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CRA Releases Guidance on the Advancement of Education and Charitable Registration

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Charities and Non-Profit Law Bulletin

On November 27, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) published a number of guidance products regarding charities and charitable giving. Of these, CG-030, Advancement of education and charitable registration (the “Guidance”) is a new guidance product and focuses specifically on organizations offering training that provides knowledge or develops abilities (or activities that support such training). The Guidance is summarized in this bulletin. The other guidance products released will be covered in future bulletins.

General Eligibility Requirements for Charitable Registration and the Advancement of Education

To be registered as a charity, an organization’s goals or objectives (its “purposes”) must be exclusively charitable and therefore fit within one of the four categories of charity:

a. relief of poverty;

b. advancement of education;

c. advancement of religion; and

d. other purposes beneficial to the community in a way the law regards as charitable.

Additionally, each purpose must:

  • provide a public benefit (which, as described below, involves meeting a two-part test), and
  • define the scope of the organization’s activities.

Following a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision, the advancement of education category of charity now includes two types of purposes:

  • training that provides knowledge or develops abilities, and
  • improving a useful branch of human knowledge through research.

The Guidance covers the first of these types, while the CRA addressed the second in a 2009 policy statement on research as a charitable activity.

Public Benefit

For an organization’s purposes, and the activities that further them, to be charitable, they must meet the two-part public benefit test:

  1. there must be a charitable benefit (derived from those activities), and
  2. the activities must be provided to the public or a sufficient section of the public (with any private benefit being incidental).

Purposes that advance education are presumed to provide a charitable benefit. However, if the benefit is not clear, the CRA will consider whether the purpose fits within the category of advancement of education. As described in the following section, this will be done by determining whether the purpose meets the required content and process criteria. The CRA will then consider any evidence that questions the purpose’s benefit.

To meet the second part of the public benefit test, the organization must not unjustifiably restrict the section of the public that may benefit from its purposes that advance education.

Two Groups of Purposes That Educate Through Training

The Guidance describes purposes that advance education through training as falling into one of two groups:

  1. purposes that educate through structured and targeted teaching or learning, and
  2. other purposes that courts have recognized to advance education.

Purposes That Educate Through Structured and Targeted Teaching or Learning

While the courts had historically limited education to structured classroom teaching, structured and targeted teaching or learning may now include less formal instruction and self-study, provided certain conditions are met.

The Guidance provides the following examples of purposes within this group:

  • To advance education by operating a private secondary school in a specific location;
  • To advance education by providing adult continuing education courses in business and accounting in the community of a specific location;
  • To advance education by providing a series of seminars on the history of Indigenous art in Canada to the general public;
  • To advance education by providing a series of workshops on basic car maintenance to the general public;
  • To advance education by providing distance learning programs in business and accounting to the public;
  • To advance education by providing general-interest art classes to the public;
  • To advance education by providing French language training to the public;
  • To advance education by providing courses, seminars and workshops on marketing, finance and bookkeeping to artists.

To meet the public benefit test, the education advanced by these purposes must meet certain criteria regarding content and process.

Content

To meet the content criteria, the subject matter of the education must:

  • be useful and have educational value, and
  • not be focused on promoting a point of view, or attempting to persuade.

The Guidance clarifies that this does not mean the subject matter must be academic or theoretical. Rather, it may also be practical or moral and include training in “necessary life skills”. However, a subject that is too frivolous, improper or harmful, irrational, or illegal or contrary to Canadian public policy, may not be considered to have educational value.

Organizations may educate from a particular perspective, however, the focus must not be on promoting that perspective. The course material should, therefore, be reasonably objective and there should be a clear attempt to encourage awareness of different views. The Guidance provides a list of indicators that an activity might be promoting a point of view, including:

  • providing incorrect or distorted information;
  • leaving out information reasonably required to understand a subject;
  • teaching a subject by providing materials that are not well-reasoned;
  • using language that is emotional, exaggerated or inflammatory.

