Hmmm… The numbers don’t add up!

July 6, 2018

I have a degree in Statistics (7 out of 10 folks say this is neat, btw.) One of the first things I learned is that statistics can look however you want. Heresy, you say! I beg to differ — look at your average gift. Do you count refusals (gifts of 0) as gifts (it would certainly bring your average down)? Numbers have a funny way of distorting the facts.

I read some statistics that say three in four Canadians say they give to charity, yet only 23% file a return with charitable donations. Where is the disconnect? Perhaps it is with the definition of giving to charity — does the purchase of a lottery ticket for the charity count as giving to charity? What about dropping some coins in a coin collection box at a checkout lane? What about giving money to street buskers? What about folks who give through businesses or foundations? What about in-kind gifts?

I have often found that the numbers don’t add up when you are in the non-profit world. (I have also experienced some colleagues that like to count the same numbers over and over again in hopes of making their numbers look better, but that will be the topic of a different blog). It all comes back to how you ask the question — that’s why there is such disparity in the answers. I believe that the question of whether they give to charity had a fairly broad definition (if any), while the definition on your tax return is quite narrow.

But what is giving to charity anyway? Is it only tax-receiptable transactions? (I met a parishioner decades ago who never would put his weekly contribution in the envelope provided, rather he placed a new, crisp $100 bill on the collection plate every week. When confronted about this, he said he didn’t need a tax receipt and that this weekly transaction was between him and his maker, not the government). What about giving of your time? (I think [hope] most folks have now learned to differentiate between volunteering and donating.)

Why is there such a disparity between the ‘filers’ and the ‘claimers’? I think people’s perceptions become their reality. People often perceive that a charity asks them for financial support much more often than is actually the case. I don’t think people are lying, rather I believe that they’re being constantly asked for support from a myriad of charities that, upon reflection, it is challenging to differentiate one from the other.

A number that does make sense is from the Blackbaud Institute — it found that 93% of the Canadian population considers charities important. All to say, there is great potential here, folks! (Furthermore, who the heck are the 7% that don’t consider charities important?!?!)