Category Archives: General

It’s past time to improve our charity laws.

by  Burkhard Mausberg

I have managed charities for 25 years.  Not quite as along as the Leafs haven’t won the Cup, but long enough to make a few observations.

Like the Leafs, there is a huge support for charities: Canadians donated almost $13 billion to charities and non-profits in 2013.  We love what they do: charities provide services to the needy, help youth, advance health care, and improve the environment.  

Since the Leafs last won the Cup, charities have worked to end acid rain, reduce drinking and driving, and end smoking in the workplace, to name just a few.  All these were the result of non-profits bringing public attention to issues that required changes in policy.

Yet charities are also consistently underfunded, their staff is paid way less than equivalent positions in the private sector or government, and charities require the volunteer labour of thousands.  Having to operate under these circumstances, it’s simply amazing what they get done.

So it’s also difficult to believe that with all those accomplishments, the sector is still governed by laws little changed since the 19th century.  This is like regulating the aviation industry with horse-and-buggy rules.

This old legal framework exists despite the tremendous economic impact the non-profit and charitable sector has on the country: it employs over 2 million people and accounts for 8% of the GDP.   We would never accept such an outdated regulatory framework for any industrial sector of that size.

What’s more, when charities want to fulfil their missions they are often stifled.  Consider:

  • The Harper government launched public attacks when it pursued audits with the aim to take away tax-deductible donations. The 50 charities suffering from these politically-motivated threats simply disagreed on some policy issues with Harper.
  • Charities operate under onerous rules that stifle their efforts to be creative in generating revenue other than fundraising. “Business activities” have to be related to the charity’s purposes, and what counts as, and how to determine what is, a “related business” is difficult to discern, and there is little substantive guidance the Canada Revenue Agency (the regulator of charities). If charities get this wrong, then face deregistration
  • Charities that spend more than 15% on fundraising are often poohpad. But this is not the age of bake-sales anymore.  Fundraising is difficult, expensive and takes a effort.  Businesses often use 50% of their funds for business development.  Why should charities function under different expectations?
  • Accumulating capital (past surpluses) is viewed with suspicion by the CRA as indicative of a profit motive, even if the accumulated capital is intended to be put to good use in the future.

Then consider the unworkable rules charities have to follow if they want to help with changing public policy.  To meet their policy goals, charities have to use political tools.  At no time should they ever be partisan and support a political party or their agenda.  Yet, charities are facing outdated rules because of red-herring definitions of “political activities.” 

Or fake news in today’s lingo. 

The definition of political activities is completely nonsensical. Lobbying politicians or their staff isn’t “political” under the charitable rules.  Speaking at political events is not considered “political.”  Providing in-depth commentary on law reform is not considered “political.”  Beats me what is.

The Trudeau Government promised to step in and clean up this mess.  They suspended all the unfair audits on the 50 charities.  Then they appointed a credible panel of experts to recommend changes on “political activities.”  And finally, they promised to reform the whole sector, both during the election and again in the recent federal budget. But little has happened.

What charities need now is action.  It’s only 19 months until the next federal election.  Trudeau promised to remake the legal framework.  I ask the Prime Minister: what are you waiting for?

So what will happen first?  The Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, or charities finally getting the legal tools they need to accomplish even more benefits for all Canadians?  I wish for both.

Burkhard Mausberg is a big Maple Leafs fan and served as the CEO for the Greenbelt Foundation, Environmental Defence, and Great Lakes United.

Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times

Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times
CEGN’s 2018 Conference
May 15th – 17th at The Banff Centre

(Download this page as a PDF)

Read our Call for Proposals

In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman argues that “we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history ……The three largest forces on the planet — technology; globalization; and climate change — are all accelerating at once. As a result, so many aspects of our societies, workplaces and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.”

The dislocations that are occurring are enormous: climate impacts through droughts, flooding, fires and rapidly melting permafrost; the growing international refugee crisis; the threats to democracy from ‘hacked’ social media; and the exponential growth in technologies leading to increased automation of work and travel are just a start.  Most of these dislocations are being felt locally, as well as globally, and the thin hope that we can remain immune from them here in Canada is rapidly disappearing.  Our inability to keep abreast of the constant news cycle across multiple media about these and other major issues (a disruption in and of itself), leaves many of us feeling overwhelmed —- leading some to disengage or perhaps be lured by the distraction of celebrity culture or other lighter fare.

