How many charities do you know of, use or donate to? A handful? One or two? You might be surprised to learn there are 86,051 in Canada and 12,273 in B.C.
According to data compiled by the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), there is one charity per 407 residents of B.C.
In a written statement, Dany Morin of the CRA explained what it takes to become a charity.
“Registered charities must have charitable purposes that fall into one or more of the following categories: the relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; and other purposes beneficial to the community.”
Out of the five sectors that charities are grouped in, 3879 are religious while only 838 are related to health.
There are 2,609 welfare charities, 2,329 education charities and 2,617 that are “benefits to the community,” which include organizations such as libraries and museums.
According to the data, the oldest charities still running are 1,351 registered in 1967 when new rules came in. As of March 23 there have been 34 registered this year.
But if charities traditionally fill in the gaps of state support, does Canada really have over 86,000 cracks in its social system?
According to the charities themselves, the short answer would appear to be no. Charities are diverse and often seek to enhance society rather than plugging gaps in social care. As well as cancer and education charities there is also a Scottish cultural centre, a Korean Methodist church and a Chihuahua rescue foundation, to name just three.
But why are there so many charities, especially as lots of them have overlapping or even identical goals?
Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation, which invests funds in local charities and community activities explains.
“The reasons are usually something has occurred in a person’s life and they want to support a cause that’s important to them. Sometimes they also do this to fill a niche. I was talking to someone this morning who said she felt there was a need to create an arts program in the schools for students from low income families and she started a charity that became, and still is, quite successful.”
Richardson says she advises clients to research if other similar charities exist and if a donor base is in place before they proceed.
Workers in the charity sector explain some charities are set up for tax or operational reasons, such as raising funds in Canada before building schools abroad. Institutions like universities or private schools, often need regular fundraising and so seek charitable status. Another reason is big donors sometimes have a one-at-a-time rule to try allocate funds fairly, which ironically incentivizes charities to resist joining together in fear of their chosen cause losing funding.
The numbers tell us that Victoria and Esquimalt have 855 registered charities, with communities on the Saanich Peninsula tacking on about 100 more. Richardson adds that the CRD has over 1,000 in total. The resourceful citizens of Vancouver swamp these numbers however, with 2,681 official charities registered in the city.