All About Estates

Does Charity Data Matter?

The Toronto Star Christmas Carol Concert, 2018

What role do data and metrics play when we make charitable donations? Often very little. And that, in certain cases, is a good thing. This was brought home to me twice recently. First, at the 40th Annual Toronto Star Christmas Carol Concert in early December and then by an estate client.

Public Data

The Toronto Star’s concert at St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street supports the Santa Claus Fund. The Fund, which dates back to 1906, provides Christmas packages to 45,000 underprivileged children each year. The concerts of massed choirs are free, and the plate is passed to raise money for The Toronto Star Children’s Charities, a registered charity.

To the great embarrassment of my family, as the collection started I pulled out my phone and checked the T3010 charity return on the Canada Revenue Canada (CRA) website. I examined the 2017 Statement of Operations as the plates closed in on me, and notice that the charity had $1.9 million in tax receipted donation, its entire revenue for the year. Except, presumably, for the unreceipted donations made by the 3000 people at the two concerts that day.

For a brief moment, my professional brain pondered how a charity supported by a large company could make this apparent reporting error. I had a moment of dark irony thinking about all the Star’s investigative reporting on charities over the years. But this passed.

We gave cash when the platter arrived. And we would have donated more if we could have done it electronically and got a receipt. But my/our decision was not ultimately affected by the official data or the tax receipt. We trust the charity will deliver on its promise.

I don’t want to suggest that the accurate CRA filings are not important, nor that charity data doesn’t reveal indicators about the health or efficiency of the charity. But giving to charity has many motivators. There are emotional and social factors. Trust and values are key. Support for one’s own community – and volunteers in our community – is deeply rooted and often goes beyond the analytical.

Public Good

The second story is about an estate donation. Recently, we have been working with a 90-year-old who is donating the majority of his estate to three charities in a town in Nova Scotia. The town has 10,000 residents and 11 registered charities. Six are churches, two are government-funded home care agencies, one focuses on heritage, one on education, and one on youth. Collectively the 11 charities raised less than $1 million in donations last year. Candidly, not many could survive rigorous scrutiny of their government filings.

But that doesn’t matter to our client. For him, these charities are the way his community comes together to provide care and support for its members. They are run by volunteers and play an essential civic role – animating the public space between private lives. In terms of scale and capacity, these 11 charities are what over 90% of Canadian registered charities look like. Some will transform the world, but most focus on humanizing and sustaining their communities. They deserve our good will and support.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with over 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.


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