Charity and the holiday season

During the holidays, it is hard to walk down the street, through a mall or turn on the television without being reminded to give. Whether it’s contributing time, money or blood, the holiday season is a hugely important time for charitable foundations across Canada.

“The Christmas holiday season is our biggest fundraising time of the year,” said Canadian World Wildlife Fund VP: marketing and communications representative Christina Topp.

She estimated that if one only considers donations being made specifically during the holidays – excluding year-round contributors – that approximately 40 to 50 per cent of WWF’s fundraising comes in around the holiday season.

“The spirit of giving”

“Most charities experience a boost in fundraising and donations at Christmas time,” said Gary Brown, the Salvation Army’s area director of public relations and development.

The Salvation Army is known for its “Christmas Kettle” campaign, in which volunteers collect donations in a pot hung from a tripod in malls and other busy areas to collect money for needy families.

“It’s traditionally a time of giving and family and sharing with others and I think that’s a positive influence that this season has on people,” said Brown.

Miranda Priestman, the Student Food Bank co-ordinator at Laurier, noted that there is a rise in food donations over the holidays, though she states it can be partly attributed to the “Food for Fines” program at the library.

She explained that overall she sees the holidays as a “time when people become more aware of their resources.”

Martin Hickey, the Grand Knight at the Waterloo Ontario Knights of Columbus branch, noted, “people get in the spirit of giving in November.”

He stated that part of this trend is definitely “habitual” and based on a tradition of giving over the holidays. Hickey also stated that it is partly due to the fact that reminders appear everywhere, prompting us to donate.

“Wherever you go, you see ‘needy-this’, ‘needy-that’ and it does remind people,” Hickey noted.

Topp told The Cord that part of the reason charitable donation is so common near the holidays is because people “naturally think about others in need or issues they’re concerned about.”

However, she also pointed out that “it’s driven by a second reason.” Because Canada operates under a tax year, donators begin thinking about their income tax returns around the holidays, which they need to file by April 30 of the following year.

Taxpayers receive credits from the federal government, depending on how much they donate. Contributors, however, need to donate before Dec. 31 to receive their receipts to submit in time for the next tax return.

“It’s part of what forces people to start thinking about giving,” said Topp.

For some charities this trend of increased donation does not occur, however. For instance, Canadian Blood Services Communications Specialist Veronica Magee stated that often in the weeks surrounding the winter holidays, “donations tend to drop off slightly.”

She said that it’s “simply because there are a lot of people who are away or get wrapped up in holiday activities.”

Magee noted that since the need is constant – on average every 60 seconds someone in Canada needs blood – and blood only has a shelf life of about 42 days, it’s important that donations come in on a consistent basis, even throughout the holidays.

“It’s one of the most selfless things you can do for someone you don’t even know,” said Magee. “Around the holidays if you have some time, it’s a very unique, charitable way of giving.”

Spirituality and philanthropy

For the majority of charitable groups who do see a huge increase in donations over the holidays, religion can play a huge factor.

2006 statistics from Imagine Canada, a national organization with the purpose of strengthening charities, indicate that approximately 56 per cent of the country’s charities are religion-based. And a staggering 94 per cent of religious organizations are charitable.

Well-known charities like World Vision, the Salvation Army and the Knights of Columbus all have bases in spirituality and faith.

“We come out of a Christian tradition,” Brown said of the Salvation Army. “We have churches and so our work is supported by our congregation.”

Brown stated that because of this background, the traditionally Christian-based holiday of Christmas is a huge part of the Salvation Army’s fundraising.

“Christmas and the Salvation Army really go together. It’s a tradition,” said Brown, noting that their first kettle campaign took place 119 years ago.

In an article entitled “The Influence of Religion on Philanthropy in Canada,” Ryerson professor Ida E. Berger has conducted a study of Statistics Canada’s National Survey of Giving from 2000. Through her research, Berger has concluded that there is a substantial difference between giving based on “sub-group identification.”

