What Activities Are Allowed Or Prohibited Under Canada Revenue Agency Guidelines For Charities?

Confusion continues when it comes to which political activities charities are allowed to undertake under Canada Revenue Agency guidelines. Many also have questions about what the 2016 federal consultation on political activities might mean for the future of charities and political activities. For now, current guidelines continue to apply. Here’s a summary of what’s allowable and what’s not, with some examples:

Allowed without Limit:

Activities covered by your charitable purpose and which further these purposes are allowed with no limit. For example, worship services, religious exploration programming, and all activities directly related to the sustaining and fulfillment of the purposes can be carried out with no limit.

Allowed up to 10% of a charity’s total resources:

Political activity is allowed under very specific conditions, which are:

  • The activity is subsidiary or incidental to the charity’s purposes, ie it is in service of fulfilling the purposes and not an end in itself;
  • The activity is non-partisan, ie any political action cannot be in support or opposition to a specific political party or candidate.

Prohibited activities:

These are activities which are not allowed under any circumstances. Charities cannot take part in illegal or partisan political activities. A partisan political activity is defined as “one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.” See a full description at CRA Policy Statement CPS-022

Examples of allowable political activities

  1. Letter writing: The CUC recently wrote a letter on a National Affordable Housing Strategy. It was allowable because:
    1. it is part of CUC’s charitable purposes as it relates to the first charitable purpose: “Affirming and promoting the principles, practices, and traditions of the Unitarian Universalist, Unitarian and Universalist faiths,”
    2. the letter relates directly to at least one of our Principles (and in this case, three Principles – the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all)
    3. the letter is non-partisan. The letter addresses a policy, did not support or oppose the current government or any other party, and was sent to all 4 political parties.

When your congregation is planning on writing a letter, consider:

  • is it tied directly to your charitable purposes?
  • does it quote one or more of our Principles?
  • does it cite a previously approved CUC resolution on the matter?
  • does it state clearly what action is desired?
  • is it non-partisan? Does it address the policy or matter, rather than a specific party or member/candidate?
  • Is the letter addressed to all the parties?
  • Has your board approved the letter?
  1. Rally, protest or march: Many of our congregations have a consistent presence at annual PRIDE parades. This clearly upholds our first principle, is a celebration of our diversity, and speaks directly to the CUC resolutions that were approved in 1978 and 2006. Most of these parades tend to be non-partisan, and are now more of a celebration rather than a political statement.

When your congregation is thinking about organizing a rally or participating in one, consider:

  •       Does it speak to your charitable purposes?
  •       It is subsidiary or secondary to your charitable purpose?
  •       Will it be non-partisan in nature?
  •       Is the activity approved by your board?
  1. Political forum on a topic: congregations sometimes invite different political viewpoints to the table, particularly before elections. When you’re planning a political forum, consider:
  • Is the topic connected to your charitable purposes?
  • Does it speak to one or more of our Principles?
  • Have all political parties been invited and given an opportunity to respond?
  • Will the facilitation be neutral and not biased in favour of or opposed to a specific viewpoint?
  • Has your board approved the forum?

For a more detailed look at charities and CRA guidelines, please see the series titled “Congregations, Charities and Best Practices.”