With our equilibrium challenged, we are wondering if the tools and approaches that we bring to our work as funders are still the relevant ones? And if the solutions to complex problems are bubbling up rather than being enforced from above, are we including the full range of perspectives and voices that are needed to foster change? Are we keeping our eyes and hearts open for the disruptive opportunities that are being sparked and are we heeding the call to life-long learning, necessary to navigate the uncertain future that lies ahead? What are the practices in funding, investing, convening and relationship building that offer the most promise for staying at least one step ahead of the disruption that is chomping at our heels?

These are just some of the thorny questions that we will explore at CEGN’s 2018 conference at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in May.  Our theme “Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times” sets a high standard for our convening, and the Conference Planning Committee is doing its best to structure an ambitious program while retaining ample opportunities for meaningful connection with peers, and pauses for reflection. The Banff Centre is situated within Treaty 7 Territory, home to the Wesley, Bearspaw and Chiniki Nations of the Stoney Nakoda, the Kainai, Piikani, and Siksika Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Tsuut’ina Nation. A Call for Proposals will also provide funders with a direct opportunity to participate in session development and a pre-conference session on “Truth, Reconciliation and Right Relations” will offer funders a means to better understand the truth of Canada’s shared history with Indigenous peoples and the capacities to begin to chart a ‘right relation’.

Please join us at the Banff Centre in May as we focus on (and develop) the transformative strategies that will be needed to realize our collective dream of a sustainable future that meets the needs of people, planet and place.

CEGN’s 2018 Conference Planning Committee

Jason Bates, Calgary Foundation, Co-chair
Karen Wilkie, Carthy Foundation, Co-chair
Rob Buffler, Banff and Canmore Community Foundation
Cheryl de Paoli, Alberta Real Estate Foundation
Pegi Dover, CEGN
Sandy Hoang, CEGN
Betul Keles, Laidlaw Foundation
Pat Letizia, Alberta Ecotrust Foundation
James Littley, Okanagan Basin Water Board
Burkhard Mausberg, Chair of CEGN
Rod Ruff, Alberta Ecotrust Foundation
Wendy Vanasselt, Wilburforce Foundation

The river runs through it

By Pegi Dover, CEGN Executive Director,

Photos © Pat Kane/

Swift flowing and turbid, the majestic Mackenzie River runs north some 1,700 kilometres from its headwaters in Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean.   Named for Alexander Mackenzie who paddled the river in 1789 with six voyageurs and two Indigenous guides in an abortive search for the long sought Northwest Passage, the iconic river is known locally as Deh-Cho or big river.  And it is through the heart of the territory of the Dehcho First Nations that this largest and longest river system in Canada runs as it makes its journey northwards.

Heading up the Mackenzie River

Heading down the Mackenzie River

As funders across Canada explore the role for philanthropy in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people, a trip with the Arctic Funders Collaborative in July provided a window on the challenges faced by the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) and the opportunities for funders to engage.  Organized by Itoah Scott-Enns, Director of the  Collaborative,  our journey  took us by canoe and then by motor boat  down this powerful waterway from Fort Providence to  Fort Simpson where we flew back to Yellowknife.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Accompanied by Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and community elders, we learned about the current challenges facing the DFN which encompasses a territory of 210,000 square kilometers, and also received many glimpses into the past. At a shore stop, Sam Gargan, one of the elders travelling with us, guided our group through overgrown brush to the remains of the log cabin where he had been born – as one of 17 children. That afternoon as we travelled north in Sam’s boat, he pointed to a strip of lowland along the river where in summers past 1,000 white tents would grace the shoreline  —  a  gathering place for the Dene to reconnect with one another and celebrate the long hours of sunlight.

Community members see cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process

Community members see cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process

Dahti Tsetso, who heads up the Dehcho K’ehodi Program (a name that means “Taking care of the Dehcho” in Dene Zhatie), explained how DFN is working in collaboration with their 10 member communities to develop a regional stewardship program. The need to develop a stewardship program was sparked by the devolution of land management from the federal to the territorial government in 2014. Devolution means that the territory is now the main negotiating partner for DFN. The territory’s pro-development stance challenges the DFN’s keen desire for substantial protection of its lands. However, it was the territorial government’s pause on all Protected Area Strategy (PAS) work across the north that provided the key impetus for DFN and its member communities to begin working towards their own regional stewardship program.   

