Congregations, Charities, and Best Practices

Congregations, Charities and Best Practices” is a series of articles aimed at sharing information about Canada Revenue Agency and Income Tax Act guidelines governing Canadian charities, as well as charitable governance information. These articles are written with a particular focus on specifics for Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations. Please note that these articles are for information only and should not be constituted as legal advice. For additional details or for information about seeking legal advice, please contact executivedirector@cuc.ca.

If Canada Revenue Agency Comes Calling, Will You Be Ready?

If Canada Revenue Agency Comes Calling, Will You Be Ready?

auditSince the announcement in January 2015 of Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) audit of the Canadian Unitarian Council, there has been discussion, concern and confusion about charitable status, charitable and political activities, and CRA guidelines around the same.

Here are 5 steps to provide you with information that will lead to best practice and compliance with CRA requirements:

1. Know your charitable purpose: locate the version of the charitable purpose used when your congregation applied for charitable status. This is also known as the Articles of Incorporation or Letters Patent. All activities you undertake should fall within the parameters of your charitable purpose. If audited, this is the measure that will be used to assess your compliance. See the CUC’s charitable purposes and by-laws.

2. Know the difference between Charitable and Political Activities: The Income Tax Act only allows charities to conduct political activities if it continues to devote substantially all of its resources to charitable purposes and activities, but charities are allowed to use up to 10% of their total resources for non-partisan political activities – find out the Basic Requirements here. Use the CRA’s resources on how to distinguish between charitable and political activities, and the Self-Assessment Tool to help calculate these activities.

3. Do not engage in partisan political activities: While charities can engage in political activities, partisan activity is a strict no-no. A charity may support or speak against a policy or legislation, but not a particular political party or politician. Use CRA’s webinar on Political Activities and Policy Statement to guide you.

4. Report activities accurately: On the annual T3010 Registered Charity Information Return, provide an accurate accounting of your charitable and political activities. If you think you might have been inaccurate in a previous filing, do make corrections (How to Amend the T3010). The CRA’s “How To Allocate Your Political Activities” tool provides guidance on assignment of resources. Do make sure to file your returns on time – charities have lost their status due to not filing the required paperwork.

5. Be diligent about donations: Charities should not send money to organizations which are not recognized as qualified donees by CRA. Congregations which are considering sending money to an organization outside of Canada need to make sure these are qualified donees, or have a rigorous written agreement in place. See the article by Terrance Carter on “Canadian Charities Operating Outside of Canada: What You need to Know.” Please contact executivedirector@cuc.ca if you would like more information.

6. Stay informed (okay, that’s 6 steps): There is an abundance of information about charities, giving, political activities, filing returns, fundraising, etc from various sources. A few are listed below:

Canadian Unitarian Council Charitable Purpose and By-Laws, 2016.


Tracking Political Activity

Tracking Political Activity

Tracking“Congregations, Charities and Best Practices” is a series of articles in the Canadian Unitarian Council’s eNews, published every even-numbered month. The articles are aimed at sharing information about Canada Revenue Agency and Income Tax Act guidelines governing Canadian charities, with a particular focus on specifics for Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations. Please note that these articles are for information only and should not be constituted as legal advice. For additional details or for information about seeking legal advice, please contact executivedirector@cuc.ca.

Tracking and defining political activity is a slippery creature which many charities struggle with. What is political activity? How can we measure how much political activity we engage in?

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) provides guidance on these matters, fortunately. Find their video on political activities here.

CRA says that a charity engages in political activity when it:

  • explicitly communicates a call to political action (that is, encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official to urge him or her to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country);
  • explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained, opposed, or changed;
  • explicitly indicates in any of its materials (internal or external) that the intention of any of its activities is to incite, or organize to put pressure on, an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country; or
  • made a gift to another qualified donee to support the political activities of the recipient.

If any of the above statements are true, then the charity is carrying on a political activity. The only exception might be if the activity in question is a representation made to an elected representative or public official.

Representation to elected representatives or public officials

When a charity makes representations to elected representatives or public officials (see section 7.3 of Policy Statement CPS-022), these representations are always:

  • connected to our charity’s charitable purposes (connected means related to and supporting a charitable purpose, and a reasonable way to achieve that purpose);
  • subordinate to our charity’s charitable purposes (subordinate means subservient to a charity’s charitable purpose, or a minor focus of the charity);
  • well-reasoned (well-reasoned means based on factual information that is methodically, objectively, fully, and fairly analyzed, and that presents and addresses serious arguments and relevant facts to the contrary);
  • free of information that our charity knows, or ought to know, is false, inaccurate, or misleading; and
  • non-partisan (non-partisan means never directly or indirectly supports or opposes a political party or candidate for public office).