The Guidance notes that presenting a particular point of view can advance education when it is for the public benefit. In such cases, the public benefit of the subject should be generally accepted and not controversial.

Process

The process criteria addresses the form of the organization and the presentation of the education. For a purpose to advance education, each of the following three process criteria must be present.

The first criteria is that the information or training must be provided in a structured manner. The necessary indicators are:

  • a clearly defined educational goal,
  • a course outline or plan designed by qualified individuals, and
  • educational materials (a thorough body of knowledge) that can further the educational goal.

The Guidance notes that the amount of structure required may depend on the nature of the activity, the audience, and the method of delivery. 

The second criteria is that there is a legitimate, targeted attempt at educating. This means the activities must themselves educate, and not simply provide people with the opportunity to educate themselves. The necessary indicators are:

  • educational materials prepared by qualified individual(s),
  • educational materials adapted to meet the learning needs of the students, and
  • a process to ensure audience engagement and participation (registration, for example, would be important in the case of self-study or distance learning).

The final criteria is that there is a teaching and/or a learning component. In other words, there must be direct instruction provided and/or systems in place to assess learning (for example. testing, evaluation or observation).

The two necessary indicators of a teaching component are:

  • instruction by an individual who is qualified, and
  • opportunity for students to obtain feedback, clarification, or answers to questions.

The indicator of a learning component is:

  • testing, evaluation, demonstration of skill, or other assessment of learning achievement.

Other Purposes That Courts Have Recognized to Advance Education

The Guidance provides a brief overview of other purposes the courts have recognized as advancing education (i.e. those that advance education through programs other than structured and targeted teaching or learning).

Scholarships, Bursaries, Prizes, and Financial Assistance for Students

To be a charitable purpose under the category of advancement of education, a scholarship, bursary, prize or other such opportunity must provide funds that advance education (for example, by covering expenses connected with pursuing educational activities) and provide a public benefit.

To meet the public benefit test, the beneficiary group should be clearly identified and not unjustifiably restricted. This means the beneficiary group must be sufficiently open so as to benefit the public. However, if a large enough group is eligible, it is acceptable for an opportunity to only help a small number of individuals at a time. The Guidance provides the following examples of both unacceptable and acceptable eligibility criteria:

Unacceptable criteria: Acceptable criteria:
  • restricted to named individuals;
  • restricted to those who have a personal connection with one or more persons or entities (e.g. relatives, employees of a certain company, or members of a certain organization). A personal connection may, however, be identified as a preference, rather than an obligation;
  • restricted in a manner that is illegal or contrary to Canadian public policy.
  • restricted to employees or dependents of employees in an industry or profession as a whole;
  • restricted in an manner recognized by courts (e.g. students attending a particular school or the inhabitants of a sizable geographic area);
  • restricted in a manner that is relevant to achieving a charitable purpose.

 
Additionally, an organization may restrict beneficiaries by its selection criteria. This may be based on factors relevant to the educational purpose, such as scholastic achievement, or on achievement in areas connected with a school curriculum or program that advances education, such as sports. There is no requirement that financial need must be a factor in selection.

The Guidance provides a list of information (including selection criteria) that organizations providing scholarships and other such opportunities should maintain to be able to demonstrate the public benefit test is met.

Operating a School, College or University

The Guidance notes that operating a school, college or university can be a charitable purpose, even if the institution charges fees (provided it is not for private profit and it meets the public benefit test). How charging fees might affect public benefit is covered in the CRA’s policy statement on meeting the public benefit test.

Providing Educational Facilities, Teachers, Equipment, and Supplies

Providing and maintaining educational facilities (such as schools), and providing teachers, equipment and supplies (such as desks, textbooks, computers, and notebooks) that will be used to advance education, are charitable purposes. This is because they are connected with and support education. As mentioned above, the financial means of recipients is not relevant, however, if the beneficiaries are in financial need, providing such facilities and equipment may also further a relief of poverty purpose.

