How Do Canadians Give? The Answers May Surprise You!

Does it matter if you know the charitable habits of different generations of Canadians? Yes. Why? What you know about their giving habits and preferences should inform your fundraising strategy. Not what you think you know.

Imagine for a moment that your organization has a declining donor base. Most of your loyal donors are older and, frankly, they’re dying. You need to find new donors, and have decided to focus on acquiring younger ones. Your organization agrees to focus on Gen Ys. With some persuading, your board approves a text-to-give campaign, and you’ll now be focusing on social media – you even hire one of those social media gurus. This sounds wise since Gen Ys are future donors and they’re attached to their smart phones.

But is it? A recent study says no.

The Next Generation of Canadian Giving 2013
hjc, Blackbaud, Edge Research, and Sea Change Strategies recently studied thecover-image giving habits and communication preferences of four generations of Canadian donors and published their findings in a report called The Next Generation of Canadian Giving 2013. The results may surprise you.

For starters, Gen Xs are a quickly rising force in philanthropy in Canada. Gen Ys in Canada hardly ever text to donate. And, social media isn’t viewed as an appropriate fundraising channel for any age group.

And, that’s just the beginning. Because The Next Generation of Canadian Giving 2013 builds on a similar study conducted in 2010, and was based on similar studies into the habits and preferences of American donors, the report not only identifies trends in Canadian giving, but also provides insight into the differences between Canadian donors and their American counterparts. For example, giving support for advocacy organizations in the U.S. is about double that in Canada, and support for military troops/veteran organisation is about three times greater in the U.S. However, Canadians are far more likely to support health and children’s charities than their American counterparts, and growth in Canadian Gen X giving outpaced that in the U.S.

The study looked at the philanthropic habits of the following generations of Canadians:

  • Generation Y (or Gen Y, born 1981 – 1995)
  • Generation X (or Gen X, born 1965 – 1980)
  • Baby Boomers (or Boomers, born 1946 – 64)
  • Civics (born 1945 or earlier)

Here are a few more of the key findings:

  • Most Canadians give. Civics are the most generous generation. Almost 9 in 10 of Civics give, and they support a wider variety of causes than younger generations.
  • Baby Boomers will exert an outsize influence on charitable giving for the foreseeable future, but Generation X is quickly catching up.
  • Most donors across all age groups do not plan to expand their giving in the coming year.
  • Multichannel is the new normal. While all generations are multichannel in their communications habits, the ideal mix varies from generation to generation.
  • Direct mail is far from dead, but it also won’t last forever. Generations Y and X are far more likely to give online, and as many Baby Boomers say they give online as via direct mail.
  • Generation Y donors have distinct priorities and preferences with regard to causes they support. Notably, they are far more likely to demand accountability and transparency than older donors.
  • The value of some channels (e.g. social media), is undervalued if measured by transaction metrics, as opposed to by engagement.
  • Among transaction channels, the future looks cloudy for telemarketing and giving by SMS / text, but face-to-face and street funding is surprisingly strong.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding appear to have promising futures as fundraising strategies for younger generations.
  • Nearly half of those who give engage with causes in ways other than making donations.

As communication and giving habits continue to change, solid data about donors’ behavior is especially important. Before you start your next campaign, be sure you know how your donors give and how they prefer to communicate, and you’ll be well-positioned to engage with them more effectively.

To download The Next Generation of Canadian Giving 2013, visit:


by Michael Johnston, President and Founder, Hewitt and Johnston Consultants (hjc)

Michael Johnston is the president and founder of the global fundraising consultancy, Hewitt and Johnston Consultants (hjc), and the co-founder of two global fundraising products, The Global Legacy Giving Group and the sports-based Fantasy Fundraising. He has helped raised over a billion dollars for his clients around the world.