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Charity and Not-For-Profit

Charity forum provides assistance on good governance

Charity law is growing in importance as an increasing number of people volunteer and serve their communities, but it’s important for those involved to be aware of liability and governance issues, says Toronto charity lawyer Taras Kulish.

“It’s an emerging area because more and more people are sitting on boards or getting involved in community agencies, hospitals, or religious organizations. There’s so much opportunity to serve as a volunteer,” says Kulish, a senior associate with Steinberg Title Hope & Israel LLP.

“But there are legal requirements of charities and not-for-profits, including directors and officers liability insurance. Many people assume that because they’re doing good work, everything will be fine. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”

Among the yearly responsibilities of board members are holding an annual general meeting and getting the charity’s financial statements in order, Kulish tells AdvocateDaily.com, adding that if a member retires, their ties with the organization must be formally cut in case of future liability.

“You want to make sure your records are clean and your accounting and financial statements are accurate and up to date, then you can go about the business of doing good works,” he says.

To that end, Kulish recently organized a forum called “Churches, Charities and Not-for-Profits: The Law and You,” geared toward administrators and directors of charitable, religious and non-profit organizations.

The Toronto event, held late last year, was organized in partnership with the Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association, Ukrainian Canadian Social Services and the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association.

The political conflict in Ukraine, which began roughly four years ago, has led to an “explosion” of new charities as Ukrainian-Canadians endeavour to help where they can — whether it’s providing ambulances, providing PTSD therapy for children or raising money for prosthetics and surgeries, he says.

“There are charities and organizations that have started within the Ukrainian community over the past four or five years as a result of the conflict,” Kulish says. “These associations felt there was a need for assistance in good governance for the various charities and not-for-profits.”

In addition to several private practice lawyers, speakers at the event included Dana De Sante, senior counsel in the Charitable Property Program at the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, and Lynn Cassidy, executive director of the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association.

Videos of the speakers can be found on the bar association’s YouTube channel. Topics included practice tips for directors; director and officer liability; financial management and reporting issues; setting up charity accounts; and developing capital, endowment and major gift campaigns.

Kulish says the turnout was significant for a niche area and noted 15 to 20 per cent of attendees were from outside the Ukrainian community, such as Christian and Muslim organizations.

The price was $15 per person, which allowed organizations to send more than one person to the event, and several sponsors were lined up to keep the costs low.

“The community really appreciated it. We received so much positive feedback, with attendees saying it was so important and needed,” he says, adding that a second charity law event is planned for May 3.

So far, Kulish says, organizers have lined up a representative from the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Directorate, which recently introduced the Charities Education Program, and lawyers from the Ontario government to discuss implementation and transition to the new Not-for-Profit Corporations Act.

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