If all of the above statements are true, the charity’s representations to elected representatives or public officials are considered to be charitable.

Once you’ve determined that your congregation carries on political activities, these political activities must always be:

  • connected to our charity’s charitable purposes (connected means related to and supporting a charitable purpose, and a reasonable way to achieve that purpose);
  • subordinate to our charity’s charitable purposes and activities (subordinate means subservient to a charity’s charitable purpose, or a minor focus of the charity); and
  • non-partisan (non-partisan means never directly or indirectly supports or opposes a political party or candidate for public office).

The charity can devote no more than 10% of its total resources to political activities. (A charity’s resources include all of its financial resources, as well as everything it can use to further its purposes, such as capital assets, staff, volunteers, directors, donated resources, and equipment.)

For more information on political and charitable activities, please refer to the August 2015 eNews article on “Congregations, Charities and Best Practices.”

Getting to it

To help you along the long and complicated path of tracking your congregation’s political activities, these questions and suggestions may be useful:

  • Freshen your knowledge of your congregation’s stated charitable purpose (also called letters patent or articles of incorporation). Are these up to date? Are the purposes truly charitable? A sample set of charitable purposes and the link to CRA guidance on drafting charitable purpose can be found here.
  • Take an honest look at your social action activities – are they charitable or political?
  • Are your activities non-partisan?
  • Are your political activities connected and subordinate to your congregation’s purpose?
  • Has your congregation inadvertently engaged in any prohibited activities?
  • Does your congregation devote substantially all of its resources (more than 90%) to its charitable purpose?
  • Have you treated all your renters equitably?
  • Suggestions for tracking your political activity:
    • How much time is spent planning: how many volunteers, how many hours
    • What church resources have been used: space, photocopying, etc
    • How much time did the actual event take?
    • Estimate number of staff and volunteer hours involved, total church resources
    • CRA’s Self-assessment Tool for political activity is here.
  • File the T3010 accurately and send it in within 6 months of your fiscal year end – charities can lose their charitable status for not filing on time.
    • Your board of directors should approve and sign off on the T3010 – it’s the official record of your congregations reporting and activities.
    • T3010 tools: CRA has a webinar about how to fill out the T3010. Imagine Canada offers free software called T3010 Quick Prep which helps charities understand how to fill out the form.
    • Amending the T3010: If information needs to be added or changed to a previous T3010, you can find the information here.
  • Does your board of directors sign off on all your congregation’s social action, advocacy and political activities? This is good practice, as your board holds final accountability for the congregation’s affairs.

Questions? Contact executivedirector@cuc.ca.


Charities and Political Activity

Charities and Political Activity

There is confusion and some myths about whether charities can engage in political activity, and to what extent. There are those who think that charities either cannot carry on any political activity at all, or that they can do so without limitations. The reality lies in knowing the following:

Charitable Purpose vs Political Purpose

All charities are required by law to have exclusively charitable purposes, for example, relief of poverty, advancement of education, advancement of religion, and other purposes of benefit to the community. To determine whether a charity is constituted for exclusively charitable purposes, CRA will examine the organization’s stated purposes and its current activities to see if it has adopted political purposes.

If an activity is determined to be charitable by CRA, (ie. an activity undertaken exclusively to achieve a charitable purpose), then it is permitted without limits.

Charitable Activities – Permitted Without Limits:

According to CRA policy (CPS-022), the following are considered to be charitable activities:

  • Communication with the public or public officials when a public awareness campaign is about a charity or an issue related to its work, as long as the activity is connected and subordinate to the charity’s purposes and is well-reasoned;
  • Communication with a public official or elected representative, even when the charity advocates that the law, decision or policy of any level of government in Canada or abroad be retained, opposed or changed, provided that all submissions are subordinate to the charity’s purpose. All representations should:
    • Relate to an issue connected to the charity’s purpose;
    • Be well-reasoned;
    • Not contain information that is false, inaccurate or misleading (Author’s note: I would also include “inflammatory” in this category)
  • Releasing the text of a representation before or after it is delivered to a public official or elected representative, provided that the entire text is released and there is no explicit “call to political action”, defined below;
  • Distributing the charity’s research, including distributing it to all election candidates;
  • Publishing a research report and/or giving an interview about the research report;
  • Presenting a research report to a Parliamentary Committee;
  • Distributing a research report to all Members of Parliament;
  • Participating in an international policy development working group;
  • Joining a government advisory panel to discuss policy changes.

