The OAF Blog

Community, Arts and Engagement

September 16, 2013

Looking at the mission statements of arts organizations, you see references to community engagement. The term can have many different interpretations across organizations and disciplines. I found a helpful definition in a recent (September 13, 2013) blog post by ArtsBlog
It referred to definitions that I found simple and clear:

Community : refers to individuals and organizations who are related through arts education delivered in a local community

Engagement : describes an active, two way process where the arts organization motivates others to become involved/take part in arts activity. Through the activity, both parties experience change.

Mutual activity and involvement is a key determinant to successful community engagement. Arts organizations who are involved with their local community embody these terms in several ways;

    • Reaching out to the local community to identify arts needs its education programs can meet/fulfill. This differs from developing an idea and then offering it to the community

    • Introducing young people to  art forms through education programs, both within the organization (invite participants in) or taking a program out to the community - a school, community centre or public event

    • Responding to an increasing desire for continuous learning by older audiences – through exhibitions,  lectures, education series, take a performance to the audience

    • Attracting visitors – who are drawn to the arts program as part of their visit ( it may become a reason why they visit )

    • Employing local artists to deliver arts education programs  

Mutual Ownership
Successful programs begin with a dialogue with the community to identify a need / opportunity, and an initiative or program follows. This is described as being more successful than the arts organization developing a program they wish to ‘introduce’ to the community. Mutual ownership of the idea and then program are suggested to be more successful in sustained impact over time. I’ve observed that when financial circumstances are challenging, external arts education or outreach programs may be reduced or cut back. If engagement is part of the arts organization’s mission, this may be short sighted. A successful organization focuses on taking programs out to the community as well as drawing participants to the organization and its arts goals.

Arts education is a means to engage at all ages.



Tax Changes to Be Aware Of

August 26, 2013


We often think of Canada’s tax laws as dry and unchanging. Charity law and tax regulation actually changes quite a lot and shouldn’t be thought of as dormant. I recently attended a seminar and here are some tax related highlights arts organizations should be aware of :

  • First Time Donor Tax Credit – this is worthy of note for new and young arts supporters who don’t have a history of making annual donations. To encourage new donors to donate, CRA will allow a 25% tax credit for “first time donations” of up to $1,000 (cash only for some reason). A gift of $500 attracts an additional tax credit of $125. This is only eligible to be claimed once between 2013 and 2017. Target your under 30 supporters, who may not yet have a history of making a donation beyond attending arts programs of your organization. A terrific opportunity to use social media to get their attention.

  • CRA continues to take a hard, aggressive line on taxpayers using Registered Tax Shelters. If tax is owing from the assessment of a tax shelter, new regulations permit CRA to proceed with collection actions on 50% of the disputed tax, any interest charges or penalties arising from the disallowance of a donation claimed through the shelter. What hurts is that this is payable even before the ultimate liability of a donor has been determined through the objection or appeal process.

  •  A small point – if your organization has paid parking for staff, charities and non-profit organizations are not exempt from collecting and remitting HST/GST on the paid parking benefit.

  • Political activityby charities is receiving significant scrutiny these days – a couple of points to be aware of:

            * There are three categories of political activity:

    • Permitted without limit – activity by a charity undertaken to achieve a charitable purpose submission to public officials on law or government policy

    • Permitted with limits– Communications involving activity aimed at retaining, opposing, changing law, policy or a decision of government. The activity must be non-partisan, connected to the organizations’ charitable purpose and fall within the general 10% resource spending limit

    • Prohibited activity-  Illegal or partisan political  activity involving the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to any political party or candidate for office. What you do must be specific to ALL  parties/candidates

* The 2012 budget expands the definition of political activity to include gifts to qualified donees if it can reasonably be construed that the gift is to support political activity of the donee. In other words, If I make a gift to a provincial arts council and that organization uses it for political purposes, that can be deemed a forbidden activity. If a charity does not want to have to track political activity in their T3010 information return, it should designate in writing that any gift to another charity is not to be used for political activity

* If a charity exceeds the limits of the tax act for political expenditures ( generally 10% of its annual resources ), CRA may impose a one year suspension of tax receipting privileges, or indeed revoke charitable status

