A Guide to Meaningful Giving: Advice from nonprofits for new and prospective donors

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If you’re reading this and are diving into charitable giving for the first time, you might be feeling a little daunted by the prospect, and perhaps more than a little frustrated by the challenge of deciding how and where to direct your support.

You’re not alone. According to the Canada Helps Organization’s 2024 giving report, data reveals a consistent decline in the number of Canadian donors each year. The percentage of contributors dropped from 21.9 percent in 2013 to 17.7 percent in 2021, marking the most significant decrease in a decade.

This is unfortunate, as not only do nonprofits serve as critical lifelines for vulnerable communities and individuals facing the worst crises of their lives, but they’re also full of kind, compassionate advocates who want to help prospective donors engage meaningfully with the causes and communities they serve.

And so, to bridge this gulf, we decided to collect our top 3 insights that nonprofits want everyone, who wants to give and make an impact, to consider. As you dive into your philanthropic journey, these insights will help you magnify the impact you can make.

#1 – Establish a Giving Routine

Consistency is crucial for nonprofit organizations. Just as having a consistent income helps you plan and budget your life, knowing how much funding can be expected not only reduces the manpower and time nonprofits need to spend on budgeting and planning but also makes it possible to commit to programs and services long-term.

Especially for the individuals and communities receiving those services, knowing that support will be available consistently and reliably makes a world of difference. It can be the difference between an abuse victim receiving the counselling and care needed to heal, a young person on scholarship being able to finish school and start their career, or an unhoused individual having accommodation for long enough to find a stable, permanent situation for themselves.

And so whether it’s turning a one-time $100 gift into 12 monthly installments of $8.50, committing to a multi-year donation (no matter how small), or just being available consistently once a month, quarter, or year as a volunteer, any consistency you create in your giving routine translates not only to a multiplier effect for the nonprofit (reduced administrative burden) but to a direct positive impact on the individuals and communities the nonprofit serves.

#2 – Be a Catalyst for Improvement

As a potential donor, your experiences and observations while interacting with nonprofits can play a crucial role in their evolution. Providing feedback regarding your journey – whether it’s navigating their website, participating in their fundraising activities, or dealing with administrators – can become a powerful catalyst for positive change.

Nonprofits strive to direct maximum resources toward their cause, often leading to a reduced focus on operational efficiency or user experience. This lean approach, while essential for keeping overhead costs low, paradoxically can create a tendency to overlook improvements in fundraising and donor engagement where the benefits would be realized later on.

Nonprofit staff, fueled by passion, often grapple with increasing demands on their resources. Your feedback can be the catalyst that transforms their intentions into tangible actions, drawing in more supporters like yourself. 

Surveys stand out as a straightforward and powerful tool for nonprofits to gather valuable insights. By taking just a few minutes to share your thoughts intentionally, you provide essential guidance that shapes their future endeavours and amplifies their impact within the community.

#3 – Engage with Intentionality

Your engagement with a nonprofit isn’t confined to monetary donations. Your time, professional expertise, as well as your lived experiences, can be a valuable resource to nonprofits when used with intention and forethought.

A big way in which nonprofits make a difference is by creating communities of supporters, advocates, and advisors. It’s easy to overlook these communities, as their work is often behind the scenes, and building and maintaining them takes a lot of work. We’ve already discussed how nonprofits, by design, cannot often invest in such initiatives.

Which is where you can help. As you begin your philanthropic journey, you’re in a perfect position to reflect on how, as you engage with causes and communities over time, you can intentionally develop a better understanding of the organization, the communities served, and how your professional and lived experience can offer novel insights.

This can take many forms. You might begin volunteering with multiple programs to gain a better understanding of the community’s issues, and over time become an advocate for the cause in your professional and personal networks. Or you might serve on a board, contributing your expertise to the nonprofit’s strategic direction, and over time develop expertise in the organizational challenges nonprofits face.

Looking Ahead

Regardless of which path you take, approaching your philanthropic engagement as a long-term endeavour, one that will inevitably help you to grow and change, can make you a vital supporter of your chosen cause.

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