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.
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Introduce your children to books that encourage compassion and generosity toward others. Try “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss for its message about the environment, “The Legend of Bluebonnet” by Tomie De Paola for its focus on sacrificing for others, and “Something Beautiful” by Sharon Wyeth, which is about seeing beauty in the unlikeliest places. Biographies about inspiring figures (“Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport) can also spark important conversations on how they can pitch in.
A great way to get your family invested in volunteering is to use it as a way to explore their interests and talents. Are they into sports? Volunteer to coach a youth league or help them start a collection of unused gear to donate to a school or organization in need. Are they crazy about animals? Pitch in at a pet shelter or with an animal welfare organization. To foster an even deeper sense of togetherness, participate in activities that explore your family’s heritage, whether it’s volunteering at a museum or reading stories at your local community center.
What sparks excitement in a teenager may provoke boredom or confusion in your grade-school child. Try to turn younger children on to volunteering by starting with simple visit to a food bank or clothing drive where they can sort items. Alternatively, you can help them start an ongoing collection (glasses, old cell phones, etc.) to donate. For older children, activities that connect to their interests and skills will help them develop their talents, stay out of trouble and serve others.
It’s too easy to lose out on the real spirit of the holidays when you’re caught in a whirlwhind of materialism. How about finding a way to make your holiday about slowing down and spending time with your family? There are plenty of food banks, hospitals, homeless shelters and retirement homes that welcome volunteers on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a great way to establish a ritual of volunteering with your kids that could well extend through the rest of the year.
Even if your family can’t devote a whole day to volunteering, incorporate giving as a routine. Make service both a long-term commitment and an everyday occurrence. And the benefits are long-lasting: According to Tanisha Smith, a national director of volunteer services for Volunteers of America: "Two-thirds of youths who volunteer become active adults who volunteer."
We admit that it’s a hard sell to get your kid to sacrifice the allure of the traditional birthday party, but Volunteer Guide has some great pointers for making volunteering -- and fun! -- the main attraction. Encourage guests to donate a small sum to a charity of your family’s choice in lieu of an extravagant gift. And instead of useless party favors, kids can leave knowing that they’ve made the world a little brighter, whether they’ve written a letter to a sick kid or planted a tree.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to model good values and have important conversations with your kids. Make it meaningful by asking them questions before, during and after: What do they hope to get out of this day of service? What did they learn? Go to DoingGoodTogether.org for more great discussion-starters.
Follow Ann Rosenfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnnBRosenfield