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Charitable Activities

To be registered as a charity an organization must have a charitable purpose, must benefit the public and must carry out charitable activities to fulfill their charitable purpose.

The charitable purpose of an organization must be stated in its governing documents and these documents must also limit the organization’s activities to that charitable purpose. For example, if an organization is a non-profit, the charitable purpose and the restriction on activities would be stated in the Articles of Incorporation.

With the application an organization should include any documents that describe the activities of the organization and its charitable purpose. These could be things like pamphlets or brochures, a website address or minutes of meetings.

Charitable Purposes

Public Benefit

Regardless of which charitable purpose an organization has a charity's activities must benefit the public and the benefit of the organization’s activities must extend to the public as a whole or a significant section of it.

To be registered as a charity an organization must have purposes that are exclusively charitable. There are four categories of charitable purposes:

Relief of poverty means helping people who lack the basic necessities of life or the simple amenities available to most. Examples of this include food banks, non-profit accommodation for low-income people and disaster relief.

Advancement of education means doing things that increase people’s knowledge and skills or advance human knowledge through research. Examples of this include establishing and operating schools, providing scholarships or doing research in a recognized field of knowledge and making the results available to the public.

The advancement of religion means to preach and follow a religious faith. For something to be considered religious there must be worship of a deity or deities. Examples of this include establishing and maintaining a building for religious worship, providing religious instruction and missionary work.

Purposes that provide a community benefit include a number of purposes that do not fall into the above categories but that are recognized as charitable purposes. Examples of these purposes include operating an animal shelter, a volunteer fire department, a facility for care of the elderly or a hospital. There are some purposes that are not considered charitable such as organizations that are created for political purposes and organizations created to promote sports.

See Charitable Purposes and Activities on canada.ca for more information.

Description of Activities

If the organization is already operating - copy of minutes of meetings, newspaper articles, videos, CD’s, fundraising materials, pamphlets, brochures and any other items that describe the organization’s work and purpose.

The specific activities the organization will undertake to achieve its charitable purpose must be included in the application. The listing of your activities is a crucial part of the application to become a registered charity and most delays in processing applications are because the activities, as listed, are too broad or vague. For example, if an organization is going to establish and run a school things like the location of the school, the size of the school, the students who will attend, who the instructors will be and their qualifications as well as the instruction students will be given would all need to be detailed.

At a minimum these questions about your activities need to be answered...

  • What exactly does the organization do or plan to do?
  • How do the activities help achieve the organization's stated purposes?
  • Where will the organization carry out its activities?
  • Will the organization carry out its activities itself (through employees or volunteers) or use an intermediary to carry out its activities?
  • How many employees and/or volunteers does the organization have or hope to have? Does the organization have the capacity to carry out its activities?
  • Who benefits from the organization's activities and how are the beneficiaries selected?
  • What fees, if any, will the organization charge its clients?
  • How does the organization intend to raise funds?

Activities outside Canada

If any of the charitable activities will take place outside of Canada specific information about these activities must be provided. The information required includes the countries and the locations within each country where activities will take place and whether the organization will rely on another organization to perform the activities outside Canada.

Fundraising Activities

Any fundraising activities an organization intends to do must be listed including how often these activities will be undertaken and the proportion of the organization’s volunteers that will be used. Organizations must also indicate if they will use a professional fundraiser, if they intend to receive non-cash gifts on a regular basis and if the organization will be involved with or associated with a tax shelter arrangement.

Fundraising is any activity that involves asking for donations of cash or gifts in-kind as well as any sale of goods or services to raise money. It includes soliciting donations directly as well as holding events such as auctions, dinners, or runs to raise money. It can be something as small as a loose-change collection box with the charity’s name on it or as large as a gala or direct mail campaign. Activates that support fundraising, such as developing fundraising strategies or hiring a fundraiser, are also considered fundraising activities.

Fundraising to support the work of the organization is not considered a charitable activity so there are strict limits on the fundraising activities a charity can engage in. Fundraising itself cannot be a purpose of an organization that wants to register as a charity. Fundraising must not provide a private benefit to anyone unless this is only incidental to the fundraising activity. Fundraising activities must not be illegal, against public policy or deceptive.

Fundraising also cannot involve the organization in running an unrelated business even if all the proceeds go to the charitable purpose. For example, an organization’s whose purpose is to protect the environment could not open a coffee shop even if the proceeds all go to their charitable purpose.

The Charities Directorate uses certain indicators to determine if a fundraising activity is unacceptable, such as when...

  • more of the organization’s resources (including money and volunteers ) are devoted to fundraising than to the charitable purpose
  • there is no specific use for the money raised that furthers the organization’s charitable purpose
  • merchandise or services are purchased that do not increase fundraising revenue
  • most of the gross revenue generated by the fundraising goes to an organization that is not a charity
  • misrepresentations to the public about things like fundraising revenue or practices are made
  • the fundraising activity is not well documented
  • the cost of the fundraising is a large percentage of the total funds raised

See the Canada Revenue Agency publication Fundraising by Registered Charities for more information.

Business Activities

Charitable organizations and public foundations cannot carry on an unrelated business. However, the law allows charitable organizations and public foundations to carry on a related business. A related business is a revenue-generating activity that is either related to a charity’s purposes, or is run mainly by volunteers. See the Canada Revenue Agency Publication What is a related business? for more information.

If an organization earns income from selling goods or services on an ongoing basis these activities must be described in detail. The goods or services offered must be listed as well as the percentage of the organization’s total resources that will be devoted to the sale of goods or services.

The percentage of the people who are involved in selling goods or services who are volunteers must also be listed. How these activities are related to the organization’s charitable purpose must be explained.

The same rules apply if an organization uses an asset to generate revenue. For example, if a church rents out parking spaces in the church parking lot.

Political Activities

A charity is free to advocate for any change to a law, policy, or decision of government that would further its stated charitable purpose. These activities must further their specific charitable purpose. For example, a charity established for the purpose of wildlife conservation cannot engage in advocacy related to prison reform. A charity must keep records that demonstrate its primary consideration in carrying on these activities is to further its charitable purpose and provide a public benefit.

Charities cannot engage in political activities that support or oppose a particular political party or candidate. Charities can support or oppose policies of a party or candidate but they cannot refer to or identify a candidate or party when discussing the policy.

For more information see the Canada Revenue Agency publication Public Policy Dialogue and Development Activities.

Financial Activity with Organization Officials

If an organization has or plans to engage is a business transaction with an official, founder, member, employee or anyone related to these people this must be stated on the application. This would include things like the organization lending a director money or renting space from a company owned by a director. These types of transactions will be reviewed to ensure that they come within the definition of a charitable activity designed to further the charitable purpose of the organization.

Owning Property or Shares of a Corporation

Organizations must state if the own or expect to more than 2% of the shares in any company or if they own or expect to own real estate. If an organization owns or plans to own real estate details, such as the location of the property must be included.

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