Canadians stretched more than ever heading into ‘critical’ Giving Tuesday

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The surging cost of living doesn’t just have more Canadians turning to shelters and food banks for help — it’s also forcing charities themselves to do more with less, as the donors they rely on find their own budgets under pressure.

Nov. 28 marks Giving Tuesday, the day after the Black Friday-Cyber Monday spending blitz when Canadians are encouraged to open their wallets to those in need. Charities tell Global News that while inflation is cooling from recent highs, the compounding impact of a higher cost of living is making that need especially great this year.

The impact of still-elevated inflation on food and housing is being felt at charities like Fred Victor, which runs shelters, warming centres and a variety of housing services for more than 3,000 people a day across 23 sites in Toronto.

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Marie MacCormack, the organization’s vice-president of philanthropy and communications, says more Torontonians than ever are relying on Fred Victor’s services as they’re unable to afford basic necessities.

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But because the charity itself faces those same higher costs, like when it picks up ingredients from the grocery store to prep for a day in the kitchen, those impacts are magnified on Fred Victor’s bottom line.

“The combination of need and inflation have, for example, doubled our food costs,” MacCormack tells Global News.

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“To be able to pay the bills, to be able to pay your staff and to buy the supplies and make the food, to keep the doors open, the lights on, the heat … all the things that go into providing a meal or providing service.”

The high cost of housing has also “jammed” the pipeline for clients trying to move through Fred Victor’s system, she says.

Shelters are supposed to be temporary solutions for those in need of housing for a few nights or weeks, but those services are overcapacity lately with a lack of affordable rental units on the market. With Fred Victor clients now staying at shelters for months on end, spots aren’t freeing up; those in need of a bed for a night are stuck sleeping outside in many cases as the cold weather approaches.

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More Canadians turning to shelters, food banks

MacCormack says the demand for Fred Victor’s services of all kinds is up 150 per cent in October 2023 compared with the same month last year.

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Food bank usage in Canada meanwhile hit an all-time high earlier this year, a report last month showed.

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Recent Ipsos polling for CanadaHelps, an online donations platform, echoes the concerns for the charitable sector amid the rising cost of living.

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Nearly one in four (24 per cent) respondents to the poll conducted in late October said they expect to need help from a charity for food, health or housing services in the next six months. That’s up two percentage points from this time last year.

For those relying on charitable services for the first time this year, 69 per cent cited the rising cost of living as the main reason.

The needs at United Way Canada are “great and growing,” says Pauline Tardif, vice-president of fundraising and partnerships. The organization provides funding to local non-profits in addition to co-ordinating research and advocacy in the sector.

On top of eroding affordability, Tardif notes that many communities across the country have been hit by natural disasters like wildfires and flooding in the past year. That’s compounded issues of food security for many, and even put some of the United Way’s regular supporters in need.

“We’re in an interesting dilemma where some of our donors are also needing assistance,” Tardif says.

Canadians have less to give

A report from Deloitte Canada released in October forecast that charitable giving could dip as much as 40 per cent year over year with Canadians reining in spending on gifts and other holiday expenses as other financial pressures mount.

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Meanwhile, the Ipsos polling showed that 27 per cent of Canadians said they don’t plan to give financially to charities this year, up five percentage points from 2022. While 15 per cent of respondents said they’d give more to charity this year than last, 19 per cent indicated they’d give less.

This holiday season is a “critical” one for the non-profit sector at large and CanadaHelps specifically, says Nicole Danesi, the organization’s senior manager of public relations. The platform receives roughly 30 per cent of its donations in November and December, she notes.

While Giving Tuesday often kicks off the charitable season, Danesi notes that among the biggest days for donations at CanadaHelps is Dec. 31 — the deadline to make charitable contributions for deductions on the year’s income tax filing.

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But she also tells Global News the surge of giving that the non-profit sector saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to “taper off.”

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“We certainly have been seeing a bit of a plateau in donations,” Danesi says.

A slowing pace of giving has particularly hurt smaller and local charities that don’t necessarily have the same reach or profile as national organizations, she says.

‘We need to work twice as hard’

Tardif says the United Way is doubling down on in-person events and “not being shy” about sharing how charities are struggling this year.

She says they’re asking the Canadians who can to “dig a bit deeper” this year, reminding donors that the inflationary pressure that’s impacted household budgets has had a “snowball effect” on charities this year.

“We need to work twice as hard for the results that we get,” Tardif says.

For those who can’t donate, volunteering time is also helpful. Tardif notes that many Canadians who gave their time before the pandemic haven’t necessarily come back to in-person volunteering since.

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MacCormack also encourages those Canadians on a budget to be vocal, sharing the links to donation posts on social media and calling on local members of Parliament to take more immediate action to relieve housing pressure in the months to come — not years down the road.

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“If you’re vocal and share your opinion on what you think your city and your neighbourhood and your community needs, it has an impact,” she says.

Giving Tuesday will be a busy one for Fred Victor staff, with four in-person events scheduled in a bid to reach the organization’s ambitious fundraising goals. While it looked to raise $450,000 last year around the holidays, MacCormack says staff are now aiming to raise $1 million to meet today’s levels of need.

Fred Victor can’t rely on its existing donor base alone to reach those goals, MacCormack says, in part because of the fiscal pressure facing households.

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“Giving has gone down because I think there are people who just can’t give anymore,” she says.

Fred Victor will try to tap new givers to reach those goals — a more time-intensive endeavour than tapping an existing network of donors, MacCormack notes. For Canadians who have never given to charity before but who have the means, she encourages them to give in whatever amount they can and notice the immediate return on investment they feel.

“The endorphins that you get, the feelings that you get, it’s pure joy,” she says.

“I really hope those people who give already will be generous again and keep supporting. But I also really hope that people will give it a try and join us for the first time.”

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