Christian Charities Overlooked: Voluntary Sector Panel Focuses on Secular Non-Profits

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Though Christian churches and other faith communities make up about 40 per cent of the 75,000 registered charities in Canada, these were virtually ignored by a panel reviewing charities in Canada. The government appointed panel devoted almost all its attention to the other 60 per cent of charities and 100,000 organizations in the non-profit sector.

That's both good news and bad news for churches. Jim Cullen, financial manager for the Anglican General Synod, says the recommendations of the six-member panel headed by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent don't mention churches and faith communities much.

"It looks like a good report," says Mr. Cullen. He adds that the church supports the panel's recommendations for accountability in the charitable sector.

Mr. Cullen welcomed the panel's suggestion that increased reporting, with all the paperwork and staff time that requires, be limited to charities with annual revenue of more than $200,000. That cut-off level would spare small parishes the task.

Still, Mr. Cullen believes the cutoff should be even higher because it is a "low threshold," he said.

The only bad news in the report is the "outcomes based" assessment of charities, especially if that were applied to churches. Churches are different from other charities, argues Cullen, and can't be assessed in the same way. The Broadbent report doesn't mention applying this assessment to churches, but there is concern that any assessment system could eventually be applied to churches.

The report, which culminates two years of study and consultation, offers 40 recommendations for improvements in the governance and accountability of the charitable and non-profit sectors in Canada.

The size of the voluntary sector is impressive. When the health and education sectors are included, the voluntary sector provides 1.3 million jobs in Canada, with annual revenues of $90 billion and assets of $109 billion. That is comparable in size to the economy of British Columbia, Canada's third most populous province.

Rather than shrinking, the voluntary sector is expanding. …