Charities as advocates: Time we called the Government’s bluff

The government has announced that it will indefinitely postpone the review of the Charities Act which had been agreed to with the community and voluntary sector and which was to commence next year and conclude by 2015.

Minister Jo Goodhew said that one of the main reasons for her decision was because of the ‘continuing constrained fiscal environment’.

But the postponement of the review is really much more likely to be about that long standing and gnarly issue of advocacy.

Community organisations already spend much of their time advocating. They shouldn’t be excluded from getting charitable status (and tax exemption) because of this. Organisations of long standing repute including the National Council of Women have been denied charitable status on the basis that advocacy is their primary purpose. Advocacy  is not currently deemed a ‘charitable purpose’ under the Act, and therefore they are denied  tax exemption for donations.

While Greenpeace has in the last couple of days won its case to have its charitable status reconsidered, and that in itself is a great step forward, it hasn’t won its case yet. I know of other charities that are still being excluded and it is a further insult to the sector to now be told that the review may simply never happen.

The Minister has said herself that the government is frightened that if advocacy is included as a charitable purpose that it will reduce the tax take, the logic being that commercial entities currently not able to register for charitable status will set up dodgy ‘advocacy’ fronts in order to secure tax exemption.

I would make two comments about that:

1)      If advocacy is included in the Act as an ancillary (i.e., secondary, rather than primary) purpose then this would preclude such groups from registering

2)      In postponing the review, the government has missed the chance to address the issue of dodgy outfits who have already set up charitable fronts and are already benefiting from tax exemption, and weed them out.

On the back of the government’s announcement I have drafted a simple Private Member’s Bill to write advocacy into the definition of charitable purpose in the Charities Act as an ancillary purpose. I’ve been holding off for ages because I kept hearing that there would be a review and this would be the main focus of it.

Private Member’s Bills  are drawn by ballot every few weeks when the House is sitting. I would like to extend an invitation to my colleagues in the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector to let me know what they think about this proposal and to please let me know if they can see any problems or fishhooks associated with this idea.

The first member’s ballot for 2013 will be around the 13th of February, so we have the summer to consider this. If people or organisations have thought or comments, please feel free to email me at

Nga mihi nui ki a koutou


About Denise Roche 161 Articles

Green Party MP

6 Comments Posted

  1. What a load of Bull :-

    the best way of using money donated to help the poor is to advocate changes to policies

    If someone is asking for funds to help the poor, and I contribute funds to that request, the LAST thing I expect the money to be used for is to pay a lobbyist. I rather think most other givers feel the same way.

  2. Given that some groups would have great difficulty in advocating for themselves, why shouldn’t charities that support these groups advocate for them or assist them to advocate? Children’s groups would top my list of groups that couldn’t advocate for themselves.


  3. Greens have never proposed banning lobbying. Just making it more transparent.

    No reason why charities cannot advocate/lobby while being registered as lobbyists, like everyone else.

    For example the best way of using money donated to help the poor is to advocate changes to policies which keep some extremely rich and others poor.
    Of course the self interested would prefer that charities just tinker around the edges as usual, and don’t ask them to actually make a difference.

  4. Arana & DBuckley have said all that needs to be said.

    Charity status is about existing only to help people with immediate challenges overcome those challenges, it has nothing to do with advocating a position or theory that cannot, by definition, be described as help, typically money, to those in need.

  5. Seconded, advocacy absolutely should not be acceptable as a charitable purpose at all, primary or secondary.

    I see little difference between “advocacy” and “lobbying” and note that The Greens already understand and publicly acknowledge as a policy that lobbyIng is something that is generally undesirable and thus if we have to have it then there should be transparency.

    Thus now saying that advocacy (a/k/a lobbying) is such a good thing that it should be accorded charitable status is clearly irreconcilable.

  6. Community organisations already spend much of their time advocating. They shouldn’t be excluded from getting charitable status (and tax exemption) because of this.

    Yes, they should. It is right that a charity has tax free status, but if you want to lobby and advocate, then you’re not, by definition, a charity. A charity is “The voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need.”

    If charities wish to advocate, they should split into a separate advocacy group. The advocacy group is taxed accordingly.

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