World Vision Canada - A Case Study on Charity Ratios

Different ratios, different numbers

Is World Vision spending 80.5% on programs or 72%? Donors reading Charity Intelligence’s report on World Vision Canada have contacted World Vision Canada asking why the figures reported by World Vision Canada are different from those reported by Charity Intelligence. World Vision Canada’s management has also asked that we provide additional information on calculating Cents to the Cause.

Charity ratios are a dry and technical area of charity analysis. Yet donors need to understand how these ratios differ, what they measure, and what information they provide. Each ratio will provide different insights into a charity’s operations.

This case study using World Vision Canada is an opportunity to explain how these ratios differ and explain the variation in numbers. It is particularly relevant to use World Vision Canada as this is one of Canada’s largest donor-supported charities receiving $253 million in F2016. Most importantly, this is a case where reporting spending breakdowns rather than fundraising cost ratios create a material difference of 8%. 

World Vision Canada and Charity Intelligence are presenting different numbers because we are answering different questions.

  • World Vision Canada answers the question “how is money spent?”. Here World Vision Canada presents an overhead chart of spending, noting it spends 80.5% on programs on a 5-year average. 
  • Donors ask Charity Intelligence “how much of my donation goes to the cause?” Charity Intelligence uses a fundraising cost ratio that shows, for every dollar donated, 72% goes to programs in the most recent year. 


The subtle differences in ratios produce different numbers. It depends upon which question donors are asking.

Ask a Different Question

… Get a Different Answer

How did World Vision spend money?

80.5% of spending over the last 5 years was spent on programs

What are World Vision’s fundraising costs?

$55.9 million in F2016

How much of my donation goes to the cause?

72 cents on the dollar in F2016


Overhead Ratio reported by World Vision Canada

World Vision Canada reports an Expenditures chart in its annual report and on its website. This chart shows a breakdown of how it spent money. For the last five years, 80.5% of spending went to programs, with 13.5% of spending going to Core Mission Support – Fundraising, and 6% to Core Mission Support- Administration. This chart shows World Vision Canada’s overhead ratios.



Source: World Vision Canada, Annual Impact Report 2016 [2]

“Our Five-Year Support costs (Fundraising and Administration) were unchanged at 19.5%.” [1]

Charts showing a breakdown of charity spending can be different from fundraising costs. In World Vision Canada’s case, the overhead ratio is different from the fundraising cost ratio.

Donors are mistaken if they construe that World Vision’s fundraising costs are 13.5%. World Vision Canada is not reporting this number as a fundraising cost.

Fundraising costs are 22.1% for F2016

Charity Intelligence calculates World Vision Canada’s fundraising costs as a percent of donations at 22.1%[3]. Including administrative costs of 5.9%, World Vision Canada’s “core mission” support costs are 28.0% of donations in F2016. For every dollar donated, 72 cents goes to programs.

Table 1: Charity Intelligence's reporting on World Vision Canada's Overhead Costs on Donations

Financial Ratios


Fiscal year ending September






Administrative costs as % of revenues






Fundraising costs as % of donations












Cents to the Cause

$1 x (1- Total)






Source: Charity Intelligence’s reporting on World Vision Canada’s Overhead Costs on Donations3.

World Vision Canada’s overhead costs are average and reasonable

World Vision Canada is cost-efficient with overhead cost ratios well within what Charity Intelligence deems a reasonable range. Charity Intelligence considers 95 cents to 65 cents going to the cause as “reasonable”. Of the 700 charities analysed by Charity Intelligence, in 2016 the average cents to the cause was 74 cents for every dollar donated. World Vision Canada’s overhead costs are on par with many other charities.


Why Charity Intelligence calculates Cents to the Cause?

“How much of my donation goes to the cause?” is the most common question donors ask Charity Intelligence. Our job is to answer donors’ questions. We believe facts and context helps donors be informed and give intelligently.

Explaining the Difference

A charity’s cost efficiency can be measured different ways using different formulas. Overhead ratios show how much is allocated between programs,fundraising, and administrative costs.

Donors need to be aware of two different ways of calculating overhead ratios: one measures allocations relative to revenues, another measures allocations relative to spending. In the for-profit sector, overhead ratios are standardized and always report spending as a percent of total revenues. Like many charities, World Vision Canada shows its spending as a percent of total spending. 

The key difference between overhead ratios and fundraising cost ratios is the denominator. The overhead ratio has a broad denominator, the fundraising cost ratio has a narrow denominator. The overhead ratio’s denominator is all revenues - or all spending. The fundraising cost ratio’s denominator is only donations and other fundraising revenue (see Table 2).

