Mission Trips and receipting by Canadian registered charities for volunteers travel expenses/costs

August 01, 2010 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: Canadian Charity Law, Global Giving, Avoiding 'Charity' Scams

A lot can be written on mission trips and the appropriateness of issuing receipts. CRA has been auditing charities that are innapropriately issuing receipts with certain types of trips or travel.  It is very dependent on the exact facts of the situation. While in some cases it may be appropriate to issue such receipts, in many cases it is not.  Organizations issuing receipts should ensure that they are appropriate and obtain legal advice if necessary.  I could probably write a chapter on it but here is some information on the subject.

 
Policy Commentary

Release Date - February 26, 2003

Reference Number -  CPC - 025

Subject - Gift - Expenses - Volunteer - Whether expenses incurred by a volunteer on behalf of a registered charity qualify as a gift

Purpose -To clarify the Directorate’s policy regarding expenses incurred by volunteers on behalf of a registered charity.

Definitions
amount of advantage:  the total value of all property, services, compensation or other benefits to which the donor of a property, or a person not dealing at arm’s length with the donor, is entitled as partial consideration for, or in gratitude for, the gift

intention to give:  the amount of the advantage that accrues to the donor does not exceed 80% of the fair market value of the property transferred
eligible amount of gift:  the amount by which the fair market value of the property that is the subject of the gift exceeds the amount of the advantage, if any, in respect of a gift


Commentary

To qualify as a gift for purposes of the Income Tax Act, there must be a voluntary transfer of property to a donee with a clearly ascertainable value, any advantage received or obtained by the donor in respect of the transfer must be clearly identified and its value ascertainable and there must be a clear intent to enrich the donee.

In the case of expenses incurred by volunteers on behalf of registered charities, the facts of each case will determine whether they qualify as a gift.

To determine whether there is a gift, certain factors are taken into consideration, including:

whether the expenses are incurred voluntarily or whether the volunteer was compelled to assume them.

For example, prior to agreeing to work on behalf of a charity, the individual voluntarily agrees to incur the hardships and costs associated with the work. The payment of the expenses would not constitute a gift if the volunteer is somehow compelled to assume them.


whether the consideration accruing to the volunteer negates donative intent (i.e., intention to give).

For example, where a volunteer agrees to assume travel costs to work abroad for the charity, and then takes the opportunity to take a three-week vacation at the end or beginning of the work term. This may be acceptable where the volunteer has worked abroad for several months. However, if the volunteer only works a few days and receives a substantial rebate on travel costs as a result of travel arrangements made through the charity, it is likely that the amount of the advantage that accrues back to the volunteer would negate donative intent.


whether the amenities that are being provided to the volunteer that works for the charity are reasonable, are provided in the context of the work with the charity, and are priced at market rates or lower.

For example, where a missionary, who agrees to travel abroad on behalf of the charity, agrees to make a gift to the charity to cover his/her airfare and accommodations. The travel arrangements include a return ticket at the economy rate and accommodations at a bed and breakfast for two weeks. Since the amenities provided to the volunteer are reasonable and the purpose of the travel relates to the charity’s work, the amount donated to the charity to cover the travel expenses can be considered as a gift to the charity and therefore, receiptable.

References
Income Tax Technical News, Issue 26.
Registered Charities: Operating Outside Canada, RC4106.
Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1985 (5th supp.) c. 1, ss. 248(30), (31) and (32).
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Here are some articles from the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) with their perspectives on mission trips entitled “Short Term Missions Trips and The Local Church”:

http://www.cccc.org/documents/freeresources/short_term_missions.pdf


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The US tax system is different than the Canadian system.  But it is interesting to see IRS Publication 526, part of which is reproduced below discussing the issue of travel with charities and tax deductibility:

http://www.irs.gov/publications/p526/index.html


Travel.  Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. This applies whether you pay the expenses directly or indirectly. You are paying the expenses indirectly if you make a payment to the charitable organization and the organization pays for your travel expenses.

  The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. However, if you have only nominal duties, or if for significant parts of the trip you do not have any duties, you cannot deduct your travel expenses.

Example 1.

You are a troop leader for a tax-exempt youth group and you help take the group on a camping trip. You are responsible for overseeing the setup of the camp and for providing adult supervision for other activities during the entire trip. You participate in the activities of the group and really enjoy your time with them. You oversee the breaking of camp and you help transport the group home. You can deduct your travel expenses.

Example 2.

You sail from one island to another and spend 8 hours a day counting whales and other forms of marine life. The project is sponsored by a charitable organization. In most circumstances, you cannot deduct your expenses.

Example 3.

You work for several hours each morning on an archeological dig sponsored by a charitable organization. The rest of the day is free for recreation and sightseeing. You cannot take a charitable contribution deduction even though you work very hard during those few hours.

Example 4.

You spend the entire day attending a charitable organization’s regional meeting as a chosen representative. In the evening you go to the theater. You can claim your travel expenses as charitable contributions, but you cannot claim the cost of your evening at the theater.

Daily allowance (per diem).  If you provide services for a charitable organization and receive a daily allowance to cover reasonable travel expenses, including meals and lodging while away from home overnight, you must include in income the amount of the allowance that is more than your deductible travel expenses. You can deduct your necessary travel expenses that are more than the allowance.

Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?

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Charity Lawyer Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.

mark@blumbergs.ca
416.361.1982
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