Sports and Education

While promoting sport is not a charitable purpose, educating students by providing sporting activities and facilities as part of a school program can be. A sporting program that furthers a purpose that advances education can also be charitable, provided sport is a reasonable way to further the purpose, and the program meets the content and process criteria. The CRA’s policy statement on sports and charitable registration provides more information.

Community Groups and Clubs

Certain youth groups and clubs have been found to have purposes that advance education. The Guidance provides as examples those that that instruct children in “loyalty, good citizenship, and discipline” (such as Scouts) and clubs that provide youth with chess tournaments. Providing homework help and teaching arts and crafts to youth could also be considered purposes that advance education if the content and process criteria are satisfied.

Alumni Associations and School Councils (Parent Associations)

An alumni association may have a charitable purpose if the focus of the organization is on education (for example, by fundraising for the school or providing scholarships to its students). The private benefits to the association’s members must remain incidental to achieving this purpose. Establishing a school council could similarly be a charitable purpose if it furthers the education of the school’s students. The Guidance describes certain conditions that must be met for an alumni association or school council that intends to gift funds to an educational institution.

Student Unions

Creating a student union may be a charitable purpose if doing so would further the educational purpose of an institution. The Guidance notes that a common issue for such organizations is that the private benefits to members are more than incidental to the purpose of furthering education.

Museums and Libraries

Museums and libraries that benefit the public (i.e. libraries that are not private and only open to members), and libraries that are connected with schools and benefit their students, may have purposes that advance education. Alternatively, such institutions may be considered charitable under the fourth category of charity.

Special Topics

The Guidance provides a overview of special considerations for certain types of activities and programs.

Production and Broadcasting News; Publishing Books, Magazines or Other Materials

The production and distribution of an in-depth news and public affairs program is not a purpose that advances education, as such programming simply provides an opportunity for people to educate themselves. It therefore fails to meet the process criteria. This said, providing radio and television programming relevant to Indigenous people, and information to the Indigenous community (in the form of newspapers and other materials), are charitable purposes under the fourth category of charity.

Producing and distributing books, magazines, newspapers, films, or documents could be a purpose that advances education, provided both the content and process criteria are met. As an example, the use of written material (such as textbooks) in a classroom would not make the production of the material an educational purpose since the process criteria would not be satisfied.

Conferences

Holding conferences is not necessarily a charitable activity, however, it could be if the content and process criteria are met. The Guidance states that meeting the public part of the public benefit test could be done by:

  • inviting a sufficient section of the public to attend,
  • distributing conference materials to the public (for example, via the internet or in a journal), or
  • demonstrating that participants will share the knowledge gained at the conference with a sufficient section of the public.

Vocational or Professional Education

To be charitable, programs providing vocational or professional training must be focused on promoting knowledge or skills (not commercial interests), and any private benefit must remain incidental. Examples of such programs that would meet the content criteria include training to develop skills required for a particular type of employment, more general “employability” skills for obtaining and keeping employment, or entrepreneurial skills. The Guidance notes that if the training is only provided to employees of a specific employer, there may not be a sufficiently public benefit.

Providing Information and Education

While simply raising public awareness does not meet the content and process criteria, an organization established to advance education (or another charitable purpose) may provide information about its programs to the public if this is an incidental way of furthering the charitable purpose.

Experiential Education (Field Trips, Outings, and Travel)

As with other activities, for experiential education experiences to advance education under charity law, they must meet the content and process criteria. As an example, offering a field trip connected with formal education curriculum has been found to be a purpose that advances education.

Preschool and Daycare Programs

Providing child care or preschool is unlikely to be a charitable purpose, unless the program meets the content and process criteria. However, if the program furthers the relief of poverty, these criteria would not need to be met for the purpose to be charitable.

Summer Camps

For a summer camp to be charitable, the organization would have to show that the focus of the camp is to educate, and that the educational activities meet both the content and process criteria. Non-educational activities would be acceptable if they are incidental to the furthering of the summer camp’s educational purpose.  

 

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