One of the most critical principles that AFP espouses is that philanthropy should be nonpartisan. Everyone should support philanthropy, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology. If giving and volunteering ever becomes the province of just one particular party, whether it’s in the U.S., Canada or anywhere, then we will have failed in our work.
In the U.S., a bill has been introduced that would allow charities to speak about political issues and endorse candidates for public office. Passage of this legislation would mark a huge turn in how charities operate in the public space. While we’re often supportive of giving the sector more latitude in how it interacts and works with government, such a proposal is fraught with peril.
Think of the consequences for charities, which serve communities and people regardless of ideology, supporting certain candidates. What happens to charities when they endorse a particular candidate, alienating some of the population who might ordinarily want to support their mission?
Philanthropy and the charitable sector should help bring people together, not tear them apart. That is what we strive to do in our government relations programs, uniting members, donors, our sister organizations and the general public in pushing for changes that sustain and enhance giving. For example, the Charitable Giving Coalition recently sent letters to presidential candidates (scroll down to “One Last Thing”) urging them to keep the charitable deduction in their tax plans. Our work is on a bi-partisan basis.
The same is true in Canada. Over the last ten years, AFP has made great strides in successfully lobbying for public policy changes that have increased giving and given charities more options in their fundraising campaigns. We’ve seen the capital gains tax exemption extended to gifts of stock and the creation of the first-government sponsored National Philanthropy Day. Our success has been the result of working with ALL parties and convincing them to support our positions.
Our work continues this year. We just participated in the second Parliament Hill Day with Imagine Canada and other sector partners, and when I’m visiting the Edmonton Chapter in November, I’ll be meeting with MP Amarjeet Sohi, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities for Canada. We’ll be discussing how AFP can help strengthen communities throughout the country and what kind of policy fundraisers and charities need to inspire more donors and volunteers.
On the regulatory level, the Canada Revenue Agency is reviewing and modernizing its rules on permitted and prohibited political activities by charities. Registered charities are allowed to engage in non-partisan political activities within certain limits. They are not allowed to engage in partisan political activities.
As part of its review process, the CRA is asking for feedback from charities and the public on its current rules and what parts need to clarified and/or modified, and what’s the best way to communicate any changes to the sector. AFP will be submitting comments to the CRA, and I encourage your organizations to engage with this consultation process as well.
Engaging with and lobbying our government and elected officials is a right we must always fight for, anywhere in the world. But at the same time, we should be very careful about moving into outright political electioneering and other campaign activities that would imperil our ability to reach out to donors and support the people who depend on our programs and service.