All Canadian charities should have legal objects or purposes.  The terms objects or purposes are used interchangeably.  A charity should ensure that its objects allow for particular activities that the charity wants to undertake before embarking on such activities. The Letters Patent/Articles of Incorporation contain the objects of the corporation with a non-profit corporation but it is also found in the trust deed of a trust or the constitution of an unincorporated association. A charity wants to avoid operating outside the scope of its objects; otherwise, such actions would be outside the charity’s legal authority (ultra vires). The consequences of acting ultra vires can result in the actions undertaken or decisions made being null and void, the revocation of charitable status, and, potentially, personal liability for the directors of such a charity.

The type of objects that are defined as charitable fall into one of four categories accepted by CRA and by the courts, namely to relieve poverty, advance education, advance religion, or benefit the community as a whole in a way that the law considers charitable. In addition to fitting under one or more of the four categories, the charity must also be established for the benefit of the public or a sufficiently large segment of the public. CRA will examine issues such as whether the benefit is tangible, whether the beneficiaries are either the public-at-large or a sufficiently large segment of the public, and whether there are benefits to private individuals except under certain limited conditions.

If the objects of the corporation are too broad and could include non-charitable activities or could have significant private benefits, then the corporation may not be successful in obtaining registered charity status.  On the other hand, if the objects are too narrow, the charity will have trouble conducting effectively its activities.

If an organization is a Canadian registered charity, then any changes made to its purposes should ideally first be approved by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). CRA has several requirements with respect to how legal objects are to be drafted. They have a guidance on this topic entitled Guidance CG-019, How to Draft Purposes for Charitable Registration. As well, the CRA has numerous guidance products dealing with specific areas of charitable activity that can be relevant to drafting objects.
In terms of the process to change objects, we assist many groups every year with preparing objects, contacting CRA for approval and arranging subsequently for the corporate changes.  
 
In general, the organization or our firm will need to file a request with the CRA to make changes to its purposes. When one is writing to CRA and requesting new purposes, each purpose must include a detailed description of the activities that will be carried on under the purpose. A detailed description includes the who, what, why, when, how, and how much of the activity.  It is really important that the proposed objects and the activities are appropriate.   
 
CRA is backlogged in dealing with client requests and one can easily expect a 6-month wait on such a request for review. Following CRA’s review, they may have questions or request additional information on the activities, which further adds to the timeline. If the organization wishes to have a large number of new purposes it may take some time to pull together sufficient information to prepare a detailed description of activities for each purpose. 
 
Once CRA has provided approval for the expanded purposes, the Corporation in the case of Federal non-profit corporations will need to file for Articles of Amendment which will need to be approved by the members.  Corporations Canada generally takes approximately one to five days to issue the Certificate and Articles of Amendment with the revised purposes. The Certificate and Articles of Amendment will then be provided to CRA for its records.

You might find the following resources helpful:

Objects of registered charities in Canada are sometimes not charitable

Now might be a good time to look at your charity’s legal objects and whether they should be changed

New CRA Guidance on “How to Draft Purposes for Charitable Registration” and new model objects