Allowed or Prohibited Activities

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines on what political activities charities are allowed to undertake are complex and can be confusing.

A summary of what’s allowable and what’s not, with some examples:

Allowed without limit: A charity can use as much of its resources—money, staff and volunteer time, capital assets, and so on—as it wishes to further its charitable purposes, which are not political. Your congregation’s charitable purposes presumably speak in some way of engaging in and promoting Unitarian Universalism, so there is no limit to how much you can devote to things like worship services and religious exploration programming. If you have other charitable purposes, they can be similarly pursued without limit.

Allowed up to 10 percent of total resources: A charity can devote up to 10 percent of its resources to nonpartisan political activities that are subordinate to its charitable purposes.

  • “Nonpartisan” means that your political activities must never oppose or support any political party or candidate in any way.
  • “Subordinate” means that your political activities must help further your charitable purposes and be secondary to them, not ends in themselves.

Completely prohibited: A charity must not take part in any illegal activity or partisan political activity. This means that it must not support or oppose, whether directly or indirectly, any political party or candidate for public office.

This is only an overview. Read more about charities and political activity, and see a full description of allowable and prohibited activities in CRA Policy Statement CPS-022. Always be sure that your board has approved any political action by the congregation.

Examples of political activities that can be allowable

Letter writing. In 2016, the CUC wrote a letter to the minister of families, children, and social development about a National Affordable Housing Strategy. Doing so was allowable because the letter is nonpartisan. It supports a policy, but it neither supports nor opposes any political party. Although it was addressed to the sitting minister, copies were sent to all four parties. Also, the CUC’s charitable purposes include “affirming and promoting the principles, practices, and traditions of the Unitarian Universalist, Unitarian, and Universalist faiths,” and the letter makes clear that the CUC supports a national housing strategy as a way of affirming our first, second, and sixth Principles.

When your congregation is planning on writing a letter, here are some ways to ensure that’s allowable:

  • Explicitly connect the topic of the letter to your charitable purposes.
  • Quote one or more of our Principles.
  • Cite a previous CUC resolution on the topic.
  • Speak only about the topic, not about a politician or political party.
  • Send the letter to all the parties.

Rallying, protesting, or marching. Many of our congregations are present at or march in Pride parades. Doing so is allowable because it upholds our first Principle, celebrates our diversity, and lives out the CUC’s 1978 resolution on Human Rights and Sexual Orientation and its 2006 resolution on Gender and Sexual Diversity. Also, these parades are usually nonpartisan and are more like celebrations these days than political statements.

When your congregation is thinking about organizing or participating in a rally, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the purpose of the rally connected to your charitable purposes?
  • Is it subsidiary or secondary to your charitable purposes, not a goal in itself?
  • Is the rally nonpartisan?

Political forum. Congregations sometimes invite people holding different political viewpoints, including candidates for office, to publicly discuss a topic. When you’re planning to host a political forum, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the topic of the forum 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 conversation be facilitated or moderated in a neutral way, not favouring or opposing any position?