Ed Galvin has happy memories of visiting the Calgary Zoo two years ago to see about 20 elementary schoolchildren having their classes there. They were taking part in a program that gets students away from the school environment to learn about wildlife in a practical way. Each group spends a week at the zoo, helping to care for animals in between their regular lessons. “I even got to go inside the tiger cage with the kids,” says Galvin, 84. “It was great fun.” The program has been running for three years, funded by a donation from Galvin—$2 million worth of shares in Calgary-based Poco Petroleums Ltd., the firm he founded and ran until his retirement two years ago.
In November, in memory of his wife, Frances, who died last May, Galvin donated another $3.1 million of his shares, once again to the Calgary Foundation, an organization that handles several hundred endowment funds that support 230 causes in the city, including the zoo program. “A lot of people wait until they die and have their estate give to charity,” says Galvin, who is still a member of the Poco board of directors. “I wanted to give something back now to the community where I’ve lived and prospered.”
While the magnitude of Galvin’s donations sets him apart, the charitable impulse is something most Canadians share. The Maclean’s/CBC News poll finds 75 per cent of respondents agreeing with the statement “No matter what your income, I believe we have a large responsibility to donate to charitable organizations.” Fully 92 per cent say that helping the community in some way is important to them. What is more, the altruistic urge is common to all regions and age-groups. “These are broadly based, deeply rooted values,” says
Charity and household income
Michael Sullivan, a partner in The Strategic Counsel, which conducted the poll.
Even so, when it comes to the size of charitable donations, Canadians trail their neighbors to the south. On average, Americans give two per cent of their income to charity, while Canadians donate 1.6 per cent. One reason for the difference, Sullivan suggests, could be the larger role government plays in Canada. “A lot of Canadians believe they are helping the needy through their higher taxes, which go to support social programs,” he says.
But the charitable spirit seems to be enjoying a resurgence in Canada. Donations to charities climbed by 11.5 per cent in 1996—the largest single-year increase since 1984—to a total of $3.97 billion. That is a major shift from earlier in the decade. “If you look at the period 1990 to 1995,” says Gordon Floyd, director of public affairs for the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, representing hundreds of registered charities, “the total was up only two per cent after you factor out inflation.”
A combination of factors appears to have triggered the sudden increase in giving: a stronger economy, new tax incentives for those
who make donations and a sense of obligation people feel when government cuts its social spending. Adjustments to federal income tax law instituted over the past two years have increased the maximum charitable contribution to 75 per cent of taxable income, from 20 per cent. And donors who give publicly traded shares to a registered charity pay only half of the normal capital gains tax on the increased value on the shares.
The capital gains credit was a factor in his latest donation, Galvin acknowledges. But he says it was not his key motivation. “My sense is that with government cutting its support for programs like welfare
and other areas,” he says, “the burden has been shifted to the community, and people who are able to help out are more sensitive to the need.” Galvin is not alone is seeing the shrivelling of government funding as the main cause of loosened charitable purse stings. “People see the cutbacks and they realize the onus in many cases now is on charities to pick up the slack,” says Sam Aylesworth, executive director of the Calgary Foundation, which has received $14 million in contributions in 1997, up $5 million since 1991.
Not everyone is motivated by such altruism. The workplace often applies subtle pressures to be charitable. And, says Dick Thomas, an executive recruiter in Calgary, some employers simply like to see the people they hire putting something back into the community. Besides, “being involved in charitable activities can expand your network of contacts,” says Thomas. Whatever the reason, a growing commitment to the cause is welcome news to the many over-burdened charities.
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