Those not affiliated with any religious group were the least likely to donate money to charitable causes, while those identifying as Protestant were the most generous.

As a result, Berger has suggested that recruiters or individuals trying to gain donators should “develop communication, training and management methods targeted at most promising segments” in order to ensure maximum fundraising.

For charities like the Salvation Army – or those that focus more fundraising efforts around the holidays – religion may play a major role in donation.

“We think that the faith-based tradition of the holidays is very important…. We encourage people to examine their religious beliefs over the holidays, as well as all-year long,” said Brown.

Tight budgets

Overall, the Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating – conducted in 2007 – indicates that 84 per cent of the nation’s population reported making financial donations to charitable or nonprofit organizations during that year.

However, figures released by Statistics Canada in November 2009 suggest that the financial recession that has hit North America is having a negative impact on donations.

In 2008, Canadians donated $8.19 billion to charities, which is a 5.3 per cent drop from 2007 – the figure was the lowest since 2005.

“The last few years have been challenging as they have been for many charitable organizations,” said Topp of WWF Canada’s fundraising.

Hickey explained that the Waterloo Knights of Columbus have seen major decreases already this holiday season in the amount of toys donated to their “New Toys for Needy Kids” toy drive.

“There has definitely been a decline in the amount of toys being collected and the money that we normally would see … is down quite substantially,” said Hickey.

“So the recession definitely has hit the spirit of giving. Though I guess the spirit is there but the financials aren’t.”

While students may not always feel the direct results of the recession, their tight budget and minimal or non-existent income can make it hard for them to donate.

The Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating shows that about 71 per cent of individuals aged 15 to 24 reported donating money, the lowest of any age group.

“It’s tight for you guys. And often the spirit of giving is actually there but the dollars and cents aren’t,” said Hickey.

Courtney Ferreira, an executive for Laurier’s Operation Christmas Child project — part of the larger initiative run through Samaritan’s Purse — explained that while it can be difficult to donate: “Most people, unless you’re really lacking in money, tend to scrounge up a few dollars to give back.

“There’s a huge thing about how students are so poor, but I don’t think it’s so bad that people can’t donate a few dollars.”

Topp of WWF stated that often it’s important for low-income individuals to consider their “discretionary income.

“So, what you spend on a coffee or a magazine or those dollars that just disappear…. Think about contributing two dollars a month or so. Those dollars do add up to make a significant contribution.”

She also explained that often there is a misconception that money is the only way to contribute to charity.

“Understand issues and get involved in conversation, and live a little more lightly on this planet because that is supporting our mission, not financially, but we’re not here to raise money, we’re here to save our planet.”

Things to remember when donating

  • Pay attention to over-head costs: the
    amount of money used internally for
    fundraising and salaries that does
    not go directly to the charity.

    Fraudulent organizations tend to use
    names that bear a close resemblance
    to respect charities, send out e-mail
    requests, and give unwarranted thanks
    for donations you have not

    Do not give out your financial
    information over the phone or at the
    door. Do not be afraid to refuse to
    provide it.

    If you receive a phone call, ask for
    information to be sent to you in
    writing, including their charitable
    tax number that can be confirmed
    online with Revenue Canada.

    Never make cheques payable to a
    person, but rather to a specific

    Decide at the beginning of the year
    the charities you wish to donate to,
    and send a cheque directly to their
    head office.

    Do not feel obligated to give money
    right away. You can get the charity’s
    information and check it later.

    Pay attention to the way the charity
    uses its money. Some organizations
    calling themselves charities may be
    for-profit organizations.

    Become informed before donating. A
    good way of doing this is to get
    involved by volunteering or observing
    the charity’s work in action.

    When in doubt, say no and get the
    information you need first.

compiled based on Fraud Prevention tips from the Canadian Bankers Association and the Canadian Ministry of the Attorney General

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