Tax planning for year-end charitable donations

Canadians have a well-deserved reputation for supporting charitable causes, through donations of both money and goods. Our tax system supports that generosity by providing a tax credit for qualifying donations made and, in all cases, in order to claim a credit for a donation in a particular tax year, that donation must be made by the end of that calendar year.

There is, however, another reason to ensure donations are made by December 31. The credit provided by the federal government is a two-level credit, in which the percentage credit claimable increases with the amount of donation made. For federal tax purposes, the first $200 in donations is eligible for a non-refundable tax credit equal to 15% of the donation. The credit for donations made during the year which exceed the $200 threshold is, however, calculated as 29% of the excess. Where the taxpayer making the donation has taxable income (for 2023) over $235,675, charitable donations above the $200 threshold can receive a federal tax credit of 33%.

As a result of the two-level credit structure, the best tax result is obtained when donations made during a single calendar year are maximized. For instance, a qualifying charitable donation of $400 made in December 2023 will receive a federal credit of $88.00 ($200 times 15% plus $200 times 29%). If the same amount is donated, but the donation is split equally between December 2023 and January 2024, the total credit claimable is only $60.00 ($200 times 15% plus $200 times 15%), and the 2024 donation can’t be claimed until the 2024 return is filed in April of 2025. And, of course, the larger the donation made in any one calendar year, the greater the proportion of that donation which will receive credit at the 29% level rather than the 15% level.

It’s also possible to carry forward, for up to five years, donations which were made in a particular tax year. So, if donations made in 2023 don’t reach the $200 level, it’s usually worth holding off on claiming the donation and carrying forward to the next year in which total donations, including carryforwards, are over that threshold. Of course, this also means that donations made but not claimed in any of the 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022 tax years can be carried forward and added to the total donations made in 2023, and the aggregate then claimed on the 2023 tax return.

When claiming charitable donations, it’s possible to combine donations made by oneself and one’s spouse and claim them on a single return. Generally, and especially in provinces and territories which impose a high-income surtax – currently, Ontario and Prince Edward Island – it makes sense for the higher income spouse to make the claim for the total of charitable donations made by both spouses. Doing so will reduce the tax payable by that spouse and thereby minimize (or avoid) liability for the provincial high-income surtax.

Regardless of when a charitable donation is made, would-be donors are well advised to carefully consider the charities to which they donate. It’s an unfortunate reality that while most organizations seeking charitable donations are legitimate, the charitable sector attracts its share of scammers and fraudsters whose only aim is to personally profit from the generosity of others. Such charitable donation frauds arise, in particular, whenever there are world events like wars, famines, or natural disasters and people are particularly motivated to help. After every such event a flurry of “instant” charities spring to life, seeking donations which may or may not actually be used as represented. And, while some of the individuals or organizations who seek to raise funds in response to particular events may actually be well intentioned, the reality is that they are unlikely to have either the infrastructure or the experience needed to actually carry out their stated or intended aims. And others, of course, are simply scammers seeking to capitalize on the desire of Canadians to help in response to disaster.

There are two ways to ensure that one’s charitable dollar is actually utilized as intended. The first is to donate only to large international charities which have been in existence for some time and which have both expertise and experience in utilizing charitable donations in an efficient and effective way. However, where a donor is deciding whether to make a donation to a newer or less-well-known charity, it’s relatively easy to find information about that charity on the website of the Canada Revenue Agency.

Only donations made to registered charities can be claimed for purposes of the charitable donations tax credit. The Canada Revenue Agency maintains on its website a listing of all such registered charities, and that listing (which is searchable) can be found at That webpage will also provide information on the charity’s activities, including the date on which it became a registered charity, the countries in which it operates, the nature of its charitable activities, and details of its revenues and expenses, all of which can help a would-be donor to determine whether or not to make a donation.

Detailed information on calculating and claiming a charitable donations tax credit is available on the same website at Giving to charity: Information for donors -