02/13/2013 03:33 EST | Updated 04/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Donations to charity rise despite fewer donors

Fewer Canadians are giving to charity, but those who are making donations are giving more, according to the latest figures gleaned from tax records.

Statistics Canada said Wednesday that taxpayers reported $8.5 billion in charitable donations on their 2011 tax returns. That's up 2.6 per cent from the $8.3 billion they claimed in 2010.

The increase came despite fewer donors. The number of people reporting charitable donations on their 2011 tax returns slipped 0.6 per cent from 2010 to 5.7 million, Statistics Canada said.

In 2011, 23 per cent of taxfilers claimed charitable donations. That was down from 23.4 per cent in 2010 and is the latest example of the steady and significant decline in rates of giving over the last 20 years. In 1990, almost 30 per cent of taxfilers claimed a charitable donation.

Manitoba (25.9 per cent), Saskatchewan (25.0 per cent), and P.E.I. (24.9 per cent) had the highest percentage of taxfilers who claimed donations.

The median donation — the point where half gave more and half less — was unchanged at $260. But that figure hid considerable variation.

For the 12th consecutive year, donors in Nunavut had the highest median donation among the provinces and territories — $470. Alberta donors gave a median donation of $400. Quebec had the lowest median at $130.

Among the major population centres, Abbotsford/Mission, B.C., again had the highest median charitable donation by far, at $630. Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Saskatoon followed.

Statistics Canada notes that more people may have actually made donations than suggested by tax return figures. For instance, couples can combine their donations on one return to maximize tax credits and people are able to carry forward donations to a year when it may be more advantageous to claim them.

The tax data also reflects only donations made to Canada's 85,000 registered charities where a tax receipt was issued.

Millions of Canadians also volunteer. A study on volunteering in Canada released by Statistics Canada last year showed that more than 13.3 million people — almost half of Canadians aged 15 and over — did volunteer work in 2010.