Philanthropy: The true heart of Canadian culture

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It’s been five years since Canada became the first and, so far, only country in the world to enshrine National Philanthropy Day (NPD) in legislation, proclaiming November 15 as the official day to celebrate the generosity of Canadians and the amazing impact they have on communities from coast to coast.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) views NPD as far more than just a celebration. It’s also a grassroots movement to increase public interest in and awareness of the importance of philanthropy, and to share knowledge on giving, volunteering and engagement so people can practise effective philanthropy.

Ken Mayhew, president and CEO of the William Osler Health System Foundation in Ontario, says while Canadians are inherently generous and caring and understand the importance of being there for others, they are also quite humble and modest.

“Each and every day, Canadians perform hundreds of acts of kindness. Many of them involve making a financial contribution to help someone else out, and it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge that and to say thank you,” he says.

The intent of the gift and the desire to make an impact is more important than the size of the donation, adds Mr. Mayhew. Giving is contagious, and stories encourage and motivate others to become involved or remain committed to philanthropy – which might mean giving, but also volunteering one’s time or other way to support a cause.

While those stories are important, statistics also have a tale to tell about Canada’s charitable sector. There are more than 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada, of which 85,000 are registered charities recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency. Many of these organizations are very small but have huge impacts on the people they serve across the country.

According to Imagine Canada, the Canadian charitable and non-profit sector is the second largest in the world in relative terms. Data from tax filings show that charities reported $21.49-billion in fundraising revenue from all sources in 2014, and 82 per cent of Canadians said they gave to a charity in 2013.

Delphine Haslé, development manager at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation in Ottawa, agrees that a national day to celebrate philanthropy is important.

“We often celebrate a very large gift, but smaller gifts are coming in all the time. NPD is an opportunity to celebrate all gifts, because they matter, small or large,” she says.

While AFP chapters across North America have organized more than 100 NPD events this year involving approximately 50,000 people, Ms. Haslé says it’s not necessary to attend an event to mark NPD.

“A simple act of kindness or a meaningful discussion with a younger person or a new Canadian to inspire them to become involved in philanthropy would be a good way to celebrate as an individual,” she adds.

Mr. Mayhew says NPD is also an opportunity for charities and AFP chapters to recognize the contributions of individuals or groups that don’t necessarily attract the high-profile attention of large gifts.

“It could be a youth award, or the recognition of a local family or a business for contributions, large and small, to causes that are popular and less popular,” he says. “It’s a time to take a moment to shut out the busy background noise of our lives and reflect with gratitude on the people who have invested time and funds to improve the lives of others.”

Ms. Haslé believes recognition of philanthropic contributions is also important to maintain the momentum of charitable giving.

“Canadians are very generous, but the need is also great, and it keeps growing. On top of that, we see new giving patterns as the makeup of the population changes. Each generation has a different way of giving,” she says. “The challenge for charities is to understand the differences and adapt to them.”

Mr. Mayhew agrees, pointing out that philanthropy is constantly changing.

“The change in our demographics, our immigration, our aging population and technology have all had an impact on philanthropy,” he says. “Donors are more informed, have higher expectations, seek to co-create and have proof of impact from the causes they support. They are no longer interested in being just passive investors.”

Engaged, passionate donors are a good thing. The outlook for the sector has never been brighter, adds Mr. Mayhew.

“Philanthropy is the engine through which change happens in society,” he says. “Everyone involved, be they donors, charities or fundraisers, contributes in a profound way. We bring about social change each and every day, and every dollar counts, no matter what the size of the gift.”

At the end of the day, says AFP, philanthropy is simply about getting involved, no matter whether it’s giving, volunteering or other type of engagement. So many charities, large and small, are making a huge difference. Charities are thankful for all Canadians who give and volunteer and encourage others to take just a simple step: make the decision to get involved in a cause that matters to them.

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