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Participating in Federal Public Policy: A Guide for the Voluntary Sector

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Guidelines for involvement of voluntary sector organizations in policy dialogue
The Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) implements guidelines and regulations that govern the extent to which voluntary organizations can be involved in public policy dialogue. Many organizations are concerned about what they are allowed and not allowed to do in the terms of policy dialogue. There is a perception that a voluntary organization risks its charitable status by becoming involved in policy discussions.

Though CCRA (through the Income Tax Act) does have rules, they do not prohibit charities from being actively involved in policy development. Rather, they establish limits on the "political activity" of charities. Although there is some overlap, this term is not synonymous with "advocacy." In fact, the government may consider some charities' activities to be political while the charity views the same activity as part of an advocacy strategy. To be involved, without risking your organization's charitable status, you need to understand the limits, which differ according to the category into which your organization falls. Because of the complexity of this issue, you should always consult the relevant CCRA Income Tax Act (ITA) rules, as well as your organization's board of directors and legal counsel.

The following is a brief overview of the categories of organizations and the rules that apply to the conduct of "political activity." This will help you determine how much of your organization's resources can be dedicated to affecting public policy.

Watch for further developments that may affect the rules for charities and other non-profits. Information can be found at http://www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca or http://www.vsi-isbc.org/eng/index.cfm. Be sure to stay informed of the changes - they may affect how much your organization is able to be involved in influencing public policy.

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Last Updated: 2019-11-15