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Charities Under Threat: Responding to federal charity-bashing and CRA Audits

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Federal cabinet ministers have called registered charities criminal organizations and terrorist organizations and the government has set aside $13 million for stepped up audits of charity activities by Canada Revenue Agency. This panel explores the effects on charities and their ability to pursue their societal Missions, the “best practices” that charities can pursue to minimize their risk of losing their charitable status, and the implications for society and democracy of the government’s actions. The panel will include a charity lawyer and a researcher whose thesis jump-started a national conversation on these issues. There will be time for questions.

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Charities Under Threat: Responding to federal charity-bashing and CRA Audits

  1. 1. Responding to Federal Charity-Bashing and CRA Audits NetSquared November 14, 2014
  2. 2. Gareth Kirkby Based On Findings From My Master’s Thesis M.A. in Professional Communication Royal Roads University GarethKirkby.ca Contact: @GarethKirkby (Twitter)
  3. 3. I Interviewed • 16 charity leaders o in 5 provinces & 5 charity sectors • 5 charity-sector “experts” Almost all wanted to be kept anonymous. I also read widely and deeply in the academic literature on the Canadian volunteer sector, related government regulations, social movement and contention theories, resource mobilization for social change theory, and framing theory for social change.
  4. 4. Post-2006 Political Environment  Groups defunded  Groups shut out of policy consultation  Women’s & development groups major target  2,000 federal scientists laid off  Science programs eliminated  Environmental regulations much weakened  See Voices-Voix website for very long list
  5. 5. Natural Resource Minister’s Jan. 9, 2012 ‘Open Letter’ “For our government, the choice is clear: we need to diversify our markets in order to create jobs and economic growth for Canadians across this country. We must expand our trade with the fast growing Asian economies.” — Oliver, J. (2012, January 9). An open letter from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com
  6. 6. Framing an Internal Enemy “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.” — Oliver, J. (2012, January 9). An open letter from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com
  7. 7. New Political Environment Interviewed Charities Had Experienced:  Rhetoric: being labeled money-launderers, criminal organizations, terrorist organizations  Changed regulations and reporting requirements  Stepped up “political activity” audits by Canada Revenue Agency
  8. 8. Government Shapes Spaces “Governments have a big role to play in delimitating spaces for political action” including shaping terms of access and opportunities for participation, access to resources, and empowering certain actors as more legitimate than others.” — Laforest, 2013a, p. 235
  9. 9. My Research Question  How are the rhetoric, changed regulations, and the threat of “political activity” audits affecting charitable organization and their ability to pursue their Missions
  10. 10. Culture of Fear “Why are you asking me these questions?”
  11. 11. Political Activity Political activities seek to pressure the government on an issue related to the charity’s purpose. Activities are permitted if they are non-partisan and if the charity devotes substantially all of its resources to other, charitable, activities. —Lasby & Vodarek, 2011, p. 545 Can be up to 10% or 20% of organizations resources, depending on size.
  12. 12. Answer: How Affecting Charities Impacts on Charities that Advocate:  Targeted charities: Energy oriented environmental, development-human rights, union-funded  Charities “muffled” and “distracted”  Charity “chill” affecting communications, internal processes  Communications: content, tone, channel, frequency  Charity leaders express strong emotions – fear, anger, bullied
  13. 13. Muffled “We’re much, much more cautious than we used to be. We’re taking on different issues and we’re taking them on in different ways.” “Some [organizations are] more cautious than others but all of us are more cautious than is healthy.”
  14. 14. Distracted “So, yes, it takes up time, and money, and energy, and resources to be able to gather all the documentation and you know, it takes you away from the other good work that you would otherwise be able to do.”
  15. 15. Muffled and Distracted “Canadian environmental charities get less than [3%] of charity giving. They’re the bottom feeders of the charitable funding. The resources are too tight to risk them, and so I bet a lot of charities are doing a cost-benefit analysis on their communications and the risk posed by CRA audits and the revocation of their status and saying, ‘This isn’t worth our scrutiny.’ I’m sure there are lots of charities . . . keeping their head down.”
  16. 16. Affects on Charities Additional Impacts on Charities  Reputation damage affects donations  Long-term health of charities threatened  Social contribution of charities reduced  Effectiveness of service-delivery charities reduced  Increasing internalization of “advocacy” as a “bad thing” by charity-volunteer sector
