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Rediscovering What Canadian Donors Want

by Mary Bowyer, CFRE, and Lorelei Wilkinson, CFRE

canada dollarDiscovery questions are the key to understanding donor motivation and behavior. You most likely have sat with donors in coffee shops, living rooms and offices to learn more about what inspires them to give and to keep giving. There are many questions that can be asked to increase understanding of what donors want. Each unique answer brings us closer to a match between a donor’s philanthropic passion and our worthy charitable programs. Unfortunately, fundraisers have the opportunity to meet with only a very small percentage of donors.

Donor surveys help bridge this gap. The AFP Foundation for Philanthropy–Canada’s research committee contracted Ipsos ( to conduct research through online surveys in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The November 2015 AFP What Canadian Donors Want survey includes some of the important longitudinal questions from prior editions such as donor confidence, views on administration and preferred method of contact. “Research helps us move beyond understood best practice into emerging areas that affect charitable work and affect our donors,” says Lorelei Wilkinson, CFRE, chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy–Canada Research Committee.

The new 2015 survey also includes psychographic questions that help determine donor segments according to personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. Respondents were asked to indicate their level
of agreement with statements to help identify their donor segment, such as some of the following examples:

  • I believe the world will be a significantly better place for the next generation.
  • I consider myself a leader in shaping opinions among my network of family and friends.
  • I have sacrificed many things in order to succeed at my work/career or in school.
  • I’m proud of my generosity and don’t mind that others know about it. n I generally keep my opinions about social and political issues to myself.
  • I sometimes feel guilty for all that I have and want to give something back to others.

As in the 2011 and 2013 surveys, the 2015 AFP What Canadian Donors Want survey includes a general population online and a national sample, and some of those key findings are included in this article. In addition, AFP has collaborated with CanadaHelps (, an online donating and fundraising platform, to take the same survey questions to additional donors. CanadaHelps sent out a total of 29, 212 surveys to Canadians who have a history of making donations using CanadaHelps and receive its marketing emails. This approach was chosen to ensure a response rate that would result in a sample size that was sufficient to run a segmentation of donors and to better understand the differences and similarities between Canadians who donate online versus the full population of Canadians. The results of the survey should be read in this context. (Full results from both the general population Ipsos panel and CanadaHelps comparison will be featured online this spring and in the Summer 2016 Advancing Philanthropy, together with commentary on how you can apply the findings to your daily work.)

Key Findings From the 2015 What Canadian Donors Want Survey

Public trust in charities has increased compared with two years ago. Furthermore, directionally, more Canadians believe charities act responsibly with the donations they receive and that charities are well-managed.

However, a sizeable minority of Canadians continue to believe that charities overstate the proportion of donation dollars that go directly to the cause versus going to overhead and administrative costs. This is the primary reason why Canadians may distrust charities.

While a large minority of Canadians proactively donate on their own, more say they are approached by the charity. Not surprisingly, asking for a donation significantly increases the chance of getting a donation. Three-quarters of those contacted for a donation actually make a donation compared with only 53 percent of those who were not approached.

At the same time, the number of Canadians who say they have been contacted for a charitable donation in the past 12 months has declined for the second year in a row. This coincides with a decline in the number of Canadians who report making a financial donation in the past 12 months—the lowest reported since tracking began.

The decline in donations has come primarily from Canadians with middle education and lower household incomes (less than $60,000). Regionally, donations are down directionally in Alberta and Quebec.

Although disease/medical charities remain among the causes at the top of the list for donations, fewer donors indicate giving to these charities compared with findings in 2013 and 2011.

Across Canada, interest in direct-mail solicitation has declined, although it is still the most preferred method, while preference for email has increased directionally and now is the second-most-preferred method. Pointof-purchase requests and newsletters (print or electronic mail), as well as in-person or street canvassing, are less popular than they were in 2013. Interest in telephone requests has doubled, although it remains the preferred approach for less than one in 10 Canadians.

Donors increasingly say that it is important for charitable organizations to let them know how their donation is making a difference, and fewer require a thanks/acknowledgement of their donation.

The vast majority of respondents who have donated in response to an invitation or post that came through their social media account say these requests came from someone they know personally. Most say their perception of receiving a request for a donation through their social media account depends on who sends it or what charity it comes from.

The notion that donors want to support charities that are efficient with their dollars and effective in their work is prevalent. Many prioritize their contributions to well-known charities and those that have enough infrastructure to get the fundraising they need to achieve their objectives. Canadian donors appear to place their faith in organizations that are set up to achieve their goals and have the intended impact. This notion of “efficient and effective” charities appears to be associated with several other motivational aspects. However, there is one segment that appears heavily influenced by this factor, regardless of whether or not the charity aligns perfectly with the donor’s own mindset or worldview. More than half of this segment prefers to direct most of their donation dollars to supporting medical/disease charities.

There is a way!

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Shifts in Opinion

↑ Perceptions of charities being trustworthy have increased (up 4 points from 2013). 

↓Fewer Canadians now think that they are approached for donations “far too much” (down 5 points). 

↓Donors who have given in the past 12 months are less likely to feel they are “very knowledgeable” of the charitable causes they support (down 7 points). 

↑ At the same time, donors who have given in the past 12 months are more likely to say they are “not very knowledgeable” (up 4 points).

↑ Donors say it is important to receive information on how their donation has made a difference (up 6 points).

↓ However, fewer donors say that if they do not receive some kind of thanks/acknowledgement for their donation, this has an impact on future donations to a charity (down 7 points).

Shifts in Behavior

↓ Fewer Canadians say they have been contacted for donations in the past year (down 8 points from 2013).

↓ Fewer Canadians made a donation in the past 12 months (down 4 points).

↑ More donors say that the charities they supported benefitted their local community (up 5 points).

↓ Fewer donors say that the charities they supported benefitted Canada as a whole (down 7 points).

↓ Donors are less likely to have donated to charities supporting a disease/medical condition (down 12 points).
56 Advancing Philanthropy / Spring 2016

↑ Donors are more motivated to donate because “it is the right thing to do” (up 5 points).

↓ Donors are less motivated to donate because they “want to give back to the community” (down 4 points).

↓ Fewer donors are finding information on the charities they support from family/friends/co-workers (down 5 points).

“Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy–Canada is excited to have once again undertaken this very important research into the behaviors and opinions of Canadian donors,” says Leah Eustace, ACFRE, principal at Good Works (www.good in Ottawa, Ontario, and chair of the foundation’s board. “The research is broader and more robust than it has ever been before, and I encourage everyone to stand up and take notice. Our donors have spoken.”

Visit to read the results of the 2015 AFP What Canadian Donors Wantsurvey and to access the Spring 2016 webinar that will include commentary
and online polling on key topics that can be applied to your fundraising plans.

Mary Bowyer, CFRE, is a philanthropy specialist in Toronto, and Lorelei Wilkinson, CFRE, is national senior manager, major giving, at the Children’s Wish Foundation ( in Pickering, Ontario.

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