Definition of Political Activity

Political activity includes the following:

  • Explicitly issuing a call to political action (eg. to encourage the public to contact elected representatives or public officials and urge them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy or decision of any level of government in Canada as well as / or any foreign country), or;
  • Explicitly indicating in its material that the intention of an activity is to incite, organize or put pressure on government to retain, oppose or change the law, policy or decision of any level of government in Canada or another country, or;
  • Making a gift to another qualified donee intended for a political purpose (a qualified donee is a registered charity inside or outside Canada recognized by CRA, and able to issue tax receipts)

Allowable Political Activity – Permitted Up to Prescribed Limits

Charities are allowed to engage in political activity as long as they continue to devote substantially all (over 90%) of their resources to charitable purposes and activities. Charities may engage in political activities when:

  • The political activity is non-partisan. Partisan political activity is the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office;
  • The issue or activity is connected (ancillary) or incidental (subordinate) to the charity’s purposes, which means a minor focus of the charity. If it becomes the main way of furthering the charity’s purposes, it may have become an end or an unstated purpose, which is not acceptable to CRA.
  • The charity’s views are based on a well-reasoned position;
  • The activity falls within expenditure limits set out under the Income Tax Act.

According to CRA policy, some examples of allowable political activity which are connected and subordinate to the charity’s purpose are:

  • Organizing a conference in support of the charity’s stance on a specific matter
  • Organizing a march or rally on Parliament Hill
  • Buying a newspaper advertisement to pressure the government concerning a particular law or policy
  • Hiring a communications specialist to organize a media campaign
  • Using a mail campaign to encourage supporters to contact the government

Prohibited Activity – Never Allowed

Activities that are either illegal (eg terrorism or other activities contrary to public policy) or which involve partisan politics are not permitted at all.

For example, when a political party or candidate for public office supports a policy that is also supported by a charity, the charity may promote this policy but it cannot directly or indirectly support the candidate or political party.

Examples of prohibited partisan political activity include:

  • Donation of charity funds to a political party which supports the charity’s view on a given matter
  • Furthering the interest of a political party or support a political party or candidate for public office
  • Inviting an MP who is a member of a church and who is running for re-election to speak at a church without giving equal opportunities to all other candidates seeking election for the same office
  • Singling out the voting pattern on an issue of any one elected representative or political party
  • Making oral or written statements that support or denounce a specific candidate or political party
  • Supporting or opposing a particular election candidate or political party in any way
  • Hosting an all-candidates meeting or forum in a partisan manner
  • Inviting candidates to speak at different dates or times so as to favour a particular candidate or political party
  • Publishing the voting records of a particular party or candidate on a given issue
  • Explicitly connecting the charity’s position on a given issue to the position taken on the same issue by a candidate or political party

Activities Permissible During an Election

During an election period, the CRA Advisory provides for involvement in activities that are permissible in the following ways:

  • Employees, members and leaders of a charity may assist any candidate or political party in their personal capacity
    • However, they should not make partisan speeches or comments at charity or political functions. In other situations, they are encouraged to indicate that the opinions expressed are personal and not that of the charity
  • Posting information about a candidate or political party in the charity’s publications is acceptable, as long as:
    • It is connected and subordinate to the charity’s purpose
    • It reflects the positions taken by all political parties and candidates
    • No single party or candidate is singled out favourably or unfavourably
    • There is no explicit direction to support or oppose a specific party or candidate
  • Charging fair market value rent to a political party or candidate for speaking engagements or meetings, as long as equal opportunity and access is given to all political parties and candidates, and no one is favoured over another

The CRA Advisory reminds charities that “during election campaigns, the CRA steps up monitoring of activities of registered charities and will take appropriate measures if a charity undertakes partisan political activities… Charities engaging in partisan political activity risk being deregistered.”

