A couple of weeks back, I was invited to speak with Julia Gorman, vice-president of resource development at United Way Toronto & York Region. The organization’s annual fundraising campaign kicked off in September, and so it seemed a good opportunity to give the United Way a bit of a plug and at the same time learn what it’s like to raise funds for a charitable organization in today’s economy.

As I prepared for the interview, I was surprised to learn that charitable giving has largely recovered since the 2008 downturn. According to a June 2012 report, Canadians donated $10.6 billion to charities and non-profit organizations in 2010. That’s up slightly from the $10.4 billion donated in 2007, according to Statistics Canada.

That’s not much growth, of course. In percentage terms, the increase is just 1.9%. Given that the population of Canadians aged 15 and older grew by 4.5% (and our economic growth rate was even stronger) during that same period, one has to draw the conclusion that charities and non-profits have taken a hit. But it’s a smaller hit than I expected to see.

Statistics Canada reports that 84% of Canadians aged 15 and older donated in 2010, and that the average number of donations per individual was 3.8. Both those numbers match the 2007 findings. The average amount received per donor dropped from $457 in 2007 to $446 in 2010. And the average donation fell from $119 in 2007 to $114 in 2010. (These results are in 2010 dollars.)

I asked Gorman what it’s been like at the United Way, and what she’s heard from other professionals in the charitable/non-profit sector. She made three observations:

  • Public sector support is down. “Governments at all levels are cutting back,” she told me. “As a result, charities are having to refocus on private sector support. And with the economy, that’s challenging.”
  • While private sector giving has stabilized, fundraisers are worried about future growth. “2008 was a very challenging year for many – if not most – charities across the country,” Gorman said. “And 2009 continued to be very challenging. Things are slowly improving and charitable giving has stabilized. But it is not growing at the levels we saw a decade or even five years ago.” United Way Toronto saw a 2% decline in giving in 2008, relative to the previous year. It has recovered since.
  • Employment support programs are key. No big surprise there. Gorman told me there’s a real need among young adults and newcomers to Canada. “The youth unemployment rate is double that of the general population,” she said. Statistics Canada data puts the unemployment rate among landed immigrants a full percentage point above the national average.

For information on what United Way does nationally, visit unitedway.ca.