When the pandemic began, CanadaHelps, a charity that offers online donation solutions for churches and other charities, began work on an expanded version of its annual Giving Report, says Jacob O’Connor, the charity’s Senior Vice President of Charity, Engagement and Growth.
“In light of the pandemic and what we were seeing on the ground with charities, we felt a responsibility to speak loudly about what was going on and advocate on behalf of all charities,” he says.
Normally, the report focuses on trends in online giving throughout Canada’s non- profit sector. But the 2021 edition included data on charitable giving by any means across Canada, plus a look at trends in the years surrounding the last major economic recession in 2008.
The charity found the pandemic hit the charitable sector hard—with a 10 per cent loss in donations across the country, totalling about $1 billion down from the previous year. As in the previous recession, there was a strong correlation between the drop in Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) and Canadians’ patterns of giving. When GDP fell in 2020, so did donations.
In addition to that drop in donations, charities across the country saw sudden jumps in demand for their services as stress and financial instability from the pandemic left more people relying on everything from mental health aid to food banks.
With in-person methods of fundraising no longer an option, many non-profits found themselves squeezed from both directions.
Not all the news is bad, though. Online giving, for example, had been growing steadily at a rate of around 21 per cent each year, but in 2020 it shot up by 86 per cent, year-over-year. Especially among religious organizations, “in-person services were kind of gone overnight and for a long time after,” says O’Connor. So going online became the best option they had.
As a result, even during the leanest times in 2020, there was a significant jump in Canadians’ giving through online methods.
As this article was being written, the 2022 Giving Report, with more information on 2021, was not yet available. But O’Connor says that preliminary data show that as GDP began to recover last year, rates of giving did, too.
Donations to General Synod never saw the dramatic 2020 dip that hit the rest of the non-profit sector. Deborah Barretto, Director of Resources for Mission for the Anglican Church of Canada, monitors incoming donations and corresponds directly with donors. She says that while the trend in recent years has been a slow decrease in donations as the average churchgoer ages and congregations shrink, “during the pandemic, we’ve actually seen an increase in donations.”
In 2020, the church reported $468,230 in revenue from Resources for Mission, up from $440,718 in 2019. In 2021, that number rose again to $601,682, according to an unaudited statement presented to Council of General Synod in March (see “Church may have surplus of $3.6 million for 2021,” p. 1, for coverage of that statement).
Barretto says her conversations with donors suggest this increase has come from a sense of urgency about the church’s ministries during the pandemic and the social strife it has uncovered.
“When I call them to thank them, they say they feel at this time it’s more necessary than ever to support the national church,” she says. “People are experiencing their own economic hardships. Despite that, people stretch themselves—which I think is the true meaning of generosity—[knowing] that other people are in a worse situation than they are.”
While the church does not collect demographic data on its donors, Barretto notes that anecdotally, they tend to skew older, with some known to be in their 70s and 80s.
According to the CanadaHelps report, those aged 55 and up give at twice the rate of those aged 25 to 55. And indeed, Barretto says, the church’s aging membership may well be the reason for its stable donations during the pandemic. Still, she notes, older Anglicans can’t continue giving at the same rates forever. As they continue to age, their incomes shrink and eventually they pass away, meaning that unless the church can better engage younger donors the overall downward trend will likely continue.
One piece of advice both O’Connor and Barretto offer is that younger donors tend to respond better to specific causes as opposed to institutions. For example, O’Connor says, CanadaHelps got a sizeable response from donors under 55 when it set up two funds to aid underserved racial communities and Indigenous peoples in the wake of 2020’s rise in concern over inequality.
Barretto says the church has already begun efforts to highlight the specific causes its mission funds go to support— including racial equity projects and aid to Indigenous communities through the church’s department of Indigenous Ministries. But she cautions that factors like employment instability and inflation which impact young peoples’ financial advancement may complicate the goal of increasing the pool of younger donors.
Until the future becomes clearer, she says, “We need to proceed with optimism, but caution. We’re careful with how we spend, but we also have to invest in fundraising to get back.”
The money Resources for Mission brings in is just a small part of the Anglican Church of Canada’s revenue. Most comes from the contributions of the individual dioceses, an amount which has been slowly decreasing for years. The 2021 draft financial statement shows it dropping once again to $7,097,332 from 2020’s $7,669,188. Meanwhile, surging inflation rates have meant higher costs.
Archdeacon Alan Perry, general secretary of General Synod, is quick to point out that the decline in revenue is not due to any failing on the dioceses’ part.
“The dioceses have been extraordinarily faithful in giving what they committed to give,” Perry says.
But the declining overall membership of the church takes its toll on what they’re able to contribute, he adds. And in 2021, the national church created a giving holiday, offering dioceses the option to halt their contributions for a few months to shore up their own finances during the pandemic crisis. The result was another dip (although savings on travel expenses from normally in-person gatherings, among other factors, resulted in substantial surpluses in both 2020 and 2021).
On the level of individual dioceses, meanwhile, the challenges have more closely matched the CanadaHelps data. Peter Misiaszek, Director of Stewardship for the Diocese of Toronto says he has seen the need for online giving first- hand. Revenue from parish offering plates has always been less reliable than pre-authorized giving, he says. Many parishioners make their donations only on weeks when they show up for church in-person. With COVID-19 shutdowns halting in-person attendance for months at a time, that’s even more true.
“Looking at the data, it’s clear there’s a strong correlation between parish financial health and the number of donors using electronic giving methods,” he says. And given the number of parishes that have succeeded in promoting online giving, that has been good news. Before the pandemic, just three parishes in the diocese of Toronto received at least 70 per cent of their donations online. Now 26 per cent do.
Shailene Caparas, the diocese of New Westminster’s director of finance, says online giving has been an important tool there, too. She notes, however, that it remains difficult to get older donors comfortable with the process of giving money online. And while many donors lived up to O’Connor’s assessment that “Canadians respond to a crisis,” with
one-time gifts in the pandemic to respond to increased demand for ministries like food banks, momentum has tailed off as the pandemic dragged on, she says.
While Caparas acknowledges the importance of promoting online giving, she adds that’s only part of the solution. It’s
equally important, she says, to remind people to create their household budgets around an intentional commitment to giving, not simply to give based on what is left in their budgets.
“When a person has a proper understanding of the responsibility of a Christian, when they understand the heart of God, they will be compelled to give. By cash, by online giving or by preauthorized donation,” she says.