In 2011, 23% of taxpayers claimed charitable donations on their income tax returns. This level of giving is down sharply from the mid 1990’s when about 1/3rd of all taxpayers claimed a donation. Surprisingly, average annual giving has climbed from $458 in 1984 to $1,437 in 2010. The conclusion from this is that fewer people are giving, but those who are giving are contributing a lot more. Religious causes are the largest beneficiaries, accounting for over 40% of all charitable donations (all figures noted are from Statistics Canada).
It is astounding when one considers that 5.71 million tax filers gave a total of $8.47 billion in 2011. The strength in the charitable sector lies in its ability to do great things while drawing from an ever shrinking pool of donors. If all taxpayers gave according the average annual amount, over $35 billion would be contributed to charitable causes across Canada.
The impact of a 100% participation rate would be profound for churches, synagogues, mosques and faith-based service agencies. Assuming that religious causes would continue to be the largest beneficiaries of charitable giving, they would reap over $14 billion in donations each year. This amount exceeds the total amount of expenditures for the city of Toronto in 2010/11 – the eighth largest government in Canada.
Several years ago my counterpart in the Diocese of Niagara, the now-retired Jim Newman, posited that 30% of all givers in that diocese were responsible for about 70% of the total gift amount made through offertory giving. This ratio is consistent with most charitable organizations and indicates a worrying tendency to rely on a handful of very generous givers to support daily operations. On closer examination, Jim found that about 50% of the givers in most parishes were responsible for only 1% of the total amount donated. This tells me that what we have is a real opportunity to encourage the under-givers in our parishes to enter into a more profound experience of discipleship.
Clearly not everyone has the same capacity to give a large financial gift to their church. For some, gifts of time and talent must suffice during periods of unemployment, illness or financial hardship. I remain perplexed, however, that such a significant number of faithful church goers believe it is acceptable to give little or nothing on the collection plate on a regular basis. The absence of a consciousness oriented toward giving suggests a profound misunderstanding of the biblical imperative to give of one’s first fruits or to acknowledge the true meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
If we all gave, clergy and wardens would breathe a sigh of relief and everyday worries for parishes would become a thing of the past. Most importantly, it would indicate that the profound message of generosity that is told many times over in the bible was being emulated and fully lived. If we all gave, we would be a much stronger faith community.