Canadian UU Congregations and Political Activity

Sometimes congregations carry on past practices as a matter of habit, or because “it’s always been done that way” or because a lack of human resources makes it challenging to do things differently. If that’s the situation you find yourself in, or if your congregation is involved in social action or political activity, this would be a good time to pause, take stock, and make any necessary adjustments to your activities. The following self-reflective questions and steps are suggested:

  • Share the information in this article, especially with the board of directors and congregational leadership
  • Freshen your knowledge of your congregation’s stated charitable purpose (also called letters patent or articles of incorporation)
  • Take an honest look at your social action activities – are they charitable or political?
  • Are your activities non-partisan?
  • Are your political activities connected and subordinate to your congregation’s purpose?
  • Has your congregation inadvertently engaged in any prohibited activities?
  • Does your congregation devote substantially all of its resources (more than 90%) to its charitable purpose?
  • Does your board of directors sign off on all your congregation’s social action, advocacy and political activities? This would be good practice as the board holds final accountability for the congregation’s affairs.

Do you have a story to share about how your congregation has successfully engaged in allowable political activity? Send it to communications@cuc.ca, and with your permission, we will share it with other congregations.

This series will continue in the October 2015 eNews with “Tracking and Reporting Political Activity.” Click the link for a previous article titled “If CRA Comes Calling, Will You Be Ready?” which appears in the April 2015 eNews.


References:

1. Carter’s Professional Corporation:

2. Canada Revenue Agency has a host of very helpful tools for charities, including definitions for political and charitable activities, properly issuing tax receipts, webinars and examples. All resources are available here.

3. Imagine Canada has tools for charities ranging from policy advice to fundraising to how to fill out the T3010.

4. Canadian Council of Christian Charities provides guidance for churches. For information in the members section, please contact executivedirector@cuc.ca.


UU Congregations, Rental Policies and Rites of Passage

UU Congregations, Rental Policies and Rites of Passage

Many of us have certain practices around our congregations’ rental policies and practices. If we own our building, it is likely that we rent space to other individuals, groups and organizations, as well as to our own members, for additional revenue. It is also likely that we provide discounted rental prices to our members and friends and see this as a benefit of being a congregational member.

However, Canada Revenue Agency has certain guidelines about how church space should be treated when it comes to renting to members and to the public, and frowns on charities showing preferential treatment to its own members, referred to as “Undue Benefits.”

What are Undue Benefits?

According to the Income Tax Act, registered charities cannot give a person or member an undue benefit, which is defined as a transfer of property or other resources of the charity who does not deal with the charity at arms’ length or who is the beneficiary because of a special relationship with a donor or charity. For example, a member of a congregation should not use church space free of charge or at a discounted rate for a personal event, or be able to use the church photocopier to make free photocopies for personal use.

Public benefit

An organization must meet two requirements to be considered a charity:

  1. The organization’s purposes must be exclusively and legally charitable;
  2. It must be established for the benefit of the public or a sufficient segment of the public.

Because of the requirement for public benefit, charities cannot confer preferential treatment or private benefits on its own members. Where rental space is concerned, members and non-members alike must be treated equally.

Private benefit

However, under very specific conditions, members of a religious organization may receive some accommodations. CRA provides that

Although charitable organizations cannot be established to confer private benefits, some private benefit may arise in the course of pursuing charitable objects. However, the public benefit provided must not be outweighed by any ensuing private benefit. Any benefit to an individual or group of individuals must either arise directly through pursuit of the charity’s purposes (for example, relief of poverty), or be incidental to the pursuit of those purposes (for example, as in the case of programs pursued by community economic development organizations), by providing inducements to attract needed social and community services to a distressed region. The private benefit is only acceptable as a minor and incidental by-product of the charitable purpose.

CRA admits that “Assessing public and private benefit is difficult. There is no quantitative test for measuring private benefit against the greater benefit to the community at large,” and goes on to explain that:

Private benefits will be considered acceptable when they occur in the delivery of a reasonable charitable benefit to a properly chosen beneficiary. For example, when a religious institution, which is otherwise charitable, holds social activities for the benefits of its members and/or youth groups, such activities, though not charitable in their own right, will be considered acceptable because they are incidental to the main purpose—the advancement of religion; …. When reviewing the private benefit, examiners want to ensure that any benefit conferred is no more than is necessary to achieve the charitable purpose. CRA Policy Statement CPS 024 – 3.2.4

Regular donors and volunteers

Charities need to convey to its members that being a regular donor or volunteer does not entitle a person to use the charity’s facilities for personal benefit at no cost. For individuals who dedicate a lot of time and energy to their congregation, the building can take on the feeling of being a spiritual home. However, this does not entail ownership or any benefits.

