Giving Guide: For Ottawa charities, engaging a younger donor is key to bridging the ‘giving gap’

Addison - Ottawa Humane Society, giving guide
Twelve-year-old youth ambassador Addison raised $1,800 for the Ottawa Humane Society's Wiggle Waggle Walk and Run this year. (Supplied)
Editor's Note

This is an excerpt from the 2023 Ottawa Region Giving Guide. To read the full article as well as other content, check out the publication here.

At the Ottawa Humane Society, director of development Lori Marcantonio has a very specific donor in mind, and it’s not who you might think.

That’s because Marcantonio is looking to the future. 

“Our biggest fundraising event of the year is the Wiggle Waggle Walk & Run,” says Marcantonio. “This year, for the first time ever, we’re prominently featuring a youth ambassador who has made more than $1,800 in donations. She’s 12 years old, she’s been raising money for the animals for years, and she’s interested in inspiring other children and youth to get involved.”

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Marcantonio estimates that the OHS has as many as 200 donors under the age of 12 who are raising money through lemonade stands, walkathons, or in lieu of birthday gifts. For the OHS, the goal is to attract very young and first-time donors and build brand awareness and an affinity for the organization early in life. 

In addition, the OHS engages youth in high school and university through co-op programs and internships.

“We work to continue to engage them in events and just general fundraising,” she says, adding that the youth who get involved with OHS aren’t just raising dollars, they’re donating their time. 

Plus, according to Marcantonio, the families of these young fundraisers become involved, which leads to larger donations as well as corporate donations. 

The United Way of Eastern Ontario also has a young adult fundraising program. Its GenNext program hosts various events where first-time donors can learn about the issues that affect their community, including diversity and inclusion, youth homelessness, equitable employment and mental health.

“Many young people might not have the means to make a donation due to their current financial situation,” says Mark Taylor, vice-president of resource development at United Way East Ontario, adding that many are grappling with the high cost of living, completing their education, or starting their careers.

“We know they are driven to speak out and advocate for social justice issues and volunteer their time to support causes they care about. They also, like so many of us, have a desire to find and be part of a community.”

Taylor says GenNext supporters want to deepen their connection to people who need support and understand how to make a tangible difference; they want to know their efforts and donations are making life better for real people. 

“Young people have a burning desire to ‘do more’ but some aren’t sure how. GenNext is a great starting point for them,” he says.

GenNext East Ontario bridges the gap between desire and means by being a community connection for young people to start their philanthropic journey.

The program brings together young leaders, aspiring philanthropists, entrepreneurs and local creatives to connect with each other while learning about United Way East Ontario’s causes and how to support communities in a way that is meaningful and long-lasting. This could mean attending a networking event today and later becoming a committed United Way donor once they are more settled into their career. 

“We accept donations, knowing that even small actions can make a big impact. We build meaningful relationships with young people through all of our GenNext activities, so that when they have the means to make a charitable donation, they’re ready to choose United Way,” Taylor says.

No one ‘ages out’ of the program, Taylor adds. In fact, there are GenNext donors who continue to give since the program was formed in 2016, he says. 

“We’re lucky that we’ve had many supporters who have stuck with us, even through the pandemic when our in-person events weren’t possible.”

However, these types of efforts on the part of charities don’t appear to be the norm. According to the Giving Report 2023 from Canada Helps, of 3,000 charities surveyed, 21.9 per cent said they had a dedicated strategy to engage younger Canadians. Perhaps as a result, just under half of respondents said they were dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the engagement their charity has seen with Canadians aged 18 to 30.

According to the report, the “giving gap” — the gap in fundraising between younger and older demographics — seems poised to widen. On the positive side, the report showed that giving from Canadians under 25 jumped 29 per cent from 2019 to 2020, a significant gain from the compound annual growth rate of -0.29 per cent from this group from 2010 to 2020. 

“While this age group contributed less than one per cent of total donations, it is still a positive sign of the willingness and ability of younger Canadians to show up and offer financial support,” the report said. It also noted that Canadians aged 25-34 and 45-54 increased the amount they gave in 2020 from 2019.

However, Canadians aged 55+ increased the amount they gave in 2020 by 2.2 per cent, about half the 10-year annual compound growth rate of 4.3 per cent shown by this group. 

“Could this be the first sign that more of the Canadians 55 and older who continued to give are no longer able to or the donors who are replacing them are not giving at the same rate?” the report questioned.To read the rest of this article as well as other content about giving in Ottawa, check out the 2023 Ottawa Region Giving Guide.

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