Federal Budget 2012 – Families, Compassion & Charities: Key Components to Maintaining a Strong Canada (Part 3 CHARITIES)
By Don Hutchinson and guest blogger Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) does not generally engage in the number crunching of the government budget process. But we do believe that a budget is, fundamentally, a moral document, and as such that Biblical principles are relevant to the budgeting process. Biblical principles inform us, and the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life applies those principles to concepts for public policy initiatives that we believe to be of benefit to the nation. For reasons noted in Part 1 of this series, the EFC decided to make a submission in the federal pre-budget consultation process – based on principles rather than numerical recommendations – and we have been invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to engage further in the conversation. The EFC has urged the Government to consider and address three key building blocks of our nation: families; compassion; and, charities. We will briefly consider each of the three – families, compassion and charities – in a series of blogs of which this is the third: CHARITIES.
While Canadian tax filer’s claims for charitable giving rebounded to $8.3 billion in 2010 from $7.8 billion in 2009, they were still off the record $8.6 billion that Canadians gave in 2007. Registered charities have legal limits on their ability to accumulate assets that might see them through a dry spell in giving and the swings in income clearly ended the run for some charities – 1,636 in 2010 – and it also affected the capacity of others to carry on operations.
All Canadians have an interest in what motivates charitable giving and how these motivations can be strengthened. At a time when all levels of government – school boards, municipal, provincial and federal – are talking austerity and restraint it is increasingly important that the charitable sector be supported as it is called upon to rise to what can reasonably be anticipated will be a growing need for the sector’s services.
What motivates people to give? Statistics Canada (StatCan) identified the six top reasons Canadians offer for making a financial donation: Feel compassion toward people in need (90%); To help a cause in which you personally believe (86%); To make a contribution to the community (80%); Personally affected by the cause the organization supports (62%); To fulfill religious obligations or beliefs (32%); and Income tax credit (23%) (Caring Canadians, 31) We know from the same study that the more people give the more likely they are to seek a tax credit. Further, irrespective of the amount Canadians give, slightly more than half say they would increase their charitable giving if they were given a better tax credit.
With these as the reported motivations, who then are the most generous givers? Giving tends to increase with age, education, and … attendance at religious services (Caring Canadians, 19).
Of those who attend religious services at least weekly, 49% will be what StatCan calls “top donors” compared to only 15% of those who attend religious services less often (Caring Canadians, 20). Why might this be? Religion, and we’ll speak specifically about Christianity in this instance, promotes the kinds of virtues that nurture the motivations that that Canadians say motivate them to give. While, as a Christian, you might say you have a religious motivation to give, that same faith will encourage compassion, supporting causes you believe in (e.g. relief of poverty), contributing to your community (the Bible directs that we engage in the good of the place we live) and, often, having been personally impacted (e.g. support through personal difficulty such as addiction rehabilitation). Having many and layered motivations to give strengthens the behaviour and makes it more enduring.
Those who attend religious services weekly or more give 3.5 times more to charity than those who don’t. A study by Kurt Bowen based on the first wave of StatCan’s charitable giving research found that Conservative Protestant (a rough sociological equivalent for Evangelical) weekly attenders gave 72% more to charity than weekly attenders of all faiths as a group (Bowen, 45). This generosity isn’t confined to religious causes. Bowen found that Evangelical donors gave 27% more to non-religious causes than non-Christians, and that weekly attenders, slightly less than one fifth of the population, nevertheless gave 31% of the value of all donations made to non-religious charitable organizations, a pattern that persisted through the 2007 study (Bowen, 48; Caring Canadians, 25). A lively religious faith produces charitable citizens whose charitable concern goes far beyond their immediate religious community.
The positive charitable giving patterns associated with high levels of religious participation carry over into volunteering as well. Those who attend religious services weekly are 53% more likely to volunteer than those who don’t (Caring Canadians, 43). Moreover, these weekly attenders who make up 17% of the population, provide 35% of the total volunteer hours and 23% of the volunteer hours with non-religious organizations. Weekly attenders are more likely to be top volunteers (the 25% of the population that did the most volunteering) than non-attenders.
So what then is the charitable benefit of religion? The charitable benefit of religion is that it creates broadly generous citizens, without whose generosity the charitable sector would be substantially diminished.
“Advancement of religion” has long been recognized at common law as a charitable purpose; and under the Income Tax Act and its related guidelines from the Canada Revenue Agency has been accepted as being more than sharing one’s faith for the purpose of educating or proselytizing or attendance at Sunday-go-to-church meetings in a congregational setting. For the Evangelical Christian (and others), who understands reasonable worship to include both the church service and community service, “advancement of religion” has been recognized as including the ability to engage in the public square. This engagement takes place through the provision of benevolent services to others (feeding, clothing and housing the poor; half-way houses for those released from prison; hospice care; international development and emergency aid, etc.) and the presentation of biblical-principle-based positions on public policy matters and other issues of concern. Among other initiatives, Christians and Christian organizations (and I’ll gladly acknowledge the role of the EFC in these initiatives inspired to care for and protect the vulnerable) have led the charge in Canada establishing child pornography as a crime in 1993, human trafficking as a crime in 2005 and raising the age of consent to sexual activity with an adult from 14 to 16 years of age in 2008.
There are several challenges facing the charitable sector as Canada’s population ages and economic realities create week to week and month to month financial pressures. To that end, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada encouraged the Government of Canada to give serious consideration to the proposals made by Cardus, Imagine Canada and others to enhance Canadians’ incentives to continue in their generosity toward others. At the same time, we have confidence that those who are motivated in their giving by principles of faith will continue to give regardless of the outcome of the current deliberations. And, we have confidence that Christian charities – whether churches, providers of focused benevolence or those offering proposals and comment on public policy – will continue to contribute, to a strong Canadian society.
Families, Compassion and Charities have helped to build a strong Canada and attention to their needs will help maintain a strong Canada into the future.