Communication or outreach by the Charities Directorate to the charity sector is vital to ensure that charities understand their compliance obligations and are assisted in complying with those obligations.  Here are excerpts from the comments by Cathy Hawara, Director General of the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency, on outreach by the Charities Directorate in a May 2015 speech.   

We recently launched a review of our charities outreach program. As you will know, the Directorate’s outreach for charities was initially very focused on in-person awareness sessions offered across the country. We later introduced webinars and webcasts as an additional channel for reaching charities. The time had come for us to take a step back and examine these programs – were they meeting the needs and interests of registered charities and could we improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our outreach activities? Part of our review included surveys of charities and umbrella organizations, which I referred to earlier. The surveys confirmed that almost three quarters of charities use the internet to search for information about their compliance obligations – and for a high percentage of them, the CRA website is their main source of information. We also found that 25% of the charities we surveyed belonged to an umbrella organization, the vast majority of which also provide information and training to their members. The findings of this research are helping the Directorate’s new outreach strategy, which will focus on three priorities:

  • improving the Charities and giving website and our online products;
  • exploring ways to expand our use of social media and other electronic communications;
  • working with partners in the sector, including academics, professional associations and umbrella organizations, to increase the reach of our message and help foster education.

In the upcoming months, the website will offer an enhanced webinar and video format that provides users with more engaging learning opportunities. New technology has been acquired to deliver these in-house to allow us to provide ‘live’ sessions. Our new webinar format was successfully focus tested last July. It will provide clients with a live or recorded overview of a topic in about 20 minutes – supported with mini presentations (videos) on popular sub-topics or questions. It will allow clients to have access to on-line video anywhere, anytime, and will also allow them to select the topic that is most relevant to them and to move through the materials at their own pace.

We have traditionally relied on our Charities and giving website as the main tool for communicating important messages to charities. Indeed, those webpages received more than 2.3 million visits last year and the content consistently receives high marks for value and understandability. It is the main source of information for charities and donors. But how effective has our communication through this channel been? Have we managed to reach charities? Social media has proven to be a valuable and inexpensive tool in communicating information to citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders. A 2012 study by Stephen Thomas of the top 1,000 Canadian charities found that 54% use one form of social media or another, and as many as 45% use Twitter. We are currently exploring ways to expand our social media channels and electronic communications to keep our clients better informed.

We also want to create more helpful interactive tools. For example, we are developing two new self-assessment tools to help potential applicants make an informed decision about applying for charitable registration and submit complete and accurate applications. These new tools will be prominently featured as part of the application process once developed.

This discussion brings us back to “working together” – in my view, outreach and education holds tremendous potential for greater collaboration between the regulator and its partners, including professional associations like the CBA. We would like to engage in a discussion about how we can leverage existing networks to increase the reach of our messages and tools to charities. We also believe it would be beneficial for the sector to engage in more formal training, so our outreach team will also be exploring ways to help raise awareness about the educational activities provided by organizations that support the sector such as umbrella groups and professional associations.