The New Zealand Charities Commission role will be taken over by the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs. As a cost cutting measure, the NZ Charity Commission will be “disestablished”. There is no question that the NZ Charities Commission in just a few years has accomplished a lot and it will be interesting to see what if any real difference the structural changes make. Just as New Zealand is taking down its charities commission, Australia is setting up a charities commission.
Here is the last message from the New Zealand Charities Commission before they join the Department of Internal Affairs.
“27 June 2012
A message from Trevor Garrett, chief executive of the Charities Commission
This will be the last Update newsletter published under the Charities Commission’s masthead.
From Monday 2 July, the Commission will cease to exist, and its core functions will move to the Department of Internal Affairs.
For myself, the Board and the Commission’s staff, it has been a wonderful and very satisfying journey – establishing the Commission, launching the Charities Register, processing applications and registering almost 30,000 charities, building positive relationships with the sector, providing education and guidance for charities, and monitoring charities to be sure they are sticking to the rules.
Then and now
In many ways, what the Commission has done over its seven-year existence is unique – for example, no other charity regulator has (yet) established an online Register from scratch, and reviewed the rules and application information of more than 30,000 applicants, before confirming their charitable status and publishing information about them.
Before the Commission established the Register, there was very little reliable information available about the charitable sector, and its contribution to the economy and our society. Now, hardly a day goes by without a news story about charities, quoting information about individual entities or the sector from the Commission or the Charities Register, or another government or other agency using the data about charities available via our Open Data.
We understand that our Open Data was a “first” for government, in making available a feed of all the data available on the Charities Register, updated daily, and able to be searched, mixed and compared with other datasets, or used on its own to find out valuable information about the sector.
We have watched interest in the sector grow almost day by day, to the point that there are now around 40,000 - 50,000 “visits” to charities’ individual summary pages on the Charities Register every month.
All of this work has assisted the public to be better aware of the wide range of choices available to them and to make better informed and more confident decisions about charities.
Registration as a charity confers a degree of status, as well as other benefits, which (at least in part) reflects the Commission’s independent judgment that a registered charity has rules that meet the law’s requirements, and that its activities are all aimed at achieving its charitable purpose.
Sometimes, people have disagreed with decisions we have made to register or not register particular charities, or to deregister them after looking into their activities.
In all our decision-making though, we have done what we must - apply the law, consistently and fairly.
In applying the legal “tests” to determine whether a particular organisation is “wholly and exclusively” charitable, we have developed a considerable body of experience and expertise in charities law. Each of our decisions relies on the growing body of judge-made reasoning about what is “charitable”, and what provides a “public benefit”. In publishing the reasons for our decisions, we hope that we have also helped other people and organisations to understand what the law means by “charitable”.
We have also published a wide range of “plain language” information and guidance on what is “charitable” and what charities – and the public – could expect when dealing with us.
From time to time, our decisions have been appealed to the courts, and in ten out of the eleven cases heard to date, our decisions have been upheld.
I think this is a significant achievement, and evidence of the quality of decision-making that is applied to every application we have assessed for charitable status.
In fact, one of our registration staff, a former law professor for 30 years at the University of Moncton, in New Brunswick, Canada, has researched and written a book on charity law in New Zealand, which will soon be published on our website. We hope the book will become an authoritative source of information about what is (and isn’t) charitable in New Zealand law, and will make sure it is freely available in a wide range of formats. Watch this space!
Our relationship with charities
We are possibly unique amongst charity regulators in that we have very frequently met face-to-face with charities and other people involved in the sector – through the annual meetings, and regular forums and workshops we have hosted, and our presence at sector events. We know many people from the sector by name, and often pick up the phone to be greeted by someone who has attended one of our forums, or met us at one of our workshops.
Our earliest interactions were largely through the more than 250 registration workshops we held with charities, the length and breadth of the country. We held workshops in church halls, in community law offices, Council of Social Services’ and local council premises, community houses, libraries, and community halls – in short, anywhere we were invited! Often, translators helped us to explain our purpose, and how charities could apply to be registered.
Everywhere we went, we were given a warm welcome (possibly, the biscuits helped!), and often, received the message that charities welcomed the introduction of an organisation that would focus a “spotlight” on the sector’s work, and provide assistance with its governance and management.
It has been great to attend the many forums and events we have held for charities since then, and to hear from you that our staff have always “gone the extra mile” to be helpful and provide practical assistance, and to explain our processes and the law on which we base our decisions.
Assisting charity regulators in other jurisdictions
From time to time, we have met with regulators from other parts of the world, and have compared notes with them about how we have gone about our work, the issues we have encountered, and the responses of the charitable sector and the public.
As charity regulators go, we have been the “new kid on the block”, with only a small staff and a modest budget. However, it’s fair to say that we have gained the respect of our overseas counterparts for the approach we have taken, and the way in which we have fulfilled the requirements of the NZ Charities Act, and maintained the support of the sector.
Even though we are relatively “new”, we have still been able to provide useful learnings to the UK Charity Commission, the Canadian Revenue Agency, in particular, and have also shared our own experiences and knowledge with the Australian Charities and Non-Profits Commission, which is now being established.
In fact, the Australian Commission is likely to closely follow our Commission’s own successful model.
A warm ‘thank you’
In signing off, I would like to thank all those who have served on the Commission’s Board over the years, as a member or chair. You all contributed your significant experience, and your wisdom and genuine concern for advancement the charitable sector, which has helped shape the Commission into a successful organisation, focussed always on the future, and looking to deliver the best it possibly could.
I am also very appreciative of the “heart and soul” that our staff have put into their work, always striving to do their very best, and to provide practical assistance and support to the sector. We consciously recruited the very best people we could, and have been very fortunate to have formed a team of people who have all worked closely together, and served charities and the public to the best of their considerable ability.
I would also like to thank the charities with whom we have worked over the years, and who have always – graciously and unstintingly – provided feedback, support and encouragement to us. I am in awe of the great work that you do, and the contribution you make – often unsung – to New Zealand, our economy, and our society.
I wish all of you the very best for the future, and I am sure that the work we have done in establishing the Commission, and the Charities Register, will stand the sector, and everyone involved with it, in great stead.
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
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.