Global Voices: Newcomers are biggest givers, so welcome them

When it comes to charitable giving, who are the most generous Canadians?

If you guessed baby boomers, try again. It’s not age-related. Maybe the people of Newfoundland, with their big East Coast hearts? Still no cigar. The most generous Canadians are immigrants. Our newest Canadians contribute the most.

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Though Canada is more welcoming of refugees and immigrants than many other countries, even here, some see these groups as a burden. Newcomers take jobs and strain social services, according to detractors. Studies on giving paint a much different picture of immigrants, who support the charities and causes that make our communities great places to live. Faced with a rising tide of hatred in our country, that’s a picture all Canadians need to look at.

Immigrants donate more to charity, on average, than Canadian-born citizens of the same economic class, according to Statistics Canada. That holds true down to the lowest income brackets. New Canadian households making less than $40,000 still donate an average of $404 to non-profits annually, compared with $214 from non-immigrants earning the same.

It’s not just about money. While immigrants volunteer at a slightly lower rate than established Canadians, those who do volunteer contribute more hours on average.

New citizens clearly have a desire to give back to their adopted home. How are Canadians, especially Canada’s charities, welcoming them?

We need to think about how to better engage these groups in our communities and make it easier for them to be involved, says Bruce MacDonald, CEO of Imagine Canada, an organization supporting Canada’s non-profit sector.

One way to do that is by encouraging our community organizations — local non-profits, service clubs such as Rotary and the Elks, and even your kids’ minor hockey team — to reach out.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel has worked hard to engage newly arrived families. Immigrants represent half the population of Peel Region, west of Toronto. A diverse community means accommodating different cultural needs and approaches, says Shari Lynn, the organization’s CEO.

“You can’t cookie-cutter your programs.”

The traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters model of one-on-one mentorship doesn’t work for parents from some cultures, who aren’t comfortable with other adults having a close relationship with their children. So the organization adapted, developing a group mentoring program for immigrant youth called the Conversation Club.

Think about your own volunteer work or your favourite charity. You can help a local non-profit grow its impact and welcome new Canadians by ensuring that different cultures are considered when programming is created, or administrations are formed. The faces of the other volunteers, staff and board should look like the faces you see walking down the street.

The next time you plan a fundraiser for your daughter’s school robotics club or your son’s baseball team, think outside the Western calendar.

Holidays such as Diwali and Eid are an opportunity to engage immigrant communities at a time of giving that is meaningful to them.

With the number of charitable donors declining and another recession looming, immigrant donors might well be an essential lifeline for our community organizations in the future.

New Canadians are enhancing Canada’s reputation for generosity — one more reason to welcome them with open arms.

Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.

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