Monday, March 12, 2007

We may be addicted to consumption, but at least we're generous, right?

OK - so we Canadians are living well beyond our means. I heard a podcast this week (it was in a three-part sermon series called Traveling Light at or go to itunes and find The Meeting House - very near the top is the Traveling Light series), in which Bruxy Cavey made the point that for every $1 North Americans earn, we spend $1.22. So - we live in a society that routinely lives about 22% beyond our means and apparently feels little or no guilt about it.
But, you may be thinking, at least we're generous. We're not just indulging ourselves. When there's a crisis we respond with compassion and generosity, right?
In terms of generosity, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that about 91% of Canadians made financial or in-kind donations to charitable and nonprofit organizations in 2000 and that was up 3% compared with the figures for 1997. In total, Canadians gave $4.94 Billion dollars to charity that year. Sounds pretty impressive, eh? Of course if we compare it to the $752 billion dollars that we're in debt, the shine starts to fade. And then, when we look a little more closely the good news starts to look more like bad news.
For instance, the average annual donation - that is, the total amount of money donated to charity by individual Canadians (those 15 years of age and older) for one year - is $259. Just to be clear, that includes the total of monies donated to places of worship (44%), charitable sponsorships (14%), donations made in response to mail solicitations (5%) and door-to-door canvassing (3%). It includes all the money given to health organizations (20%), social services organizations (10%), philanthropy and voluntarism organizations (7%) and education and research organizations (3%).
And, it turns out that 5% of Canadians gave 47% of the total and 25% of Canadians gave 82% of the total. The top 5% made donations of at least $1088. So, if you gave $1088 or more to charity in 2000, CONGRATULATIONS! You are among the 5% of most generous Canadians. On the other end of the scale, 25% of Canadians gave $23 or less to charity. All these stats (and more!) are from
What does all this tell us? Personally, I think we've been hoodwinked. The proverbial wool has been pulled over our eyes. I think we've been tricked into thinking that we need to have lots of stuff - we deserve to live well and that we are very kind, compassionate and generous people. In fact, I remember when I first heard some of these stats on Canadian giving, the headline actually emphasized our generosity! Well - all I can say is that that's not my definition of generosity!
In case you might think that "at least we're more generous than other people - say the Americans" - wrong! The Fraser Forum (see notes that "while roughly the same percentage of tax filers in Canada and the US donate to charity, the depth of their charitable giving is dramatically different." The bottom line is this: In 2001, Americans gave 1.59 percent of their aggregate income to charity compared to 0.62% for Canadians.
Tune in next week to read something positive - I promise!

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