Dramatic changes to the CRA Charities Listing

May 24, 2019 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: What's New from the Charities Directorate of CRA, Canadian Charity Law, Canadian Charity Statistics, CharityData.ca, Transparency

CRA has recently updated its Charities Listing and the most notable change is the fact that they have reduced the amount of information available on each Canadian registered charity. The Charities Listing used to have up to 15 years of data for each charity, but now that has been reduced to only the last 5 years of data for each charity. There are concerns that this change reduces transparency and accountability within the charitable sector. While the information is still technically publicly available, now anyone who would like to review older data must first submit a request form to CRA and wait a few weeks instead of that information being instantly available.

Here is some background.  The Charities Directorate has been working for a number of year on the Charities IT Modernization Project (CHAMP).  CHAMP will be launched on June 1, 2019, and it will allow T3010 annual returns to be filed electronically, mandate that new charity applications need to be filed electronically, allow CRA to send documents electronically, and allow charities to make more changes using the CRA's My Business Account system.   CHAMP is much more than this, but these are the main public facing pieces. CHAMP has been a multi-year CRA project.

Around May 14, 2019, with prior public no notice, CRA changed the Charities Listing and put up on their "What's new" page a short note:

​"Due to the modernization of our charities’ IT system, our List of charities has moved and slightly changed. Through the list, you can access a charity's T3010 Registered Information Return data for its last five fiscal period-ends. If you are looking for T3010 data beyond the five-year window, use the form to request publicly available data."

For many casual users, this might seem like a slight change, however, for others there will be more significant impacts.

It is our understanding that going forward, the Listing will only have up to 5 years of data for each charity.  They will not in future go back in time and add more.  As well they will not apparently be providing on the Charities Listing more than 5 years T3010 even if more are added over the next few years.  

However, it is important to be clear does not mean that older data is destroyed. CRA has been working on reducing its processing times for requests for charity data, with a target of 2 - 3 weeks for basic requests. One advantage of making a request, especially for those doing specific research or data analysis, is that you can customize your request for specific data sets and CRA will prepare that data for your specific request. CRA can handle even complex and discreet data requests, so long as it is for publicly available information. You can find out more about requesting information on the Charities Listing here.  The Charities Listing was actually very limited in terms of its ability to be searched or reviewed and many researchers and journalists were requesting information from CRA.

Some other changes include:

As mentioned above, there are more changes that are scheduled to come on June 1, 2019 relating to CHAMP and we will see how this affects, if at all, the Charities Listing.

CharityData.ca still provides publicly available T3010 information

Even though CRA is either not allowed and not willing to publicly discuss the existence of CharityData.ca it essentially has almost all the information that is no longer available and it is much more useful for the vast majority of people than the Charities Listing.  I received a number of emails from people who were very worried about the changes - they were not aware of CharityData.ca and also the ability to request certain data from CRA. 

While CRA has significantly reduced the amount of data available on its Charities Listing, Blumberg Segal LLP's CharityData.ca website will continue to have approximately 15 years of data on Canadian registered charities. CharityData.ca provides an easy-to-use interface that is far easier to use than the CRA's Charities Listing to analyse T3010 Registered Charity Information Return data on a particular charity. It also allows the user to sort charities under "Advanced Charity Search" by over 30 criteria.

While it is easy to see what gifts a charity gives to other charities on the CRA website but what if you want to know which charities gave funds to a particular charity?  Now you can do this on CharityData.ca by looking under the "Fundraising" tab.   Also these gifts are organized by largest, not first on the list. 

The Director Search function of CharityData.ca also allows users to search over 600,000 directors by their first and last names and it is the only publicly available and up-to-date tool for searching them.

The portal is free and its aim is to increase transparency in the Canadian charity sector.

You can use CharityData.ca to search or sort by Name of Charity, BN, Program, Charity Type, Revenue, Province and City.  You can also sort by over 25 different parameters.

For the most up-to-date information on a particular charity, including whether a charity is still registered you should use the CRA Charities Listing at https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/hacc/srch/pub/dsplyBscSrch. However, for analyzing the past data of charities CharityData.ca is much easier to use.

Here are some further thoughts.

It is a huge task to put one year's charity information online let alone 5 years.  Keep in mind that the T3010 form changes, even if only slightly, almost every year.  The T3010 from 15 years ago has quite a few differences from the T3010 today.   Trying to maintain a display that is usable and accurate for many different T3010 forms is difficult and expensive - for a government agency think very very very expensive.  They are not a small nimble law firm that can use a technology provider to put up a data portal. So there are some trade-offs.  The CRA Charities Listing not only includes charities that are registered but also those that were formerly registered.   Apparently, also there are quite a few people who look at the T3010 information but a very small group who looks at data that is more than 5 years old.  I will try to get more information on those stats but in terms of priorities I am guessing for CRA and the public the number one priority is having a very up-to-date listing of the current registered charities, and have older historic information instantly available for some Members of Parliament, researchers, investigative journalists and bloggers is a lower priority.   

The public display system always had significant limitations - this has not changed that much.  Looking at a T3010 year by year is difficult if you are trying to understand the finances and programs of a charity.  The older T3010s did not display all information on the filed T3010.  So if you really wanted to know who a charity gave money to you needed to request from CRA the actual T3010s.  For example, until a few years ago CRA only put the first 20 listed gifts to qualified donees on the T3010.  So scammers and others knew that if they put down 21 gifts of $14 those gifts would be displayed on the T3010.  What was not displayed was gift #22 for $23 million.   Not great transparency.   

The information is not actually disappearing. It is not being destroyed.   If you want historical information from CRA you can request it.   It is free and now the system will apparently have more ability to customize the information and data provided for the needs of the journalist, blogger etc.    In addition to registered charities having obligations to keep records, apparently, CRA does as well. 

There is a big problem.   Neither the Conservatives nor Liberals really care or think it is important that there is transparency when it comes to non-profits and registered charities in Canada.  Here is one of many recent submissions that I have given about increasing transparency in the non-profit and charity sector.   It is quite interesting to observe that this government thought they could remove from the public listing over 10 years of information and felt that a two-line note was good enough communication - wow.  I am almost speechless on that. This goes beyond data - why is the Liberal government, and the previous Conservative government,  for example, hiding from charities the guidance on religion which CRA has basically finalized and been using internally for many years now.     There seems to be a bias against transparency - which by the way is great for those who wish to inappropriately use the charity system.  But it is not good for the public and protecting the reputation of the charity sector.  If you think things are bad with registered charities, try to find out information on non-profits that are not registered charities (even if they get lots of donations, government funding etc).

When the new CHAMP system is in effect there will be some gains in terms of transparency.   Now when a charity files their T3010 if they have a December 31 year end (as many do) it takes the CRA about 3-4 months to process those returns (which all are filed around June 30) and therefore the public is getting information for example on the 2017 year end around November or December 2018 or about 1 year later.  With CHAMP, when charities use it to file their T3010 (and it is not mandatory) - the information should be available very quickly.  It should reduce the costs of inputting the T3010s and reduce the keying errors that CRA has. Although in my experience about 90% of errors are on the part of charities.   CHAMP will allow charities to have multiple people editing the T3010 which might result in a better work product in the end.   Also CHAMP is an electronic platform that will hopefully one day allow for more information to be more easily provided on registered charities.  Now charities on the paper form are limited to a couple of paragraphs to describe their current and new programs.  In the future hopefully, more information can be provided if a charity wants and as there is no keying cost for CRA there should not be a concern.   Also it will be easier to update the T3010 questions when one day there is only an electronic filing option.  

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Charity Lawyer Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.

mark@blumbergs.ca
416.361.1982
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