For charities funded only by donations, the overhead ratio and fundraising cost ratio will often be the same. For charities that have many sources of revenues, as World Vision Canada has, the overhead ratio will understate the fundraising cost on donations.



Table 2: Broad and Narrow Denominators

What’s included in calculating the Overhead Ratio and the Fundraising Cost Ratio


Revenue Stream:

Overhead Ratio

broad, includes all revenues or spending

Fundraising Cost Ratio

narrow, only includes donation revenues




Goods in kind


Not normally

International donations



Government grants



Other income – foreign exchange gains



Investment income



Charities Directorate Guidelines on Calculating Fundraising Costs

Canada’s Charity Directorate provides clear guidance on calculating fundraising costs: 

the fundraising ratio is a global calculation for a fiscal period, determined by dividing fundraising expenditures by fundraising revenue”. 

Fundraising costs should only be calculated on fundraising revenues and should exclude other sources of revenue like government funding, investment income, and business profits.

Using the charity’s annual return, the T3010, the Charities Directorate instructs charities to calculate fundraising cost ratios by “Divid[ing] the total expenditure amount on Line 5020 (fundraising expenses) by the sum of lines 4500 (receipted donations) and Line 4630 (fundraising revenue not reported in 4500).”[4]

Table 3: World Vision Canada’s Fundraising Costs

using CRA Charities Directorate method

All figures in $

Fiscal year ending Sept.











Line 4500: Receipted donations






Line 4630: Other fundraising revenue












Line 5020: Fundraising expenses







Fundraising cost ratio








Over the last five years, World Vision Canada’s fundraising costs averaged 21.7%. World Vision Canada’s support costs also include administrative costs, which have ranged from 4.8% to 5.9% of total revenues.

Please note: There is a minor difference between the CRA calculation of fundraising costs and Charity Intelligence’s calculation. Using the CRA method, World Vision’s fundraising costs are 22.6%. Charity Intelligence uses the audited financial statements and calculates a lower 22.1% fundraising cost. This is due to World Vision Canada reporting $6.6m in “donations from other registered charities” in F2016. Donations received from family foundations and churches are excluded from the CRA calculation but included in Charity Intelligence’s calculation. [5] This is not a significant difference.

Cents to The Cause

The formula for this calculation starts with one dollar ($1), less the fundraising cost ratio (FCR) less the administrative cost ratio (ACR). The remainder is cents to the cause. For the administrative cost ratio, Charity Intelligence postulates donations bear a proportionate administrative cost to other revenue streams. Therefore, the denominator is consistently “donations and other fundraising revenue”.

One last thing: the use of averages

Charity Intelligence’s calculation of “how much of my donation goes to the cause” has one big caveat – it is based on average fundraising costs and average administrative costs. It is, as the CRA Charities Directorate says, a “global calculation”. Donors need to know that different types of fundraising have different costs; direct mail, runs, gala dinners, and golf tournaments are fundraising types that have higher costs. On-line donations, monthly giving, and mailed-in cheques typically have lower costs. Furthermore, to a degree, fundraising has fixed costs; donors giving $100,000 will likely have significantly lower fundraising costs than a donor giving $100. The exact fundraising costs on a specific donation will vary depending how you give, and how much you give.

Similarly, with administrative costs, Charity Intelligence assumes that a charity’s administrative costs are borne equally by all revenue streams: donations, government grants, fees for service and business profits. In short, no funder gets a “free ride” from paying its fair share of support costs.

By using global averages for a charity, Charity Intelligence’s calculation of how much of a donation goes to the cause is not an exact figure for a specific donation.





  1. World Vision Canada, Annual Impact Report 2016 Canada Highlights


  1. World Vision Canada “Financial Accountability


[3]. Charity Intelligence report on World Vision Canada, July 10, 2017


[4]. Canada Revenue Agency Charities Directorate “Fundraising by registered charities” Guidance Reference Number CG-013, April 20, 2012


5.. CRA Charities Directorate, World Vision Canada F2016 Annual Filing T3010, “Revenues: total amount received from other registered charities: line 4510”



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The information in this report was prepared by Charity Intelligence Canada and it independent analysts. Factual material information is obtained from the charity and reliable sources. Information may be available to Charity Intelligence Canada or its analysts that is not reflected in this report. Charity Intelligence Canada and its analysts have made endeavours to ensure that the data in this report is accurate and complete, but accepts no liability.



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