Canada’s culture of compassion

A rich tradition and legacy of philanthropy provides billions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours for causes across the country

Since confederation 150 years ago, Canadians have earned a reputation for being caring, both at home and abroad. A landmark study by Statistics Canada in 2015 revealed that 40 per cent of Canadians consistently volunteer for charitable causes and just over 80 per cent donate money to charities annually.

One of the ways we can showcase our nation as a caring country is to explore how we celebrate the diversity of philanthropy in every aspect of life.
— Scott Decksheimer is chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Canada

Scott Decksheimer, chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Canada (AFP Canada), believes today’s culture of caring is a combination of the legacy of thousands of years of indigenous communities assisting one another and the systems entrenched in Canadian life by the first European settlers.

“Indigenous communities, in what was to become Canada, had their own sophisticated culture of mutual support, giving and receiving, many thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived,” he says. “Life for many European immigrants was initially very difficult, so communities came together to share what they had simply to survive.”

Mr. Decksheimer says the celebration this year of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation is an opportunity to also celebrate and recommit to the country’s philanthropic culture.
“We at AFP Canada want 2017 to be seen as a year for philanthropy when we celebrate Canada’s inclusivity and the way we’ve come together to make our country truly great,” he says.

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Donors want to understand the impact of their gifts and expect accountability from the charities they support, but compassion remains the driving force.
— Karen Willson is an Association of Fundraising Professionals in Canada board member

AFP Canada board member Karen Willson agrees.

“Canada became a country because we cared for one another. Outside of our First Nations citizens, we are a collection of immigrant families who came together to build communities,” she says. “As pioneers, we built barns together, shared food, and maximized and celebrated the skills that each community member could bring.”

The continuation of the caring culture is evidenced in the record high of $9.1-billion donated by individual Canadians in 2015.

“The culture has evolved, and donors want to understand the impact of their gifts and expect accountability and transparency from the charities they support, but compassion remains the driving force,” adds Ms. Willson. “We still share food, help provide shelter, education and medical equipment, and support families who have been devastated by natural disasters, such as the Fort McMurray fires for which $165-million was raised to support victims.”

It’s a theme that Governor General David Johnston developed at the recent Governor General’s Conference on Giving: Working Together for the Common Good at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

“As communities and as a country, we must innovate and find creative ways to give,” he said. “Giving, after all, is a form of nation-building – that which puts people first. Let’s continue to use our talents, our expertise, our energy to create a new national approach to understand and motivate giving in Canada,” he says.

Dr. Krishan Mehta, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Toronto Chapter and one of the speakers at the Governor General’s conference sees this gathering as a rare opportunity to exchange ideas about how Canadians are taking a leadership role on the global stage when it comes to giving.

“Canada is an important international player when it comes to philanthropy because of our diaspora communities. First- and second-generation immigrants, in particular, are giving both domestically and ‘back home’ in major ways. These local and cross- border gifts show that Canadians are truly invested in building their communities. The Governor General has brought together people from all over the country to carefully explore how to leverage these opportunities,” says Dr. Mehta.

Mr. Decksheimer agrees. “I’m seeing a Governor General who is looking at how Canadians are giving and examining ways to encourage support in the community, because one of the ways we can showcase our nation as a caring country is to explore how we celebrate the diversity of philanthropy in every aspect of life,” he says.

While the underlying philosophy of philanthropy in Canada remains constant, technology is changing the way people participate in giving, says Mr. Decksheimer.

“For example, technology allows donors to see more clearly than ever how their gifts are making a difference, he adds. “It’s giving the charitable sector access to information that was previously very difficult to pull together. That’s going to become a hyper-trend over the next few years as charities continue to adapt to how to share information in a community that expects them to share that information.”

Dr. Mehta believes that people give as a way to express their sense of belonging as well.“Giving and volunteering help anchor one’s place in their new homes, particularly for immigrants. In this regard, philanthropy is turning into a marker of citizenship,” he says.
Ms. Willson says another key emerging trend is that Canadian donors want to solve issues rather than simply fund organizations.

“People are still generous and want to support their communities, but the ways to participate are broader than they used to be and donors expect to be involved. They expect collaboration and desire impact,” she says.

Ms. Willson says fundraisers need to ensure that every gift has impact, which is often defined differently by different donors.

“Whether it’s $20 to a family in need or a large gift to a research institution, donors will have different expectations, but in all cases they want to feel good about what they have given,” she adds.

All this is leading to what Mr. Decksheimer describes as “a vibrancy” in the non-profit sector that has been growing for years.

“I’m hearing from colleagues and friends and others that they’re feeling the same thing,” he adds. “This is a time for us to celebrate the amazing work that donors are doing to help transform our communities and our nation.”

National Philanthropy Day
National Philanthropy Day (NPD) is being celebrated in many communities across North America, including every major metropolitan area in Canada. As the main sponsor of NPD, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) takes this opportunity to acknowledge the generosity and dedication of the many Canadians who have made a contribution.

Check out the NPD website – – or connect with your local AFP chapter ( to learn how you can join in.

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