Complaining About Charities

If you have a complaint about a registered Canadian charity the first thing to do is to discuss the complaint with the charity. In the vast majority of cases, registered charities are responsible and respond to queries and concerns. The charity may have a very legitimate reason for their action or there may have been a misunderstanding. As well, sometimes charities make mistakes just like people or businesses – it is inevitable.

Before proceeding to another level it is a good idea to discuss the complaint with someone who knows a lot about charities – whether it be a person working for a different charity or your own professional advisor. Having an independent voice to discuss the complaint can be helpful. Although there is no question that a small number of charities may be doing some very bad things, many of the complaints about charities are either frivolous, vexatious or come from a misunderstanding of the role and responsibilities of charities in our society.

Next, if you have not achieved a satisfactory response from the charity in question and you have someone who knows something about charities agreeing with you, see whether the charity is a member of an organization that has a code of conduct and whether the actions of the charity may contravene such code of conduct. In some cases the codes of conduct or codes of ethics also provide a mechanism for addressing complaints about the charity to another body, for example, Imagine Canada, Association of Fundraising Professionals, etc.

Another way to complain about charities is to contact the media. Send a note to a reporter interested in charities and who has written about charities. You may wish to read some of the articles by Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star or David Baines of the Vancouver Sun. No disrespect to umbrella organizations or charity regulators but charities are sometimes far more concerned about these two people than all the others combined.

If you wish to complain about the conduct of a Canadian registered charity. you can also call the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Alternatively you can e-mail your complaint to CRA. See the CRA Website at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/cntct/cmplnts-eng.html or you can e-mail CRA at CharitiesComplianceDivisi.LPRA@cra-arc.gc.ca Unfortunately, registered charities are treated like individuals and they are accorded lots of privacy rights. For this reason, CRA will not be able to tell you if they are investigating a charity because of someone else’s complaint, because of your complaint, or whether or not they are investigating a charity at all. But complaining to the CRA is almost a last resort.

As the regulation of registered charities is both a provincial and federal responsibility, your provincial public guardian and trustee, or equivalent, may also be prepared to act on a complaint. For example, in Ontario you can contact the Public Guardian and Trustee http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/charbullet/bullet4.asp

If the complaint involves fraud you may wish to contact your local police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre of the Canadian Government at 1-888-495-8501 or at http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/english/recognizeit_charities.html