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WE Charity scandal stirs up feelings of mistrust

The WE Charity / Trudeau family scandal has caused some of its biggest sponsors to reassess their ties to the organization, including Telus, Virgin Atlantic Airways and a charity connected to Prince Harry. The Royal Bank of Canada, another major sponsor, is also reconsidering its relationship with the charity.

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Last Tuesday (28) , Craig and Marc Kielburger, the two brothers that founded the WE in 1995 testified at the House of Commons finance committee that they regret ever accepting a contract to administer a $912-million student-volunteer program that has attracted weeks of controversy and ethics investigations into the prime minster and the finance minister. The brothers told MPs that they did not receive a direct call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the program and that they never would have taken the call from the civil service if they’d known how controversial the program would be. The investigation is ongoing but with sponsors changing their minds we can imagine that 2020 will be a tough year for WE.

This week Milénio Stadium heard from two Portuguese-Canadian charities, Abrigo Centre, that helps women who facing domestic violence and abuse issues, and Luso Canadian Charitable Society which assists disabled people. Ed Graça is the Executive Director from Abrigo Centre and Heather Grand is the Executive Director from Luso Canadian Charitable Society. They both realize that WE Charity scandal can create some confusion and distrust in the general community, but they are optimistic that people are aware of the work that they do to help the local community.

Luso Canadian Charitable Society

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Heather Grand is the Executive Director from Luso Canadian Charitable Society

MS: When did Luso Charities start and what was its main goal?

Heather Grand: Luso Canadian Charitable Society started in 2002 and received charitable registration in August 2003. Our original purpose was to build and maintain a community centre for persons living with disabilities. A place that would provide workshops, programs and activities for the benefit of disabled persons. That purpose has never changed over the years, except we have expanded from that first location in Toronto and now provide programs at three locations, Toronto, Peel and Hamilton.

MS: What needs to be in place before a charity or non-profit organization can begin operating?

HG: Luso is a registered charity not a non-profit organization. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) differentiates between charities and non-profits. Charities must use their resources for charitable activities and have charitable purposes, while non-profit organizations are associations, clubs, or societies that are not charities and are organized and operated exclusively for social welfare, civic improvement, pleasure, recreation, or any other purpose except profit. Receiving charitable registration can be a long process and may require the support of a solicitor or chartered accountant. The application requires detailed information, such as the activities an organization will provide to achieve the purposes stated in the governing documents and the planned activities to raise funds or generate income. Applications require CRA review and approval, before a charitable registration number is issued. A charitable registration number is required before an organization can issue official donation receipts for income tax purposes.

2020 Luso Virtual Volta event

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Volta Luso 2019

 

MS: Who are your sponsors and how much do they donate annually?

HG: We are very grateful and fortunate to have a broad base of sponsors and donors. They include corporations, companies, community organizations and associations, various levels of government and many individuals. Each year, we acknowledge our Contributors in our Annual Newsletter, a copy of which can be found on our website. These sponsors are a very important part of our success to date and we are thankful for the support they provide. Luso does not receive any ongoing government funding and the contribution of our donors, sponsors and our fundraising events, provide a critical part of our operating monies. Last year, sponsors, donors and events contributed more than 35% of revenues. This year, fundraising has been severely impacted due to the pandemic. Now, more than ever, our 2020 Luso Virtual Volta event, or Volta Virtual sem Barreiras e Fronteiras event is critically important to support ongoing programs and services for individuals living with disabilities and their families. Details on our exciting new Volta Virtual sem Barreiras e Fronteiras can be found at lusoccs.org 

MS: Where do you spend the money and how do you prioritize your decisions?

HG: Priorities are always centred upon what is needed for the participants’ benefit, health and safety and program delivery. At the beginning of each fiscal year, a budget is prepared and presented to the board for approval. The budget identifies the operating costs associated with program delivery, supplies, program support and any new equipment or investment needed. Recent examples include updating our respite area with better equipment and building an exterior deck area for participants to enjoy during nice weather. One of our values since the beginning of Luso was the responsibility to efficiently and effectively manage the financial resources of our charity.

MS: Did Canadians lost their confidence in registered charities after the WE Charity scandal?

HG: There is always the possibility, when negative information comes out questioning a charity’s organization, that it may affect the thinking of some individuals, but that is no different from when there is damaging information about any business or a company released to the public. However; most donors know and understand the charity they give to and the cause they support. I believe the community understands and values the opportunities for choice, social inclusion and personal growth Luso brings to participants and their families. This is what we hear from our participants: “My favourite thing about coming to Luso is…I get to be myself” – Luso Participant

MS: Luso Charities submits a tax return to the Canadian government each year.

