charity. That number now stands at less than half of one percent of gross income.

The report, titled “Generosity in Canada: The 2022 Generosity Index” is based on charitable donation data reported on Canadian tax returns. The Fraser Institute is a Vancouver-based think tank that takes a nonpartisan perspective on current public policy issues.

Do you think that Canadians are more generous than our American neighbours to the south? We’re not. In 2019, Americans donated slightly more than 1 percent of income to charity. The authors of the report refer to this as a “generosity gap” that represents $9.6 billion in lost resources for Canadian charities.

Although no province met the American level of charitable donations, Manitoba was number one in Canadian giving. Manitobans gave an average of 0.78 percent to charity. Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and the northern territories recorded the lowest figures.

The Institute released their findings only ten days before Christmas for a reason: “The holiday season is a time to reflect on charitable giving, and the data shows Canadians are consistently less charitable every year, which means charities face greater challenges to secure resources to help those in need,” says co-author Jake Fuss, the Fraser Institute’s Associate Director of Fiscal Studies.

Based on her community work experience, Karen McCleave agrees. “Resources are scarce and nonprofits have already been pushed to the limit in attempting to help those who are in critical need. We are talking about desperate people who often have nowhere else to turn, and in fact may not even seek out help, believing there is nothing that can make a difference in their lives. We as Canadians have a reputation for being some of the nicest people on the planet, and that is well-deserved, but here we need to do better. What can you do?”