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Canadians know that true generosity goes beyond giving cash

The Huffington Post by Ann Rosenfield 19 December 2016

I say “Bah Humbug” to The Fraser Institute for saying an average Canadian is less generous than their American neighbour. Their 2016 Generosity Index makes Canadians look bad because Canadian give much less to charity. Cash gifts are only one part of the generosity story. The Fraser Institute research leaves out that Canadians volunteer way more than Americans. So they are only telling part of the story when they report on generosity.

I don’t have to tell you that volunteering is another important way to be generous. If you have ever coached a kid’s hockey team, you know the countless hours of practice as well as all the time reserving ice, collecting payments, giving out uniforms, and developing drills.

In fact, in a previous role at CNIB, I was lucky to work with the amazing Braille volunteers. Braille volunteers would undertake a rigorous two-year training program before they were allowed to volunteer translating documents into Braille. If spending two years learning a new language so that other people can read isn’t generosity, then I don’t know what is.

If you are looking to find someone to organize a food drive for the local food bank, you are more likely to find a volunteer in Canada than the U.S. In fact, the most recent Canadian Survey of Giving, published by Stats Canada found that Canadians have a more than 10 per cent higher volunteer rate than Americans as measured by the U.S. Government.

If you have ever fallen down the stairs in the winter and broken a leg, you sure want to live next door to a Canadian. That’s because Canadians are just plain more neighbourly. With your broken leg, you are more likely to have a neighbour drive you to the doctor in Canada. According to the Canadian Index for Wellbeing, Canadians have a 20 per cent higher informal volunteer rate compared that of Americans reported by the U.S. government .

Don’t just take my word for this. When Statistics Canada measures generosity, they look at cash giving, volunteering, and participation. So as Canadians, we think that our definition of kindness includes coaches and neighbours and cash givers.

To be sure, an earlier version of the Fraser Institute study did include volunteering. That is clearly a better approach. But they stopped that quite a while ago citing challenges with data. And it is true the easiest way to gather comparable information for both countries is to use income tax information. And, in fairness, the long pause on the long form census in years past sure didn’t help Canadian data.

But there is plenty of good data for both countries from government sources including Statistics Canada, a bunch of U.S. government departments, sources like Canadian Index for Wellbeing, The Corporate for National and Community Service (U.S.), and nonprofits like the United Way and Community Foundations.

Right now, people across Canada, are helping a neighbour, serving on a charity board, and coaching hockey teams — to name just a few examples. None of that activity will be captured using the Fraser Institute’s methods. And that is really too bad. Because all of that is just as generous as giving cash. And Canadians, like Americans, are hugely generous.

Ann Rosenfield is an award-winning expert helping donors, volunteers, boards and neighbours make good charity decisions.