How not-for-profits can boost engagement

A report from Insights firm IMI explores how messaging can bridge the gap between intention and donation.


While the vast majority of people know it’s important to support marketing from non-profits, charities and other causes, fewer than half of Canadians back that up with donations.

That’s according to the latest insights from IMI research, which sourced input from 48,000 Canadians over the age of 13 to craft its latest report focused on causes and the non-profit sector.

IMI found that 93% of Canadians say marketing related to causes are an important space to support, but 45% have actually supported a charity in the last 12 months.

“What people say, is not always what they do,” says Laura Janes, VP, IMI International, who hosted the organization’s inaugural webinar in the cause marketing space. “They have good intentions, but when it comes to action, there tends to be a gap.”

But IMI has found some ways that could bridge that gap.

Transparency about where the funds go, IMI reports, is most important, a fact that’s consistent across demos. On a similar note, that was followed closely by offering clear and measurable results. Those were ahead of the cause being meaningful to the donor, knowing the other places the charity gets its funding and how easy they are to interact with around donations, though those remain important.


A one-time donation is by far the most popular way of giving, with 52% of Canadians preferring that method, compared to the 10% who prefer a monthly donation and the 6% who prefer a yearly amount, divided up monthly. That may come as a conundrum to some non-profits, who have long seen regular monthly donors as the greater source of lifetime donations. Still, as IMI points out, 32% have no preference for how they donate, which represents a sizable opportunity, and organizations need to ensure they are set up for success across all types of donors.

Globally, Canada included, approximately 25% of people never have, and never will, support a charity. However, as Janes notes, “the biggest piece of the pie is the group that have, or will do in the future.”

Also, support comes in many forms: 54% have donated money, the number one means of support, but 25% have recommended or talked about a charitable cause, 21% have followed or engaged with a charity online, and 20% have volunteered their time or services.

Boomers over index in terms of charitable support, at 66%, followed by Gen X at 56%, millennials at 49% and Gen Z at 45%. However, Janes stresses, that may be due to spending power, and younger people more likely to engage, volunteer and draw attention to charitable endeavours, inputs that cannot be discounted.

According to Janes, clear and coherent messaging is key, regardless of category. She warns that organizations should avoid superlatives like “Canada’s best hospital” or “Canada’s largest charity,” as the approach is too solipsistic. Rather, she stresses that organizations should emphasize how they help, and make it less about themselves.

And it’s equally important to have consistent messaging because of the fact that the amount of Canadians who plan out their donations is split evenly against those who donate spontaneously.