Split receipting

The Canadian Council of Christian Charities writes that if a charity does provide reduced rental rates for its members, the benefit it represents would be classified as an “advantage” under the split receipting rules of the Income Tax Act (ITA). The ITA sets out very specific wording, in paragraph 248(32), to define an advantage amount:

“The amount of the advantage in respect of a gift or monetary contribution by a taxpayer is the total of all amounts, … each of which is the value, at the time the gift or monetary contribution is made, of any property, service, compensation, use or other benefit that the taxpayer, or a person or partnership who does not deal at arm’s length with the taxpayer, has received, obtained or enjoyed, or is entitled, either immediately or in the future and either absolutely or contingently, to receive, obtain, or enjoy

  • (i) that is consideration for the gift or monetary contribution,
  • (ii) that is in gratitude for the gift or monetary contribution, or
  • (iii) that is in any other way related to the gift or monetary contribution …”

Based upon the broad and encompassing wording used here, the dollar value of the fee reduction between what is charged to a church member and to a non-member would constitute an “advantage” to the member. The church would need to issue a split donation receipt to reflect that. The result would be a reduction in the “eligible amount” that is available for a donation tax credit. The administrative work involved in complying with this legal requirement provides another strong reason not to have a two-tiered rental fee schedule for members and non-members.

Rites of passage

Questions have surfaced about members of a congregation receiving rites of passage like weddings and memorials. Under the above specific conditions for private benefits, it is recognized that members of a congregation may receive specific benefits because of their membership in a religious organization. Religious charities maintain places of worship with services and rites conducted to advance its teachings and in accordance with its faith traditions. Weddings and memorials fall into this category, and members can be offered these services without fee as part of a congregation’s faith practices.

Another approach to treating members and non-members equitably might be to offer memorials free of charge to both members and non-members with a donation being recommended. You would need to determine the actual cost of the service, whether by lay chaplain or minister, cost for use of space, etc. For example, a 1 hour service with a 1 hour reception in the reception hall with a lay chaplain or minister would normally cost $500. The family makes a donation of $600. They request a tax receipt. They would receive a tax receipt for $100 (the donation minus the cost of the service). This would apply to members and non-members alike.

Therefore, free use of church space for activities like meeting of its committees, fundraisers, and social events (get-together after a wedding, child dedication or memorial) is acceptable as long as the activities:

  • Are carried out in pursuit of charitable purposes
  • Are a minor and incidental by-product of the charitable purpose
  • Do not become the sole purpose for the charity’s existence

Rental agreements and policies

If your congregation rents out its space regularly, there are legal, liability and insurance considerations. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) points out that “a facility rental policy sets out who can rent and for what activities. This helps the charity to balance the tension between controlling facility usage and reaching out to the community and/or taking advantage of revenue opportunities. If your organization does not have a clear policy, your charity may not have a basis for refusing to rent out your facilities to groups that do not share your organization’s values or purposes.”

Here are some policy recommendations from the CCCC, in case you don’t already have them, or your policies need refreshing:

  • Set out specific guidelines in keeping with your purposes and practices. Ask these questions about potential renters:
    • Who is the renter?
    • What does the renter intend to do on the property?
    • What does the renter actually do on the property?
    • Is the activity in line with our purposes?
  • Your congregation’s activities take precedent over any rental to outside or third parties
  • Specifically reference that no activities carried out are to be in violation of your purpose and practices of the congregation, and that there is to be no unsafe or illegal activity
  • Set out your charitable purposes clearly
  • Be clear that in any areas of disagreement, the final determination rests with a person or persons with authority with the charity, to be determined by the board of directors
  • Clearly state insurance or indemnity requirements
  • Clearly set out the application process
  • You do not have to rent to everybody and anybody – your board can decide how open or closed your doors will be
    • Use of facilities by other charities: a charity may permit another charity to use its facilities for free on the basis that it is transferring something which was derived from its revenue (i.e. the building and specifically the ability to rent its building(s) to another charity. From a trust law perspective, a charity receives property for specific purposes only; it follows that a charity could only permit other charities to “rent” for free, where such charities have compatible purposes and objects.
    • Use of facilities by for-profit companies and businesses: rentals to for-profit companies or businesses would have to be at fair market value price, e.g. the amount the user would pay if renting from a for-profit facility rental organization. Rentals for revenue opportunities should be at fair market value to:
      • avoid undermining taxable entities in the business of providing rental space; and
      • avoid using the charity’s tax exempt status as a benefit to a non-qualified donee – if you rent to businesses, they must not benefit by paying a lower rate than what they would pay to a commercial space provider.
        For-profit renters should not engage in any commercial or other activity contrary to the charity’s purpose
    • Use of facilities by government: a charity can permit the government, in its capacity as a representative of the public, to use its facilities on the basis of outreach to the community. The amount of rental fees for this would be at the discretion of your board
    • Insurance is important, but will not mitigate all risks. Two articles by Ken Hall of Robertson Hall Insurance, provide an overview and examples of the issues: Outside User Groups: An Insurance Perspective, and Keeping the Risk Where It Belongs. [Please contact info@cuc.ca to request these articles; they are copyrighted by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities]

Click here for a sample rental policy and agreement.

