Teen Philanthropy in Canada

Teenagers. You know all about them. Those lazy creatures of social media whose only interest in the world is the latest trend in popular culture. If this is still your view of the average teenager, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, the next generation is poised to make our world a greater place than it has ever been.

Canadian teens are a philanthropic powerhouse. While most of them don’t have the financial wherewithal to make big donations, they are contributing countless hours as volunteers and are making a big difference to the charities that they support.

As part of Mackenzie Investments’ search for Canada’s Top Teen Philanthropist, we conducted a poll to understand the philanthropic habits of Canadian teens. Almost one in five Canadians between the ages of 13 and 19 are volunteering at least forty hours of time in service of their communities. Now you cynics out there might attribute this to the new volunteer requirements instituted by some provinces. However, only one-third of teen volunteers cited these requirements as a motivator for their volunteer work. In other words, teenagers are motivated by altruism and the desire to make our world a better place.

This is big news but what does it mean for the future of our planet. Will today’s teens be able to reverse the catastrophic impact of global warming? Will our reliance on foreign oil end? Will we harness the sun and wind and rely on these natural sources as our primary sources of energy? Based on what we know about today’s teens, I believe that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “YES”.

Last year, 58% of Canadian teens gave time, money or both to support charity. While the dollars might not be huge, it is the keen interest in giving and volunteering that is the most important indicator. A new generation of Canadians with a focus on social and environmental betterment will spawn a new era of philanthropy in Canada – and this new era will undoubtedly be accompanied by a fundamental change in our social and political culture.

So what exactly are our teens doing when they’re sitting down in front of their computers? How is this changing the world? Well, if you must know, teens are using social media to spread the philanthropic spirit. Almost two-thirds of Canadian teens (64%) say they talk about the charities they support on either Facebook or Twitter. Teens understand that they can spread the gospel quicker and more cheaply than any generation before them. Clearly, their peers are listening.

In 2008, Mackenzie Investments launched the aforementioned Top Teen Philanthropist Contest, receiving entries from Coast-to-Coast. As a member of the judging panel, I was truly dumbfounded by the quality of the applications. Our winner, Jane Wu, a young Calgarian studying at Queen’s University is one the finest individuals that I have met. Her combination of humility, ingenuousness, and inventiveness is simply staggering. Like Jane, there are countless other young Canadians who need to be embraced, mentored and acknowledged for it is this group of citizens that will soon become our greatest generation.