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Canadians increasingly turning to charities to meet essential needs, but cost of living also hitting donations

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EveryGiving Tuesday, many Canadians generously dig into their wallets to donate to charities, but as the cost of living climbs, research suggests many Canadians are also in need of help. 

“Many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet,” said Julie Fiorini, general manager of donor services and brand marketing at CanadaHelps.

A recent survey done by Ipsos for CanadaHelps found two in 10 Canadians are currently using charitable services to meet essential needs, such as food and shelter.

“The more alarming stat is of that 20 per cent, nearly 70 per cent say this is the first year that they've had to access these services,” said Fiorini. “So it’s very concerning.”

Giving Tuesday, which this year fell on Nov. 28, is a day where people are encouraged to be generous. Since the movement came to Canada in 2013, Fiorini notes, about six million Canadians have taken part.

But CanadaHelps’ 2023 Giving Report from earlier this year indicates fewer Canadians are now donating to charities—dropping to 28 per cent from 36 per cent between 2010 and 2022.

“So although Canadians are very generous, the reality is that people that are giving to charities is significantly dropping,” said Fiorini.

This comes as need at food banks across the country soars.

 “The demand is at an all-time high and we’ve seen that kind of, all year long,” said Alex Boyd, CEO of Greener Village in Fredericton, an organization that serves more than 125,000 meals a month.

Boyd points out how the bulk of its funding is through donations, and while donations have increased about five to seven per cent per year, demand has outpaced what’s coming in.

“So donations haven’t gone backwards, but they’re not keeping up with those demand increases,” he said.

Erin Filey-Wronecki, the chief development and partnerships officer at Food Banks Canada, said that in March 2023, there were almost two million visits made to food banks across the country.

“That's about a 78 per cent increase from 2019 and 35 per cent year over year,” said Filey-Wronecki

While donation trends are inconsistent across the country, what is consistent, she said, is that need is outstripping donations.

At the United Way of Central New Brunswick, meanwhile, donations have gradually dropped.

Peter Cullen, the interim executive director, said the organization has always had an incredible number of people willing to donate.

“The truth is though over the last few years, the same as many places, we’ve seen a pretty gradual decline in the amount of people that are able to donate,” Cullen said.

Cullen said the United Way of Central New Brunswick contributes to 30 agencies in the region and about 39 programs. A decrease in funding could lead to some difficult decisions about decreasing program funding.

“Is it just decreasing overall the amount of money per program, which are so critical to help people? Or is it stopping some of them?” Cullen said.

Michael Messenger, World Vision Canada CEO and president, points out how Canadians give all year-round, but the last three months of the year is considered the giving season.

“There's no question that (it is) a time when people's time and attention turns to charitable giving, sometimes for tax reasons, but more likely because Canadians are generous,” Messenger said.

He highlighted a recent survey by Environics Researchshowing that despite high inflation and economic challenges, 55 per cent of Canadians intend to give to charity this season.

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