Sources:

Canada Revenue Agency, CPS 024
Canadian Council of Christian Charities
Carter’s Charity Law and Carter’s Professional Corporation
With special thanks to Shirley Travis, First Unitarian Church of Victoria, and Carolyn Turner, First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, for their research and conversation; and to a very helpful Canada Revenue Agency agent for patiently answering a multitude of questions with accuracy.


CUC Congregations, the Canada Copyright Act & Broadcasting Sunday Services

CUC Congregations, the Canada Copyright Act & Broadcasting Sunday Services

Copyright law is complicated. With the wisdom of CUC Board member, Jaime Dunton (retired advocate) and research by staff, we have come up with some guidelines for how congregations can understand Canadian copyright questions. Please note that this is some information we’ve pulled together, and while Jaime has a legal background, this should not be taken as legal advice.

For religious communities, the process of dealing with copyright questions is made infinitely simpler by the religious exemption, which states in section 32.2(3) Miscellaneous of the Canada Copyright Act:

  • (3) No religious organization or institution, educational institution and no charitable or fraternal organization shall be held liable to pay any compensation for doing any of the following acts in furtherance of a religious, educational or charitable object:
    • (a) the live performance in public of a musical work;
    • (b) the performance in public of a sound recording embodying a musical work or a performer’s performance of a musical work; or
    • (c) the performance in public of a communication signal carrying
      • (i) the live performance in public of a musical work, or
      • (ii) a sound recording embodying a musical work or a performer’s performance of a musical work.

This allows congregations to perform music within a worship context without having to worry about obtaining the rights to that music.

Congregations have asked questions about webcasting their Sunday services, posting services online, and whether this transmission through alternate formats nullifies the religious exemption. Significantly, at this stage, Canadian and American copyright laws differ, so while American exemptions do not extend to transmissions, under the third permitted act listed above, “the performance in public of a communication signal” carrying the music, provided it is “in furtherance of a religious object,” (i.e. if it takes place to broadcast a worship service) is indeed covered by the religious exemption in Canada.

This is good news for congregations who want to share their services with members and friends who cannot attend in person, and for the CUC, which aims to webcast the worship service from the National Conference on May 23rd, 2016.

It is important, however, to understand where the limitations of this religious exemption lie.

  • Copyrighted materials other than music are not covered by the same exemption, so in order to read a copyrighted story or poem, or show a clip from a copyrighted film, permission would need to be obtained from the copyright holders.
  • Copyright also limits the reproduction of music and lyrics, so creating copies of music to pass out to congregants is a violation of copyright – singing the music is fine, but copying the page out of the hymnal is not permitted.
  • And while congregations enjoy the freedom of this religious exemption within the worship setting, any other instance is not covered, for example, fundraising concerts, coffee houses, or open mic. If it’s not a religious service, it is no longer exempt and permission needs to be obtained from the copyright holders.

Many of the hymns in the Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey are copyrighted by the Unitarian Universalist Association, or public domain. The UUA is very generous in granting permission to use UUA-copyrighted hymns, including making non-durable copies (such as projecting lyrics), for use in worship. However, many of the songs we love to sing come from many sources, often with different copyright holders for music and lyrics, so be mindful of who owns the songs you wish to share, and remember to be aware of the boundaries of religious exemption. Please contact info@cuc.ca for a list of UUA copyright hymns.


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

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:

  • it needs to tie directly to your charitable purposes
  • quote one or more of our Principles
  • cite a previously approved CUC resolution on the matter
  • be clear about what action is desired
  • needs to be non-partisan – address the policy or matter, don’t support or oppose any one party, and send the letter to all the parties
  • make sure your board approves it
  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 the 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?

Reviewing and Updating Charitable Purposes Slides


Board Legal Training Video

Board Legal Training Video

Serving on a UU Board – a video on legal responsibilities for UU board members. Credit: Jen Rashleigh, Geoff Gomery and Unitarian Church of Vancouver