Dodging a Bullet: Anglican Church of Canada Donors Strong as Charity Sector Suffers

When the pandemic began, CanadaHelps, a charity that offers online giving solutions for churches and other charities, began work on an expanded version of its annual report. To do a report, says Jacob O’Connor, the charity’s senior vice president of charity, engagement and growth.

“In light of the pandemic and what we were seeing on the ground with charities, we felt responsible to speak out loud and clear about what was happening and to advocate on behalf of all charities,” he said.

Normally, the report focuses on online giving trends across Canada’s nonprofit sector. But the 2021 edition included data on charitable giving by all means in Canada, as well as a look at trends in the years surrounding the last major economic recession in 2008.

The charity found that the pandemic had hit the charitable sector hard, with a 10% loss in donations across the country, totaling around $1 billion less than the previous year. As in the previous recession, there was a strong correlation between the decline in Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the giving habits of Canadians. When GDP fell in 2020, donations also fell.

In addition to this drop in donations, charities across the country have seen a sudden increase in demand for their services as the stress and financial instability of the pandemic has left more people dependent on everything from mental health aid to food banks.

With in-person fundraising methods no longer an option, many nonprofits have found themselves stuck back and forth.

However, not all news is bad. Online donations, for example, had grown steadily at a rate of around 21% each year, but in 2020 they jumped 86%, year-over-year. Especially among religious organizations, “in-person services sort of disappeared overnight and for a long time,” says O’Connor. So going online became the best option they had.

As a result, even during the most difficult times of 2020, there has been a significant increase in donations from Canadians through online methods.

At the time of writing this article, the Giving Report 2022, with more information on 2021, was not yet available. But O’Connor says preliminary data shows that when GDP started to recover last year, so did donation rates.

Giving to General Synod never saw the dramatic drop in 2020 that hit the rest of the nonprofit sector. Deborah Barretto, Director of Mission Resources for the Anglican Church of Canada, monitors incoming donations and corresponds directly with donors. She says that while the trend in recent years has been a slow decline in donations as the average number of congregants ages and congregations shrink, “during the pandemic, we have actually seen an increase in donations.”

In 2020, the church brought in $468,230 in mission resource revenue, up from $440,718 in 2019. In 2021, that figure rose again to $601,682, according to an unverified statement presented to the Council of the General Synod in March (see “Church May Have $3.6 Million Surplus for 2021,” p. 1, for coverage of this statement).

Barretto says her conversations with donors suggest this increase came from a sense of urgency about the ministries of the church during the pandemic and the social strife she uncovered.

“When I call them to thank them, they say they feel it’s more necessary than ever to support the national church,” she says. “People are experiencing their own economic difficulties. Despite this, people stretch – which I think is the true meaning of generosity -[knowing] that other people are worse off than them.

Although the church does not collect demographic data on its donors, Barretto notes that, anecdotally, they tend to be older, with some known to be in their 70s and 80s.

According to the CanadaHelps report, people aged 55 and over donate twice as much as people aged 25 to 55. And indeed, says Barretto, the church’s aging membership may well be the reason for its stable giving during the pandemic. Yet, she notes, older Anglicans cannot continue giving at the same rates indefinitely. As they age, their income declines and eventually disappears, which means that unless the church can better engage younger donors, the overall downward trend is likely to continue.

One piece of advice O’Connor and Barretto offer is that young donors tend to respond better to specific causes as opposed to institutions. For example, says O’Connor, CanadaHelps received a significant response from donors under 55 when it created two funds to help underserved racial communities and Indigenous peoples following mounting concerns. concerning inequality in 2020.

Barretto says the church has already begun efforts to highlight specific causes its mission funds will support, including racial equity projects and helping Indigenous communities through the Indigenous Ministries department of the church. But she cautions that factors like job instability and inflation that impact young people’s financial advancement can complicate the goal of increasing the pool of young donors.

Until the future becomes clearer, she says, “we must proceed with optimism, but with caution. We are careful how we spend, but we also need to invest in fundraising to recover.

The money that Resources for Mission brings in is only a small part of the income of the Anglican Church of Canada. Most comes from contributions from the various dioceses, an amount that has been slowly decreasing for years. The 2021 draft financial statement shows it dropping again to $7,097,332 from 2020’s $7,669,188. Meanwhile, soaring inflation rates have resulted in higher costs.

Archdeacon Alan Perry, general secretary of the General Synod, is quick to point out that the drop in income is not due to a failure of the dioceses.

“The dioceses have been extraordinarily faithful in giving what they pledged to give,” says Perry.

But the overall decline in church membership is weighing on their contribution, he adds. And in 2021, the national church created a giving holiday, offering dioceses the chance to stop their contributions for a few months to shore up their own finances during the pandemic crisis. The result was another decline (although savings on travel costs from normally in-person gatherings, among other factors, resulted in substantial surpluses in 2020 and 2021).

Meanwhile, at the level of individual dioceses, the challenges are more in line with CanadaHelps data. Peter Misiaszek, stewardship director for the Diocese of Toronto, says he saw the need to give online firsthand. Income from parish offering plaques has always been less reliable than pre-authorized donations, he says. Many parishioners donate only on weeks when they attend church in person. With COVID-19 closures interrupting in-person attendance for months at a time, that’s even more true.

“Looking at the data, it’s clear that there is a strong correlation between the financial health of the parish and the number of donors using electronic giving methods,” he says. And given the number of parishes that have successfully promoted online giving, that’s good news. Before the pandemic, only three parishes in the Diocese of Toronto received at least 70% of their donations online. Now 26% do.

Shailene Caparas, finance director for the Diocese of New Westminster, says online giving has also been an important tool there. She notes, however, that it remains difficult to make older donors feel comfortable with the process of donating money online. And while many donors have lived up to O’Connor’s assessment that “Canadians are responding to a crisis,” with

one-time donations during the pandemic to meet increased demand from ministries like food banks, the momentum faltered as the pandemic dragged on, she says.

While Caparas recognizes the importance of promoting online giving, she adds that it’s only part of the solution. It is

just as important, she says, to remind people to create their family budget around an intentional commitment to give, not simply give according to what’s left in their budget.

“When a person has a good understanding of the responsibility of a Christian, when he understands the heart of God, he will be compelled to give. In cash, by online donation or by pre-authorized donation,” she says.

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