*Equally, if political activity is not reported in the organizations’ T3010 return as required, again CRA can suspend charitable receipting privileges until the required information is obtained. This emphasizes the importance of having the Board of Directors review and approve the annual T3010 return. This is an important document – as CRA publishes highlights for ALL registered charities in Canada, this is the first place any individual or media will go if they are looking for information about your organization. Bottom line – know the rules before becoming involved in political activity

  • Anti-spam legislation – new regulations have been created for spam and ‘unsolicited electronic messages’. Charitable organizations that send ‘commercial electronic messages’ ( most of us do…) need to ensure they comply with the legislation. Emails which simply include advertisement or sponsored links can be caught by the rules. Essentially, the activity is prohibited unless you have express or implied consent from the recipient. Charities will need to identify individual donors on their donor lists and note a two year time limit (ie. Renewal of consent)

    • CRA has updated Fundraising Guidance in April 2012, which applies to all registered charities. The 3.5% disbursement quota continues and failure to correctly record fundraising revenue/expense can again result in suspension of receipting privileges. This is another reason for your Board to review and approve the T3010 form before it is filed with CRA. CRA pays attention to the ‘fundraising ratio’, which is the ratio of fundraising costs ( note – this is not total operating expenses) to fundraising revenue, calculated annually.

      *  If the ratio is under 35%- generally unlikely to generate questions or concerns by CRA

      *35% and above – CRA may examine the organizations’ returns over a number of years to identify if a trend exists of high fundraising costs

*Above 70% - you can be sure CRA will ask for an explanation and rationale for this level of expenditure

Complex – yes and it is always advisable if  you are not sure, to ask for advice from your legal/ audit advisors. The CRA website is quite helpful in providing information, although it can be a challenge if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for



Charitable Donations are still Lagging Pre-recession Levels

August 05, 2013

A recent study on charitable giving from foundations, individuals and corporations indicates that overall amounts are still below levels raised in 2007, the start of the recession and market downturn. While the securities markets have recovered, the ‘psychology of giving’ has not. An article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy confirms that donors at all income levels remain cautious about their personal finances. If you are working, the automatic assumption of annual salary increases and bonuses no longer holds true, and the prospect of layoffs remains a reality. Donations (in the US – we expect Canada to be similar ) are still 8% lower than levels experienced in 2007. This means that all organizations continue to face challenges in delivering programming or building capacity.


The Challenges

Two other themes exist that create challenges for not for profit organizations :

Government Funding – the ‘new normal’ as governments work to attack deficits, is funding programs are either static or may see a decline. If a government funding program is not cut, program administrators face a new challenge. The same amount of funding dollars must be allocated across existing and new/emerging organizations. Not for profits should no longer count on fixed year over year operating grants.

Broader Scope - Donations from individuals or corporations are being made locally, and nationally and internationally. Philanthropic funding is being spread more broadly, and local causes may receive less funding. As an example, one of the wealthiest communities in the United States (San Jose – silicon valley), sees only 33% of funding/grants going to local organizations.


Capacity Building

As organizations revisit their business models, the need for core operating support, or new resources to help build capacity is critical. Interviews with not for profit organizations conducted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review identified opportunities for individuals to:

Maintain support levels for operationsand  in particular provide support on a multi-year basis. This creates certainty for an organization and is efficient. The time and effort required to complete often complex grant applications every year, diverts employee time away from arts mission and programming. Unrestricted support for the ‘unsexy’ parts of a not for profit organizations budget is greatly needed in our current economic environment.

A task for the non-profit organization is to increase communications with government leaders, foundation grantors and other organizations – look for opportunities for partnerships, for sharing data and resources. Individuals can use their ‘voice’ and share their passion and commitment for a not for profit/arts organization with their contacts in government and foundations.



Not for profit organizations have always been nimble and creative in delivering programming when resources are tight. Given it may be that funds raised for charitable causes won’t reach pre-economic crisis levels till 2018, individuals can support organizations through a focus on core operations and creative ways for partnering within a community.


Background information and articles on this topic can be found at:




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