The work that charities do is extremely important to our society, so it is vital that various stakeholders, such as the public, the media, the government, donors, employees, boards, donors and others. have access to key information on what the charity is doing and how it is doing it. In general transparency will ultimately increase public trust and confidence in the sector by making the public more informed about the work of charities and making it more difficult for people to misuse charities. However, from a legal perspective registered charities have few requirements in terms of transparency.  Registered charities must file a T3010 Registered Charity Information Return with a financial statement and various schedules with the CRA every year.

If they are a corporation they may have to file a basic corporate filing.  Most charities have worked out that this level of transparency may be what is legally required but it falls far short of what stakeholders require.   Many charities go far beyond the legal requirement and establish websites, have newsletters or blogs and perhaps use social media to provide information to their stakeholders.

Here are a few simple suggestions for improving transparency:

1) Make sure that 5 years financial statements are on your website.   If you have audited financial statements ensure that those that are posted on your website are audited and not the unaudited versions.  This information can be obtained from the CRA by a donor but it can take weeks and if you are a fundraising organization this can be disrespectful to donors that you are making them work so hard to obtain this information.  

2) Place a link to the CRA Charities Listing for people to verify that you are a registered charity.

3) As the CRA Charities Listing is very difficult to navigate for many people consider placing a link to your charity's page on  – this website prepared by our law firm provides up to 10 years information on each Canadian registered charity in a more accessible format than the CRA site. 

4) It is advisable to place an updated copy of the list of your board of directors and officers on your website and also information on your senior leadership team.

5) Place your constating documents (eg. articles of incorporation and by-laws on your website).  

6) If you are ever requesting restricted funds consider what your organization would do if the restricted funds cannot be used for the purposes stated or there is too much or too little money raised.  Place your policy on your website.

7) Provide information suggested by the CRA in their fundraising guidance if you fundraise, such as a reserve policy if you have a substantial reserve.

8) If it would be helpful to explain any of the above documents (such as a deficit or windfall in a financial statement) then put in an explanation.

I hope these suggestions are helpful.  The public is increasingly expecting that charities will provide information on their organizations and charities are moving quickly to provide that information.   We have assisted many charities with transparency issues.