choose a charity

Almost a third of Canadians today feel they should be giving more, and two out of three think they would give more if they felt more confident about their giving, and might find it easier to choose a charity to support.

That’s according to a new study by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP, which surveyed thousands of Canadians about their charitable giving habits.

Why the lack of confidence? 73% of Canadians believe charities spend too much on salaries, administration and fundraising, and 50% say charitable organizations can’t be trusted with the money donated to them.

Canadians today appear to be uncertain, confused and even frustrated about charitable giving.

That was how Kate Bahen, founder and director of the Canadian charity research service Charity Intelligence, felt when she and a group of friends were invited to a fundraising event back in 2006.

“It was a group of us sitting at a black tie dinner, and someone asked ‘Does anybody actually know what this charity actually does?’ And we were sitting there, and we were looking at the room, and we were going, ‘How much does this event cost to put on?’”

Bahen had a background as a financial analyst, so the next morning she called the charity and asked for its financial statements. When she got a hold of them, she was shocked by the amount of overhead and waste she saw. Bahen describes that moment as a wakeup call for her own giving.

“I had never seen my giving as an investment before that,” says Bahen. “If I go to the bank, they’re going to tell me which mutual funds to invest in. If I go to my financial advisor, they’re going to help me create my portfolio. Giving to me is just as important—is there somebody who can help me with my giving [in the same way]?”

Determined to choose charities in Canada that would maximize the impact of their own giving, Bahen and her colleagues began sharing spreadsheets of financial data on charities amongst themselves.

They found the information so helpful that they eventually began sharing the documents with friends and family. In 2006, inspired by the charity reporting and analysis work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and realizing that all Canadians could benefit from more financial transparency in charitable giving, they escalated their efforts and began crunching the numbers on 80 Canadian charities. Charity Intelligence (Ci) was born.

Today, Ci has grown to have two full-time employees and more than two dozen volunteers, and has produced financial reports on more than 700 Canadian charities, each of which it updates annually and makes accessible on its website to all Canadians free of charge.

Bahen says Ci keeps the information they release concise, so it’s easy for someone to choose a charity they want to support.

“We focus on the one pagers, making sure that donors have the most relevant, recent information on hand,” says Bahen. “Hopefully it’s all the information you need to know about a charity in one spot written in common English, with clear metrics, a consistent standard.”

In addition to reports, Ci also singles out exceptional organizations that it thinks are particularly worthy of Canadians’ attention, like the ones on in its Top 10 Impact Charities of list.

“Each of their ten Top Impact Charities is likely to produce over $600 in value from a $100 gift.”

This year’s list singles out charities like Doctors Without Borders, Indspire and Moisson Montréal for their ability to produce the most positive impact and results per dollar donated. Ci claims that each of their ten Top Impact Charities is likely to produce over $600 in value from a $100 gift.

The Top Impact Charities of 2017, according to Ci:

Aunt Leah’s Place
Calgary Urban Project Society
Doctors Without Border
Eva’s Initiatives
Food for Life
Fort York Food Bank
Fresh Start Recovery Centre
Indspire
JUMP Math
Moisson Montréal

Ci hopes that Canadians can use the information published on its site to make more informed decisions about their giving, and to start using the same level of care and attention they choose a charity as they would making any other kind of investment.

So far, Ci’s plan seems to be working. More than 400,000 people come to website each year, and the organization is regularly approached by Canadians looking for an unbiased, third-party perspective on their giving. Forty percent of Ci’s website users are under the age of 35—a hopeful statistic, given recent findings about the obstacles Canadian millennials face in charitable giving.

Not everyone who has been subjected to Ci’s analysis has been happy. Some charities have criticised the organization for focusing too much on efficiency and treating charities too much like corporations.

“Some charities love us. And some charities don’t,” says Bahen. “And I sort of say, well, you’re shooting the messenger.”

Bahen says that Ci tries its best to account for a charity’s intangible impact, and that it gives each charity a chance to review and defend their financial record before it goes up on the Ci website. And she points to the dramatic increase in financial transparency among Canadian charities as proof of the Ci’s positive role in Canadian giving.

“You’ve got 84,000 charities in Canada. Thirty-four percent of what Canadians give goes to one hundred of them. In 2010 only 70% of those hundred charities had their audited financial statements on their website. Today we’re at 96%.”

“These aren’t little charities,” emphasizes Bahen. “If you’re in the top one hundred, you have annual donations of over $17 million. These are the biggest charities in Canada.”

Bahen says that Canadians’ fears about not maximizing the impact of their charitable dollars are legitimate worries, and that the dangers of financial mismanagement can be significant.

“One person I talked to gave a million dollars to a hospital for an MRI machine, and that MRI machine is still shrink wrapped in the basement. Another donor gave a million dollars to a children’s hospital foundation, and the money went right into the bank. They didn’t understand the [basic] difference between a hospital foundation and a hospital.”

For Bahen, the ultimate goal of Ci is to make Canadians as confident as possible about their giving.

“Our goal, our crazy ambition is for Canada to have the best informed donors in the world.”

Bahen cites the example of a donor who was once approached by a charity for a $1,000 donation.

“Before saying yes, she checked Charity Intelligence and saw that we had given the charity a four star rating. She decided to give the charity $5,000 instead.”

That pattern seems to holding on a larger scale as well. Ci says that 77% of the people who read a charity research report say that the amount of confidence they have in a giving decision goes up. When their confidence goes up, users report that they’re giving 32% more.

The work being done by Ci intersects with CHIMP’s goal of empowering people to become informed, engaged, long-term donors.

They can make a powerful team: with funds stored in a giving account, and the ability to support any registered Canadian charity, the CHIMP platform helps donors escape the reactive, give-only-when-asked fundraising paradigm. At the same time, Ci provides the information Canadians need to donate confidently.

Sure,  doubt, confusion and hesitation might still be holding back some Canadian giving. But organizations like Ci and CHIMP are doing their part to create a new generation of more engaged, confident givers.

Trying to Choose a Charity in Canada? Here are the Top Impact Charities According to Charity Intelligence

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