New web tool gives prospective donors better information on charities

Chances are you got caught up in the holiday spirit last month and made a donation to a charity of your choice. If so, you were not alone: in 2006, Canadians reported making $8.5 billion in charitable donations.

But in an age of financial scams, how do donors know whether their money is in fact helping those in need? How do charities inform people about how their donations are used? And how can people access this information?

A new web-based tool has been created to promote financial transparency between the voluntary sector and the public. The Charities File website is a pan-Canadian project of the Canadian Federation of Voluntary Sector Networks, and the project is led by the Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development (CVSRD) based at Carleton University. Funded by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the website provides educational resources — in English and French — designed to increase the awareness and capacity of registered charities to file complete and accurate Registered Charity Information Returns (T3010As) on time.

In these information returns, charities document how they spend their money. The returns are posted on the CRA website and are accessible to the public. By viewing a charity’s financial track record, citizens can make informed choices on which organizations they wish to support.

“The T3010A is more than an administrative obligation,” says Paula Speevak-Sladowski, the managing director of CVSRD. “It’s a yellow pages ad on the CRA website. That’s where people are going to check out charities that are knocking on their door.”

Representatives of more than 50 charities were present at the launch of the website at Carleton last month, along with CRA representatives and university staff. “This project is part of the centre’s commitment to engage with the community,” explains Katherine Graham, the dean of Carleton’s faculty of public affairs. “It’s an opportunity to learn and collaborate with the voluntary sector. We are creating a living laboratory here.”

CVSRD also has an outreach component as part of the Charities File project: trainers across Canada host workshops about the T3010A for staff members of charities. More than 50 workshops were held last year, with more sessions planned for 2008.

“The centre is a great success,” states Graham. “This is due to the community’s goodwill and enthusiasm to support the work of the centre and Carleton University.”

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