HG: Yes, we are transparent and open about our charity. Each year we have audited financial statements prepared and submit all required government filings. We also present the financial statements at our Annual General Meeting. The community is always welcome to visit the Centre and see for themselves what a great place Luso is.

MS: There are economic benefits when someone donates to such as institution, but most people are still unaware of them.

HG: There are financial advantages to supporting a charity, in addition to the feelings of satisfaction that arise when you support a worthwhile cause. The eligible amount of official charitable receipts, up to a certain percentage of your net income, may be claimed when filing your tax return, as a charitable tax credit. This non-refundable tax credit can be used to reduce tax owed. For more personalised information, individuals should visit Canada Revenue’s website.

Abrigo Centre

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Ed Graça is the Executive Director from Abrigo Centre

MS: When did the Abrigo Centre open its doors and what was its main objective?

Ed Graça: The Abrigo opened its doors in June of 1990. The agency was incorporated a few months earlier but needed that additional time to hire staff and prepare for seeing clients. Back then, our sole purpose was to assist women and children in the Portuguese-speaking community who were facing domestic violence and abuse issues. Although that is still to this day our core business, we have since branched out to work with youth, seniors, newcomers and provide parenting classes just to name a few things.

MS: What needs to be in place before a charity or non-profit organization can begin operating?

EG: There are a fair number of rules and regulations, both provincially and federally, one needs to follow if you want to create a charity. First, I would suggest that you seriously review all the requirements that go into creating a charity, it is a lot of work. For example, you need to become incorporated provincially first and federally if your mandate extends outside the province. You also need to register your organization under the federal government’s Income Tax Act if you wish to issue tax receipts. Those are just two highlights on a long list of requirements that take time and effort.

MS: Who are your funders and how much do they donate annually to the Abrigo Centre?

EG: Abrigo has a wide array of funders including the United Way Greater Toronto, the City of Toronto and various provincial government ministries that help fund specific programs that we run for clients. For example, Abrigo is an “anchor” agency of the United Way and last year they provided almost $280,000 to us to operate some of our programs. That’s incredibly generous support. Funding from provincial government sources was just over $800,000. Together these funds pay the salaries of our counsellors and staff, help keep our lights on and keep various programs and services afloat like our wonderful Success by Six program for new moms. Abrigo would not exist or our programming would be significantly reduced without that financial support, but those institutions believe in the work we do every day for our clients. I should also mention that we have a number of corporate and individual donors who annually provide their financial support to help to keep our agency operating at full capacity.

MS: Where do you spend the money and how do you prioritize your decisions?

EG: Abrigo’s volunteer Board of Directors set our funding priorities for generally a three-year term. For an event like our annual gala, those funds are unrestricted, meaning they will go to any of our programs and services that need financial support. Some of our fundraising initiatives are designated to only one thing. For example, a campaign specifically for new cooking equipment for our seniors, or personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff for our return to face-to-face client meetings or for a specific service like our Violence Against Women program.

MS: Did Canadians lost their confidence in registered charities after the WE Charity scandal?

EG: Anytime there are ethical questions or operational concerns with a charity, it does raise concerns in the general population. That is natural and understandable. Earning a donor’s trust and confidence is essential for a charity’s success. Over the last 30 years, I believe that Abrigo has gained the complete trust of our community. However, if you as a donor are not confident knowing that your gift is going to help those mandated by the organization, why would you give at all? Scandals like what’s in the news today are never good but the overwhelming majority of charities do excellent work and make a big difference for those in need.

MS: The Abrigo Center submits a tax return to the Canadian government each year.

EG: Yes, we submit a tax return to the federal government each year. As well, annually Dixon, Gordon & Co. LLP does a complete audit of our books and prepares a full audited financial statement. That document is available to the public and anyone who is interested in receiving it just needs to let us know. As mentioned, our organization is operated by a volunteer Board of Directors currently made up of nine community members who oversee my performance, that of our staff and our programs and services. Abrigo has six Board meetings annually including our Annual General Meeting (AGM) that is open to the public. If members of the public are interested, you can become a voting member of Abrigo. There is a $10 annual fee but this does allow you to vote on any motions put forth at our fall AGM.

MS: There are economic advantages when someone donates to an institution of this kind, but most people are still unaware of them.

EG: Yes, of course, Abrigo will send individuals a tax receipt for any donation over $20. Corporations and businesses are also eligible for a tax receipt for their gift as long it is not for an event sponsorship. Receipts for sponsorship donations are not allowed under federal laws. However, typically corporations can use their gala sponsorhip gift as a business expense which can be used for income tax purposes.

Joana Leal/MS

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