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An interview with the CRA’s Charities Directorate Director General: Tony Manconi

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In mid-2016, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)’s Charities Directorate bid farewell to its outgoing Director General, Cathy Hawara, and installed Tony Manconi as her replacement. Ms. Hawara, a well-respected figure at the Directorate during her six-year tenure as Director General, was promoted, becoming the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch of the CRA.

Mr. Manconi assumed his new role in July 2016 and has spent the last year getting to know the sector in his new capacity. CharityVillage sought an interview with him in late 2016, but was told that he needed some more time to acclimatize to his new duties. Earlier this month, Mr. Manconi graciously agreed to be interviewed via an email Q&A, presented below.

CharityVillage: Mr. Manconi, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us. What does this new role mean to you personally?

Dir. Gen. Manconi: When I joined the Charities Directorate in July of 2016, I was struck by the impact of the charitable sector, along with the scope of the Directorate's work. I was also very interested in learning more about the challenges facing the sector and how they may affect the Directorate's regulatory priorities. The primary objective of the Directorate is to register and regulate charities in a way that is professional, effective, informed, and fair. I have been meeting with sector stakeholders, and will continue to do so in order to ensure we are doing everything we can to meet this objective.

CV: What advice or guidance did Ms. Hawara give to you upon taking over for her at the Directorate?

DG: Following my appointment as Director General of the Charities Directorate, I have had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Cathy Hawara on a number of occasions in order to share best practices.

CV: What is your background with regards to the charitable sector?

DG: I have always had an interest in the charitable sector and the important work that it carries out. Charities play an essential role in our society and provide valuable services to Canadians, often to those most in need. Throughout the year, I place great importance on contributing to and supporting a number of organizations in my community. Further, as a public servant, I have been, and continue to be, an active participant and champion of the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC). As you may know, the GCWCC is a charitable giving initiative developed exclusively for federal public servants and federal retirees, and provides invaluable support to a wide range of social, health, and community agencies and organizations across Canada.

CV: What are some of the biggest challenges/opportunities for the Directorate moving forward under your guidance?

DG: As a regulator, we will always be faced with unique challenges in carrying out our work. Through my engagements with the charitable sector, and internally within our program, I have heard the consistent message that the sector is an evolving one, and as a regulator we need to keep pace with the changing environment.

While this is certainly a challenge, it also presents one of our greatest opportunities, which is consulting with the sector at a time when they are very engaged and are looking for new and innovative ways to work with us. Consulting on guidance products, and participating in a wide range of sector events and conferences, allows us to adapt our service and compliance efforts to align with the current charitable landscape.

In addition to the opportunity to consult, we also see future opportunities in how we will deliver our program. For example, we are reviewing our communications products to ensure they are clear and easy to understand, and we will also continue to explore new and innovative ways to communicate with the sector. We are leveraging social media and electronic services to educate and facilitate interactions between the sector and the regulator.

CV: Related to the above, what do you see as immediate priorities for your office in the short term; and how will implementing those priorities impact the sector?

DG: Ongoing engagement with the charitable sector is a key priority for us. Beyond this, we have other key priorities, which were identified in our Minister’s mandate letter:

Political Activities

Our Minister is committed to clarifying the rules that govern the participation of charities in political activities. As part of this commitment, the CRA held in-person and online consultations. All of the feedback was reviewed by a consultation panel with broad experience in the charitable sector. [The Panel] issued a report with recommended changes.

Recommendations brought forward through the consultation process and by the Panel will help the Government of Canada better understand the challenges faced by, and the needs of, the charitable sector when contributing to public policy debate. We are currently reviewing the report and preparing a response.

Social Finance

The Charities Directorate has worked with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) since 2008 on social finance and social enterprise issues and we will continue to do so through participation in the Steering committee lead by ESDC to fulfill the ministerial mandate letter commitments aimed at developing a social innovation and social finance strategy for the Government of Canada.

Increasing our Transparency

We released our first Charities Program Annual Report in December. [It] included information on our regulatory framework, up to date facts and figures, and our accomplishments for the year. The Report on the Charities Program is a new way for us to strengthen connections with the sector and share important information about what we’re working on.

[Note: CharityVillage reported on this story on March 1, 2017. Read the full post here.]

CV: Can you tell our readers a little more about you? Do you have a bio you can share with us to let the sector get to know you some more?

DG: I was appointed as Director General of the Charities Directorate with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on July 25, 2016. I am responsible for the overall management of the federal regulation of registered charities under the Income Tax Act. I began my career in the Public Service in 1988 at the Secretary of State. Prior to joining the Charities Directorate, I was the Director General of the Collections Directorate of the CRA. I have a Bachelor's degree from Carleton University with a combined major in Law and Economics.

CV: Your predecessor, Ms. Hawara, was very driven to promote transparency and compliance in the sector. Do you share those goals as well? Others?

DG: Transparency and compliance continue to remain important goals for the Directorate. In furtherance of our commitment to transparency, we are now producing an annual report that provides key information on the Charities Directorate to the general public. This report aims to describe the inner workings of the regulatory process to charities and the public. We have also made it easier for the public to submit informal requests for charity information by launching two new online forms for this purpose.

With respect to compliance, the Directorate is actively looking at ways to encourage voluntary compliance by charities to address minor non-compliance issues before they become serious concerns. The Directorate plans to strengthen its risk management framework by:

  • Increasing educational outreach to a larger segment of the sector, including educational visits to newly registered charities and encouraging more charities to file their annual information returns on time through proactive efforts; and
  • Focusing audit resources on high-risk cases, including serious cases of repeated intentional and/or aggravated non-compliance.

Finally, the Ministerial mandate letter has provided us with two key themes in relation to modernization and clarifying the rules. We will need to ensure that these goals are part of the Directorate’s key priorities as we move forward.

CV: Over the last year, you have spoken to sector players in forums such as the Philanthropic Foundations of Canada biennial conference in Vancouver in November 2016. What insights into the sector have you gained through your engagement in these events?

DG: The Directorate regularly engages the sector through consultation and outreach activities, and continually looks for opportunities to share information and exchange ideas. This dialogue makes our services more responsive and improves our guidance products, so registered charities have the resources they need to do their good work.

Since my appointment as Director General of the Charities Directorate, I have had the pleasure of attending several events where I am able to engage with representatives of the charitable sector and learn about their unique experiences.

Through my attendance at various events, I have heard firsthand about the sector’s continued evolution. Registered charities want to take on projects of increased scope and innovation, and they are looking to the CRA for guidance on important topics such as revenue generation, activities outside of Canada, and social housing.

The Charities Directorate will continue to look to the sector for input. By understanding the evolving landscape of the sector, we can ensure the guidance and service we provide appropriately addresses the sector’s needs.

CV: Lastly, what are some misconceptions you believe sector organizations and leaders have about the Charities Directorate? How would you address those?

DG: I would not necessarily say there are misconceptions in the sector. However, there are some assumptions that are made about our abilities that are not necessarily reflective of our mandate or jurisdiction as the regulator. As a specific example, there is perhaps a perception that we have the ability to unilaterally effect change. However, when deciding on an administrative or policy approach on any given issue, we always have to take into account a multi-layered legal context and a diverse stakeholder population.

Additionally, as you know, the CRA is the administrator of the Income Tax Act, not its author. While we have a strong working relationship with the Department of Finance - and they are very keen on understanding how the legislation impacts us and the charitable sector - they are ultimately responsible for writing the law, and we administer it as it is written.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at aajzenkopf@yahoo.com.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

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