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The Impact of Online Giving

publication date: Mar 26, 2019
author/source: Roger Ali

Most people, like you and I, are driven to donate in support of important causes in our community because we care about the enormous role charities play in our lives. When it comes to giving money, charities are increasingly connecting with Canadians online and online giving is becoming more important. Giving online has become much more common over the past 15 years, especially among Canadians who are younger, educated and those with higher incomes.

Over the past decade and a half, internet access has become universal and internet-based communications platforms have boomed. The most recent General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 30, Canadians at Work and Home found the vast majority of those under the age of 45 use it daily and strong majorities of those under the age of 75 use it at least a few times a week. Only among those 75 and older, about half report using the internet regularly (Statistics Canada, 2017a).

Interestingly, the dominant question those seeking to engage with Canadians over the internet are asking is not whether Canadians use it, but how they prefer to access it. Most notably, three quarters (76%) of respondents to the 2016 GSS reported owning a smart phone, meaning that the majority of respondents accessed the internet via a smartphone and other platforms.

A landmark report, 30 Years of Giving in Canada, has examined the charitable donations and giving patterns of Canadians from 1985 to 2014. The report talks about charities making considerable use of social media to raise awareness and engage supporters, but how it relates to levels of giving and patterns of donations is not entirely clear. However, what we do know is that online donations are on the rise. After donating by mail, the next most important method is donating online. In 2013, donations made online accounted for almost 7% of donations – half as much as donations made by mail.

Online giving is becoming increasingly popular among donors as a preferred or convenient choice to give and the charitable sector is experiencing steady growth of online giving. In the Giving Report 2018, the number of overall individual donors in Canada decreased 0.5% per year from 2006 to 2015, the CanadaHelps data in the report shows that the number of individual online donors has steadily increased to 20.5% annually over the past five years. Online donors also increased their annual donation amounts at a much higher rate than average donation amount for all dollars (2.8% vs. 1.2% per year).

Collectively, the total revenue received from online giving is significant to the overall sector revenue. Of note, 12% of Canadians responding to the GSS reported making at least one donation online and collectively they contributed at least $860 million online, equivalent to approximately 7% of total reported donations (GSS, 2013 Giving Volunteering and Participating). In the United Kingdom 9% of donors reported having made an online donation in 2013 and in the United States online fundraising is believed to account for just over 6% of total 2013 fundraising revenue (Charities Aid Foundation, 2014; MacLaughlin, 2017). By comparison, Canadian donors are early adopters of using digital giving channels, especially with more widespread use of social media strategies. The landmark report also notes donors who are younger, have higher levels of education, and higher incomes are more likely to donate online.

As I reflect, the ways Canadians give and the causes they give to are changing. For my organization and many others, connecting with Canadians online and online giving is becoming more important. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the sector because of a crowded marketplace and the protection and security of online information. Organizations that are adept at understanding changing attitudes, cybersecurity and individual preferences will be in a better position to adapt their messages and develop stronger tactics to encourage more online donations. Sector leaders will need more and better data and strong digital strategies and specialists to facilitate future giving in a protected environment focused on increased transparency and accountability.

Roger D. Ali is President and CEO of Niagara Health Foundation and Chair (volunteer) of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Foundation for Philanthropy Canada.

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