  17. 17. Key Findings – Charity Responses  Charities try to focus on Mission activities  In reality, many are “distracted” from their Missions o Learning regulations, workshops, peer training o Changing internal processes o Considering new structures — nonprofit arm  Muffling communications  Working through umbrella organizations o Upbeat communications campaign?  Contention
  18. 18. Sharing “Best Practices”  Detailed tracking of all activities  Increasing “political activity” where deficient  Legal training of staff & board  Ongoing peer training to keep and advance knowledge of regulations and practices  Informing supporters of complaints, actions  Adding non-profit arm with fewer limitations Note: Many charities are over-reacting and altering communications more than they need to. Contact Gareth Kirkby if your organization wants to align their responses to their actual level of risk tolerance.
  19. 19. Contentious Responses  Making a point of not changing anything  Avoiding diversion of resources  Considering a lawsuit for abuse of power etc?  Building same-sector, cross-sector links & joining sectoral umbrellas and Imagine Canada  Adding nonprofit arm and transferring programming  Running Voices-Voix website  Opposition Party outreach for 2015 election platforms  Door to door ‘education’ in vulnerable ridings
  20. 20. Key Findings  Advocacy chill is affecting charities  Government is attempting to narrow policy conversations o With some success  Government is corrupting democratic processes o By treating as political enemies and enemies of the state, those civil-society groups with different public-policy preferences from government o By politicizing CRA to fight the government’s policy battles
  21. 21. How Government Corrupted CRA  Government created “funnel” to channel CRA to audit certain charities o Rhetoric o $8 million, now $13.4 million funding o Directions to audit for “political activities” o Conservative political staffer created Ethical Oil o EO filed complaints, Sun TV encouraged complaints (political staffer returns to government, promoted to PMO) o CRA staff target charities with complaints about political activities or similar process
  22. 22. How: Government Created ‘Funnel’ Ethical Oil founded and files complaints CRA audits charities with complaints, political activities Rhetoric and $8 million Environmental, development, union-funded charities targeted for audits
  23. 23. But Why? “The priority of this government is to push through a fairly aggressive resource extraction agenda. Um, you know, boost the oil and gas industry and the resource-extracting sector in order to maximize the profits in those sectors. And create jobs in those sectors, supposedly. And . . . where it finds opponents, where it finds points of opposition, points where it does not fancy what it’s hearing, then it will remove them.” — Anonymous, personal communication, April 15, 2014
  24. 24. Implications for Society  Society losing input of experts re vital issues  Poor public policy decisions could result  Collateral damage to non-target charities  Accumulating damage to civil society  Polarization of the body politic
  25. 25. Government Actions Post-2012  Charity reputations damaged by rhetoric, audits  Charities distracted from mission  Charity voices muffled  Now: Unions ‘defanged’ with Bill C44  Next: Some charities lose tax status?  2015: Nonprofits?
  26. 26. Can Charities Fight Back? “What [the government is] doing is making it easier for them to drive an agenda without scrutiny, and that’s problematic. But there’s also much greater capacity for the public to mount opposition to that because of where we’ve gone technologically.”
  27. 27. Align Activities to Acceptable Risk  Many charities are over-reacting and altering communications more than they need to. Contact Gareth Kirkby if your organization wants to align their responses to their actual level of risk tolerance.
  28. 28. Contact Me Website: GarethKirkby.ca Twitter: @GarethKirkby Find me on LinkedIn
  29. 29. References Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage Publications. Falk, B.J. (2008). Learning from history: Why we need dissent and dissidents. International Journal, 64(1), 243-253. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/40204467 Hit list. (n.d.). Voices-Voix. Retrieved from http://voices-voix.ca/en/hit-list Laforest, R. (2013a). Shifting scales of governance and civil society participation in Canada and the European Union. Canadian Public Administration, 56(2), 235-251. doi: 10.1111/capa.12016 Lasby, D., & Vodarek, L. (2011). Public awareness and policy activities of charities. The Philanthropist, 23(4), 545-550. Retrieved from http://thephilanthropist.ca/index.php/phil/article/view/888 McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M.N. (1977). Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory. American Journal of Sociology, 82(6). 1212–1241. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2777934 Muttart Foundation. (2013b). Talking about charities 2013: Charts compiled. The Muttart Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.muttart.org Oliver, J. (2012, January 9). An open letter from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com Tilly, C. (2004) Social movements, 1768-2004. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and contention. In T. Janoski, R. Alfort, A. Hicks & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), The handbook of political sociology: States, civil societies, and globalization (pp. 423-440). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://lib.myilibrary.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/Open.aspx?id=43069