Creating a Giving Culture

By Daniel Proussalidis

As fall starts to feel more like winter in Ottawa, charitable appeals and campaigns start to warm up.

By the time the Christmas season is in full swing, charitable fundraising will be a roaring fire – hot enough to roast chestnuts. Many shoppers will respond to a bell-ringer at the Rideau Centre by digging up pocket change, while others will respond to special requests to help provide warm Christmas Day meals.

Even so, Canadian charities will tell you giving is declining.

“Everyone in Canada, generally speaking, only gives when they’re asked to give,” says John Bromley, founder and CEO of online giving platform Chimp. “In other words, they only give when they’re fundraised at.”

With his extensive background in the charitable sector, Bromley sees that as a problem.

He notes that Canadians aren’t learning how to be regular givers. They’ll give to charity spontaneously, but Bromley contends there is little nurturing of people as donors.

“Traditionally, I think, we’d get that at church, at Sunday school, in the mosque, in the temple,” he says. “We would get it through religious constructs. But we’re participating as Canadians less and less in those traditional religions, so that background is fading a bit.”

Bromley founded Chimp in Vancouver in 2011 partly in response to what he had observed.

Chimp tries to separate the act of charitable giving from any specific appeal for money. Participants set up a free online account with Chimp, loading the account with whatever amount of money they wish to give away and getting a tax receipt for that entire sum.

Then they can take their time to research any Canadian registered charity via the Chimp website, decide which one(s) they’d like to support, and assign money from their account as they see fit.

“We’re trying to change the giving culture in Canada,” says Bromley.

The idea is to get Canadians into the habit of giving regularly, not just in response to a Christmas appeal or because of a crisis, but because setting aside money for charity has become a normal part of their lives. Bromley says he hopes a tool like Chimp will help make people think about charitable giving strategically and more deliberately.

For Michael Van Pelt, president and CEO of think-tank Cardus, restoring charitable giving as a way of life in Canada is about more than just feeling we’ve done something good with the money in our wallets.

“Charities form a key part of Canada’s social infrastructure by working in the space between the market and government,” says Van Pelt. “Supporting the charitable sector results in building up the institutions of civil society that reflect the social, cultural, and religious priorities of Canadians in ways neither the market nor government can.”

Bromley holds that the charitable sector needs regular, sustainable, dependable financial support.

“How do you fund the future of the social economy?” he asks. “There’s three options in my view . . . one – raise taxes, two – underfund social programs, option three is (to) develop donors. Nurture people’s innate generosity.”

One way Chimp tries to do that is by piloting a charitable allowance program at schools. Students get $10 a month, which they then must give to a charity of their choice. Bromley hopes the program will nurture regular givers who’ll become a sustainable donor base for charities.

So, the bell-ringers and the charitable appeals are warming up, as they always have. If efforts to nurture regular givers succeed, charities will find Canadians’ hearts will have warmed up too.