How Edmontonians can get the most value for their dollar when donating to charities this holiday season
While there are indicators signalling reasons for optimism, Alberta’s economic recovery remains tepid and many across the province continue to struggle financially.
The 2014 oil price crash has also led to a conundrum for charitable organizations working to help people in need: while the need for charitable donations is high, less people may feel they can afford to give or are being more careful with how they give out their money.
Economic doldrums or not, Edmontonians still tend to be more generous with charities than other places in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, 22.1 per cent of Edmontonians who filed taxes in 2015 claimed a charitable donation: that’s 208,650 people donating a cumulative total of over $445 million to charity. The national average was 21 per cent.
Many Edmonton charities push hard for donations during the Christmas holidays, in part to address the various needs presented by the cold weather experienced in the continent’s most populous urban centre, but also to ensure as many people as possible get to have a festive holiday.
So which charity is the best one to donate your hard-earned cash to make sure the money makes a difference?
“The most important thing is just trying to understand how the charity changes people’s lives,” said Greg Thomson, director of research with Charity Intelligence Canada (CIC).
“What are their programs aimed at doing and do they have any information on their website or can they tell you if you ask them about any data that shows they are changing the lives of the folks they’re working with.”
CIC is a Toronto-based organization, made up of both paid staff and volunteers, that is devoted to trying to help people across the country make informed decisions on which charities they donate to.
Four Edmonton-based charities currently have a “four-star rating” (the highest you can get from the organization) from CIC: Edmonton’s Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity Edmonton, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and the University of Alberta.
Using the United Way as an example, Global News asked CIC what that organization is doing right when it comes to serving the community.
“Quite a few of the United Ways score well on our system right now because they are transparent and United Way of the Alberta Capital Region is transparent with its financial statements,” Thomson said. “It is quite accountable to donors — it gets an A- rating on donor accountability — so it’s doing a good job of reporting to donors (about) what it’s doing, why it’s doing it, and some of the outlets that are coming from that, how many folks are helped by that.
“Its cost efficiency is fine, it’s not spending too much on overhead.”
Mike Kluttig, vice-president of community engagement with the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, told Global News that for several years now, his organization has tried to zero in on helping the 120,000 people (40,000 children) who are living in poverty in Alberta’s Capital Region.
He said its relationship to donors is critical and so they take extra care to be accountable and transparent by providing donor impact reports that show where dollars are invested and tell real stories of people who have benefited.
“Any time you give a gift to the United Way, not only are you thanked and appreciated for that gift, but you get regular updates on the type of impact that your gift is making in the community.”
Kluttig said the push for donations is particularly active at Chirstmas for his organization because the holidays can be especially difficult for people living in poverty.
“If you’re already having a tough time and Christmas comes along and you’re struggling to make choices between paying rent and putting food on the table, when it comes to Christmas a lot of the time you’re having to say no to the kids.”
The CIC said another factor to consider when trying to decide which charity can best use your money is finding out just how much they need the cash right now.
“We look at how much cash it [the charity] has on hand, whether it even needs funds, which is a question many donors don’t even think about,” Thomson said. “Just thinking that every charity needs funds but some charities actually have enough money on their balance sheets to keep them going for five years, and even eight years sometimes.”
630 CHED Santas Anonymous is an Edmonton charity affiliated with 630 CHED, a radio station owned by Corus Entertainment which also owns Global News. Its aim is to make sure every child in the Edmonton area gets a toy at Christmas and most of its donations aren’t cash, but rather the toys themselves.
“If you look at a retail value of approximately $85 (for toys given to the charity’s beneficiaries), times 25,000 kids, that’s like a $2-million in-kind budget,” said Lana Nordlund, the charity’s executive director. But Nordlund said the charity doesn’t run on toys alone and also needs some financial support.
“If we don’t get those toys, then we have to have a fallback, and that means we have to have some money,” she said. “So our budget each year is about $500,000 and out of that, we do of course have rent and some salaries and operating expenses… but the majority of that is used to purchase toys.”
Nordlund said 630 CHED Santas Anonymous is able to work with wholesalers to get a significant discount on toys in order to use donor funds more efficiently.
630 CHED Santas Anonymous works closely with another charity, the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton, as well as coordinating with about 100 other agencies who know who their clients are in order to decide where the toys need to be distributed.
The United Way also works hand-in-hand with local agencies to help address the issue of poverty.
“When it comes to United Way, one of the great benefits is that we work with over 50 social sector partners that deliver over 100 programs and services right here in our community,” Kluttig said. “What that means is that a donation to United Way stretches really far and wide into many programs that help people struggling in poverty in the community.”
Watch below: Delivery day 2016 for 630 CHED Santas Anonymous
Thomson said by their very nature, some charities are simply not able to be as efficient with how much money is needed to make an impact on people’s lives. He said wish-granting charities need a lot of money for every single person they help so people need to decide what kind of impact they want to have and on how many people.
“In terms of dollar impact, a couple of these charities cost $10,000, $20,000 even, for each wish. And so if you think about your money going to change lives, it’s really tough if you’re starting from having it cost $20,000 to grant one wish.
“There are many, many reasons that Canadians give but if folks want to give to have impact, we’re trying to take some of the subjectivity out of it,” Thomson said. “We’re trying to figure out how much change charities do make for dollars that are given so certainly there is subjectivity based on what people are interested in, what they’re passionate about, things that matter to them — but if they’re looking to try to figure out how much change is happening based on their donations, then we’re trying to remove some of that subjectivity.”
The CIC said it doesn’t have a hard number of what a reasonable amount of overhead for a charity should be, but said for every dollar you donate, it’s reasonable to expect that 95 cents to 65 cents should to be going to the cause.
The CIC generally reviews larger charities but said people looking to donate to smaller charities over the holidays can use a similar process to look into what charity is the right one for them to give to. A simple phone call or visit to a website may help answer questions about where money goes and how people are benefiting.
Global Edmonton is also involved in helping charities this Christmas season. The Give Me Shelter campaign is an annual drive for toys and other items for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
The Give Me Shelter campaign collects basic needs like clothing and toiletries and provides them to five women’s shelters: Win House, WINGS, A Safe Place, LaSalle Residence and Lurana Shelter.
Watch below: One Global News viewer donated several beautiful bears to the Give Me Shelter campaign
The Give Me Shelter campaign will run until Dec. 15. It was started by former Global Edmonton news anchor Lynda Steele in 2004. For more information on the campaign, click here.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.