Elders talked about the legacy of residential schools and their concerns about resource development.

We also learned from the elders on our trip about the ongoing impact of residential schools. Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge, of the Deh Gah Gotie Dene Band in Fort Providence, showed us the stark monument to those who had died while at the community’s residential school. The school is now gone but the field adjacent to the monument is an unmarked cemetery, cradling the remains of the many children who died while at the school.

It was a rich time of learning for me and I would like to share my key takeaways:

  • Culture is key Community elders have placed a priority on cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process. Reviving traditional language skills and reconnecting youth and families with the land is a priority for the First Nations which comprise DFN. In Fort Providence, Lois Philipp, the inspirational principal of Deh Gah Elementary and Secondary School, starts the school year in early August, so that she can get kids and families out on the land with elders to learn skills that may have been lost. She has also developed a K-3 immersion program so that children can learn their traditional language. The use of traditional place names on maps of the enormous Dene territory is another important aspect of bringing the past into the future and seen as a key ingredient for natural heritage protection. As such, the Dehcho communities have identified Dene Place Name mapping projects as being a priority for the Dehcho K’ehodi program. The concept of conservation through culture is a model for protecting the environment that was well expressed by our hosts and the possibility for its success was demonstrated throughout the river trip.
  • Commitment to land stewardship is strong A strong commitment to stewardship of the land came through in all of our discussions. There was wariness about resource development such as diamond mining and other extractive activities, both because of its short-term economic impact and the long-term implications for people and place. But there were also cautions about protected area concepts that might threaten to exclude Dene from their traditional lands. Concern about the decline of caribou in the region was echoed in many of our community conversations. The elders and leadership of the Dehcho region also identified a founding principle of their stewardship program as, “To be on the land, in the Dene way, will protect the land.” It was explained that the basis for this principle is the simple recognition that Dene people of the region have lived on this land, according to their own oral histories, since time immemorial. They have done so in the Dene way and the land has always been well taken care of. The Dehcho Dene have decided to center their stewardship initiative on the Dene perspective of taking care of the land.

  • Sustainable economic communities are possible The DFN is taking a page from communities in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest and is developing stewardship positions, similar to the Guardian watchmen, which are helping to ensure the health of BC coastal waters. Individuals are being trained and deployed to assist in the stewardship of DFN lands. Participants in the Dehcho-AAROM(Aboriginal Aquatic Resources & Ocean Management) Program joined us on the trip and spoke to the work they do in monitoring the health of the region’s water and fish. Dehcho-AAROM is headed by George Low out of the DFN office and consists of a network of community-based water monitors in every Dehcho community. The Dehcho-AAROM program works with communities to meet community-identified water monitoring objectives. DFN is working in close partnership with Dehcho-AAROM to grow stewardship initiatives out of this regional water monitoring program. One good example of the work being done by Dehcho-AAROM is that data collected by this program is being channeled to the Mackenzie Data Stream, a collaborative data initiative, funded by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, designed to get a better understanding of the health of the Mackenzie River and its tributaries.  These initiatives are still small scale and need nurturing and expansion, but they are a solid anchor to build upon – a way to provide skills, jobs and stewardship of the lands within the DFN territory.  They offer funders across a spectrum of issues – environmental, social, health and economic – the opportunity to make a real difference for the people and the land and to lay the foundation for sustainable economic communities. Tides Canada’s On the Land Fund, headed by Steve Ellis, provides a number of opportunities in this regard and would be a good place to start for those who are interested in learning more, as would a conversation with Itoah who heads the Arctic Funders’ Collaborative and with Dahti at Decho First Nations.

After being on the Mackenzie River for four days, I returned to Yellowknife and turned on the hotel TV to catch up with the world. The news was bad — the terror attack in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey — and I switched the television off quickly. I wasn’t quite ready to re-engage, but it was a sobering reminder that in Canada there are real opportunities to get things right.

The Mackenzie River watershed is described as the largest and most intact ecosystem remaining in North America. Working with the Dehcho First Nations, as well as other First Nations in the region, to help ensure sustainable futures offers multiple benefits for people in the region, as well as for the land upon which they depend.  As the philanthropic community begins to move from intention to action on reconciliation, the lands and people of the Dehcho/Mackenzie watershed afford one beautiful place to start.