Charitable giving on the wane in Nova Scotia, across the country

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By Alex Whalen
and Jake Fuss
The Fraser Institute

This holiday season, many Nova Scotians will spend their time and money giving back to charitable causes. In fact, every year, tens of thousands of residents in the province donate to charities.

However, according to a new study released by the Fraser Institute, both the percentage of tax-filers donating and the share of income donated to charity are on the decline.

Using data compiled by Statistics Canada, the study reveals a long-term decline. In 2008, the share of tax-filers donating was 23.3 per cent. But that steadily declined to 18.5 per cent in 2017 and reached a new low in 2018 (the latest year of available data) at 17.9 per cent.

Alex Whalen Fraser
Alex Whalen

In addition to a declining proportion of tax-filers making charitable contributions, the amount of those contributions is in decline as well. Between 2008 and 2018, the share of personal income in Nova Scotia that went toward charitable contributions declined by 21.9 per cent. Among residents who donated to charity in 2018, the average annual contribution was equal to only 0.44 per cent of their household income.

These trends are not unique to Nova Scotia. According to the study, charitable giving is on the decline across Canada. The proportion of people donating and the size of donations have decreased in every province over the last decade.

However, the Atlantic provinces rank near the bottom in charitable giving data. For the percentage of tax-filers donating and the share of income donated, Nova Scotia ranks third-last among provinces.

Just over 130,000 Nova Scotians made charitable contributions in 2018. This represents a noticeable decline from 159,010 in 2008.

Admittedly, generosity is a difficult concept to measure. The numbers reported here are gleaned from tax-filing data from the province, and many contributions of time and money are made without being reported on a tax return. However, the data reveal a clear trend toward less giving.

jake fuss Fraser
Jake Fuss

There’s also no question that many organizations are doing good work for charitable causes in the province. According to the Nova Scotia government, there are almost 3,800 registered charities in the province and more than 2,100 non-profit organizations.

However, the data mentioned above inevitably mean that these groups have less funds available to support their respective missions. Consequently, vulnerable Nova Scotians may lack adequate access to essential services such as food banks, shelter spaces for domestic violence victims and mental health counselling.

Unfortunately, the rapid decline in charitable giving in recent decades means Canadian charities are increasingly strapped for resources and face larger financial obstacles when trying to improve the quality of life for Canadians in need.

Let’s hope this holiday season, and into the new year, these troubling trends turn around.

Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss are analysts at the Fraser Institute.

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By Alex Whalen

Alex Whalen is a Policy Analyst with the Fraser Institute and coordinator for many of the activities for the recently launched Atlantic Canada division. Prior to joining the Institute, Alex was the Vice-President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), which merged with the Fraser Institute in November 2019. He is a graduate of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, where he focused on business and tax law, and of the UPEI Business School, where he focused on economics and entrepreneurship. He brings prior experience as an entrepreneur, business manager, and freelance writer to his work at the Institute.

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