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Our highlights reel: Senate report seeks reforms for charities

Our highlights reel: Senate report seeks reforms for charities

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Senate studies are often well-funded and thorough. In the past, they have played a significant role in influencing government policy in areas as diverse as poverty reduction, science policy, health care, and Indigenous treaty rights.

On Thursday, the Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector released Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector, its long-awaited report and recommendations.

At 170 pages and including some 42 recommendations, the report reflects the size, scope, and complexity of the charitable and nonprofit sector. We’re still digesting the report so that we can best figure out how to work with you to i) prioritize what we’d like to see happen, and ii) turn recommendations into action. With Parliament about to end for the summer, and a federal election on the horizon, we’ve got some time to work out a game plan.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the Special Committee’s recommendations:

Helping organizations become more financially sustainable

The Committee heard from many witnesses about the financial sustainability challenges they face. Recognizing that there is no single silver bullet, a number of recommendations deal with various facets of the issue. These include:

  • A pilot initiative to encourage the donation of real estate and private company shares.
  • A review of existing giving incentives by the new Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector (which our CEO Bruce MacDonald will be co-chairing).
  • Grant and contribution reform that would see multi-year funding become the norm, and would see all legitimate overhead and administrative costs covered.
  • Funding to help cover the costs associated with recruiting and managing volunteers.
  • A re-write of the CRA guidance on business activities by charities, as well as experimenting with a “destination of funds” test so that charities can engage in a wider range of business activities.
  • Full access to government programs that provide business advice and assistance, as well as helping to access new technologies.
  • Developing a social procurement strategy, with an emphasis on small- and medium-sized organizations.

Improving workforce conditions

The Committee placed a great deal of emphasis on the sector workforce, and the need for better and more sustainable employment practices. Recommendations in this area include:

  • The government should work with the sector to explore a comprehensive, portable pension plan.
  • The government should work with the sector to find ways to measure and report on workforce and board diversity.
  • The HR Council should be reconstituted, or a similar body carrying out similar functions should be established and funded by the federal government.

Relationship between government and the sector

The Committee concluded that the federal government doesn’t have structures in place allowing it to most effectively work with and promote the well-being of the charitable and nonprofit sector.

Recommendations to help address this include:

  • A comprehensive review of the Income Tax Act rules governing charities every five years, so that where necessary those rules can be updated to reflect a changing world.
  • The ongoing collection of comprehensive economic and labour market information about the sector.
  • Establishing a new “home in government,” for the sector, with a role to champion rather than regulate the sector. This would see the establishment of a new secretariat at Industry, Science and Economic Development Canada (emphasizing the economic as well as social role of the sector) – which would be similar to the existing small business secretariat also housed in this department.

This is just a highlight reel of what the Committee recommended. On first glance, Senators have laid out a roadmap that, if adopted, could be transformative for organizations and the people and communities they serve.

We’d encourage you to have a look at the report, or at least the recommendations, and share any reaction you might have with us at

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