Maybe you’ve heard of Warren Buffet’s reference to the Ovarian Lottery? If not, here’s how it works:

Just before you are born a genie asks you to pick one ball from a barrel of 7.4 billion balls (representing the world’s population). The ball will determine your gender, race, family, intelligence, health, and place of birth. This is what American businessman and philanthropist Buffett calls the Ovarian Lottery – where you’re going to get one ball, and it is likely the strongest determinant for the quality of your life to come. Buffet often challenges people – if you could put your ball back, and pick another, would you do it? There’s a 94% chance you will be born outside of North America, and an 80% chance you will have to live on less than $10 a day. Do you want to put your ball back in hopes of doing better than you’re doing now?

Buffet bets, and I agree, that most of you will not.

The message here is clear: North Americans are among the luckiest people on the planet and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.  Here in Canada, our society is founded on freedom, civility, security, charity, peace, prosperity and so much more. While simply living in Canada makes each of us a winner in the Ovarian Lottery the reality is some of us enjoy a larger share of the winnings than others.

So my question to you is this: Can we not find ways to give a little more to those in need in our own communities right here in Canada as the government simply cannot fill the growing gap?

You may not be aware that charitable giving in Canada has been steadily declining for the past 25 years. An analysis of donation behaviour (based on annual T1 Tax Returns) shows that the incidence of any charitable tax credit claims has declined from about 30% in the 1990s to a mere 21% in 2014. This is a decline of about one-third in less than a generation.

Furthermore, the average amount of donations per tax filer has also been declining. The gap is most observable among younger adults.

Charities and non-profits are an integral part of our social fabric, enabling our excellent standard of living. Our homeless shelters, food banks, aid organizations, healthcare, research, animal shelters, universities, and other non-profit organizations form the very foundation of our neighbourhoods. Many of these important organizations were built with the help of generous donations from proud Canadians in preceding generations. Now, these organizations need our support. It is our turn to step up and give back, through giving and volunteering for the causes we care about. If not us then who will contribute and support the very society we so enjoy?

Perhaps we also need to do a better job teaching the next generation the importance of building a greater culture of generosity in Canada. Yes, it falls to us to talk to our children and grandchildren about giving and giving back. If we can return charitable giving to the levels of a generation ago, this would represent more than a billion additional dollars to our non-profit sector each year. The decline in giving in Canada can’t afford to continue if we value what we currently have. And it is our collective responsibility to help support the non-profits that benefit us all.

This being April and tax time we are reminded of how much we have earned, and how much we have contributed in charitable donations. I hope we each pause to appreciate how fortunate and privileged we are.  For those with above average wealth (households earning over $100,000), and especially those with extreme wealth, we need to recognize, as Warren Buffet does, that such wealth only happens because society enables it.  No one becomes wealthy by themselves.  If businesses did not have customers, employees, and suppliers, then there would not be such wealth.  With good fortune comes the responsibility to give, no matter how much or little we earn.

How much to give? Well, let me ask: Could you live well and comfortably provide for yourself and/or your family on 98 to 99% of your income or wealth?  Now you get a sense of how much you could afford to generously give away.  If we each gave just a few percent a year we would fill the billion dollar gap which would reduce homelessness, help the needy, etc.  Of course, if money is tight, then the generous gift of your time as a volunteer is also an extremely worthy way of contributing.

As an Ovarian Lottery winner, please challenge yourself this year to more strongly support the charities and non-profit organizations that make Canada one of the most fortunate countries in the world in which to live.

Montrealer John Hallward, a senior executive at IPSOS, is founder and chairman of the GIV3 Foundation, a movement that encourages Canadians to volunteer and/or give to the charity of their choice.  

Related Posts