A national charity census: Mark Blumberg's Snapshot of the Canadian Charity Sector

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Make that five...and counting.

For the fifth year, Toronto charity lawyer Mark Blumberg of Blumberg Segal LLP and author of the blog Globalphilanthropy.ca — has published the Blumberg’s Snapshot of the Canadian Charity Sector as of 2014. According to their website, the snapshot covers “registered charities in Canada that filed their T3010s for the 2014 year and were processed into Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Charity Listing database by February 2016.”

It further notes that, along with playing a vital social role in Canadian society, the nonprofit sector's economic impact is huge, generating revenue of over $246 billion and expenditures of about $228 billion in 2014.

For sector wonks and other interested stakeholders – and soon, hopefully, for many more Canadians – this report will be an eye-opening document. Other data highlights from the report include:

  • 84,521 registered charities filed their T3010 in Canada out of approximately 86,000 charities
  • 75,821 identified themselves as active and 6,940 as inactive
  • 29,641 made gifts to other charities or qualified donees during their 2014 fiscal year
  • 5,381 conducted activities outside of Canada and spent over $3.18 billion outside of Canada
  • $1.8 Billion was received by Canadian charities from outside of Canada
  • $15.7 Billion in official donation receipts were issued by Canadian registered charities

While the numbers and statistics compiled by Blumberg and his staff are not “official,” having researched and published this report multiple times means at the very least that the data is somewhere in the ballpark of what is really happening with the sector’s revenue/expenditure streams, Blumberg says.

“We’re talking about a very significant sector in terms of size. And it’s important for people to be aware of that. Even if our numbers on total revenue for the sector in 2014 are off by five per cent...still it gives one a sense of the size of the sector.”

Why is this important?

Blumberg says one of the driving motivators to this continuing project is to make the T3010 information available to “everyone who wants to log on and look at it. It gives people a sense of the whole sector, cumulatively.”

He adds: “To some extent, the degree to which policy-makers [and] government take certain things seriously is sometimes influenced by information that shows the size or how many people a certain thing affects. In terms of charities, it appeared to me there was a lot of info circulating around that was sometimes upwards of 15 years old. And 10 years ago, the charity sector was much smaller than what it is today. So we thought we’d do something which is imprecise, but essentially takes all the cumulative data that CRA works so hard to collect, and then fills it in as if it was a T3010 for the whole sector.”

Blumberg notes that the CRA spends millions of dollars annually to collect T3010 information, since it is important for the agency to understand the size and scope of the sector. And at revenues exceeding $246 billion a year, he says this report should make people take notice and contemplate what it means.

“The numbers also beg the question about further regulation of the sector,” he suggests. “Sometimes, people say we shouldn’t have regulation over charities...but they need to understand that we’re not just talking about a bunch of volunteers getting together to do good with just $10,000 in their kitty. We’re talking lots of money from government, from donations, from social enterprise; and the sector is complicated. There are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. And you can see that, because obviously not everything is shared equally amongst sector organizations.”

Big money from big government

Further to the above, Blumberg points out that the amount of government money given to fund charities is very substantial when viewed in its totality. It varies a little each year, but about 68 percent of the sector’s revenue - $165 billion - comes from government. When dealing with those kinds of numbers, he cautions advocates calling for changes to the Income Tax Act to take a sober second look at what they may be calling for.

“Before one has any great ideas about cutting taxes or ideas about changing the Income Tax Act to do x, y, or z, one should really think about whether those actions could have negative implications on the $165 billion governments give to charities every year,” he says.

Additionally, according to the numbers compiled in the Blumberg snapshot, nearly 30,000 charities gave gifts to other charities in 2014; including some 10,000 charitable foundations that gave monies to charities – meaning more than a third of charities make gifts to other charities.

Beyond that, some 5,400 charities in Canada also spend a collective $3 billion while conducting foreign activities. For Blumberg, this is a bit of a thorny issue.

“Some of these groups are going to be less competent – and less appropriate – in their activities than other groups,” he says. ”So it’s important there is some regulation and oversight of those types of activities.”

The Blumberg branch of the CRA?

Given the extreme dollar amounts being attributed to the sector, and all the due impact it would have on the economy, why wouldn’t the CRA be putting out a report like this itself instead of leaving it to Blumberg and others who may be publishing the T3010 source information?

“I’ve had a number of discussions with the CRA on this at different points in time,” he notes. “They are working on something that they will be putting out soon. I believe it will be in the form of an almanac or something similar. So I’m waiting and will be very happy when they do.

“To be fair, the CRA’s primary job is not to help researchers with gathering information about the size and scope of the sector, or with their concerns about the sector. The CRA is constrained in what it can do; but it has put out very good information on this at various points in time, such as when they gathered information to help the Charities Directorate with its planning.”

That said, the CRA recently updated its T3010 informational website to include an easy-to-use infographic on filing dates for the document.

Next up...learning to love the T3010

Blumberg calls his organization’s Charity Sector Snapshot an “amazing” document.

“It’s like a national census of charities. We have this tremendous resource [in the T3010 public information] and I would encourage more people to use it.”

The project is also a labour of love for Blumberg, as it forms part of the Sean Blumberg Transparency Project, in memory of his youngest brother Sean Blumberg, who helped Mark put together snapshots in years’ prior.

“Sean was a sweet, kind person, a great brother who helped me on a number of occasions with many tasks including the time-consuming and arduous task of reviewing T3010 databases and making them into something useful,” he recalls.

For more information about the Blumberg Transparency Project or the Charity Sector Snapshot of 2014, visit www.globalphilanthropy.ca.

What do you think? Does your organization make any kind of strategic use of the T3010 information available? Do you find it difficult to file your T3010 returns annually? Let us know in the comments section below.

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

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