In Canada, we are fortunate to have a robust system of social good services and supports. Options for everything from mental health counseling and immigrant settlement services to sporting programs and cultural initiatives are available across the country.

However, this abundance of social infrastructure is under threat. Canadians have become accustomed to ready access to social services. Yet funding for these services that we all depend on is being squeezed as governments and charities at all levels struggle to do more with less. As a result, we are facing a social deficit.

Maintaining the social good services that form the foundation of our cherished Canadian society is crucial, but it won’t happen by accident. Tackling the existing social deficit and funding a flourishing social sector will require a group effort, and there is a role for everyone to pitch in.

Funding sources under pressure

Governments across Canada already play an important part in funding our social good services through public institutions and grants to non-profit organizations. However, governments can’t address all societal problems on their own. From tax cuts and budget deficits to increased costs and squeezed tax revenues, there are many factors hampering governments’ ability to better fund social services.

With governments stretched, charitable organizations need to lean more on individual Canadians, but here too are challenges. According to the Thirty Years of Giving in Canada report, individuals donated somewhere in the range of $9.6 to $16.2 billion in 2014 – an incredible total. However, economic and demographic changes are putting pressure on this source of funding for social organizations.

For example, the Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) has been a key source of donations from individuals in Canada over the past 30 years. But as more Boomers begin to pass away in the years ahead, this source of funding will gradually decline, potentially expanding the social deficit.

Stepping up to solve the problem

There is no single quick fix for our social deficit, but there are certainly steps we can take as part of a broader solution:

  • Governments can step up. Governments may lack the resources to boost their direct funding of social good services, but there are other ways they can tackle the social deficit. For example, expanding existing incentives or introducing new ones to encourage both individuals and companies to donate more could have a significant impact. Both groups are already generous in their support of charitable organizations, but even modest policy changes – for example, increased tax deductions for donations – could lead to a considerable boost in levels of giving.
  • People can step up. From small charitable donations to major philanthropic gifts, Canadians are crucial to the funding of social good services across the country. For those with the means to give, there is enormous potential for regular Canadians to shape our country for the better and have a lasting impact through charitable giving. This is already happening, of course, but there are ways to make this giving more effective.

Any support is always welcome, but you can maximize your impact by ensuring your giving is both intentional and planned. This means having a clear understanding of your family’s finances and your capacity to support charitable causes in addition to your other financial responsibilities. It also entails giving careful consideration to where and how you want to make a difference. Philanthropic giving can also have significant tax benefits, so it is worthwhile to discuss your options with a trusted advisor to optimize your giving – especially if you intend to make a major donation.

Collaborating for a better Canada

The ideal solution, of course, would be a concerted effort by both government and individuals to make our country and our world a better place.

Canada is grappling with a social deficit, but we have it within our power to fill the gap and create strong communities for our children, grandchildren and beyond. Everyone has a role to play, so let’s do this together!

Elke Rubach is President of Rubach Wealth, a Toronto-based firm that helps established professionals and business owners support the people and causes they care about through comprehensive wealth and retirement planning. Contact Elke at 647.349.7070 or by email at elke@rubachwealth.com.

Bruce MacDonald is President & CEO of Imagine Canada, a national non-profit organization that creates programs and resources to strengthen charities, promote corporate giving, and support the charitable sector. Contact Bruce at bmacdonald@imaginecanada.ca .