Understanding the Difference: Not-for-Profit Organizations and Charities in Canada 0

Posted On June 15, 2023, by Jennifer L Nixon

For individuals and groups looking to make a positive difference in their communities, navigating the world of non-profit organizations can seem daunting. It’s particularly essential to understand the distinctions between Not-for-Profit organizations (NFPs) and charities in Canada, as both types of organizations have unique sets of regulations, benefits, and obligations. This article aims to provide an overview of these differences, with a focus on the needs of NFPs, charities, sports associations, and similar entities.

Mission and Activities

Not-for-Profit Organizations: NFPs encompass a broad spectrum of groups established with the primary objective of serving social, educational, professional, or community-focused purposes. A crucial characteristic of NFPs is that while they are permitted to earn a profit, any surplus must be reinvested into the organization to further its mission. Profits are not distributed among members or stakeholders. Examples of NFPs include clubs, societies, and professional associations.

Charities: Charities form a particular subset within non-profit organizations. To qualify as a registered charity, an organization must cater to specific purposes as outlined by law: relief of poverty, advancement of education, advancement of religion, or other activities providing a demonstrable benefit to the community.

Tax Implications and Fundraising

Not-for-Profit Organizations: NFPs enjoy a tax-exempt status for income related to their non-profit objectives. However, they cannot provide tax-deductible receipts for donations. Therefore, NFPs typically rely on other income avenues, including membership dues, sales, and additional revenue-generating activities.

Charities: Like NFPs, registered charities are tax-exempt. However, they enjoy the added privilege of being able to issue tax-deductible receipts to their donors. This benefit significantly aids in fundraising efforts as donors can use these receipts to claim tax deductions.

Regulatory Oversight and Registration

Not-for-Profit Organizations: NFPs have the option to incorporate at either the provincial or federal level, depending on their operational scope. They are required to file annual reports with the respective provincial or federal corporate regulator and may also be required to file a T2 or T3.

Charities: Charities must also register with the CRA and are subject to more stringent regulations and reporting obligations. This includes the necessity to file an annual return (T3010) and provide detailed financial information.

Transparency and Accountability

Not-for-Profit Organizations: The transparency requirements for NFPs vary based on the jurisdiction in which they are incorporated.

Charities: Charities, on the other hand, must adhere to specific transparency and accountability guidelines. These include the provision for public access to their financial statements upon request.

Audit and Review of Financial Statements

For both types of organizations, there are requirements regarding audits or reviews of financial statements. Not-for-Profit Organizations, for example, are categorized based on where they are incorporated, their revenue from public sources as well as their gross annual revenue. These are two factors that would influence whether the organization will require a review engagement level statement or an audit. Having these levels of financial reporting ensures financial transparency and accountability, a key characteristic of not-for-profit organizations and charities.

The world of non-profit organizations is rich and diverse, with each entity contributing in unique ways to the betterment of society. As you navigate this space, remember that the choice between establishing an NFP or a charity will depend on your organization’s specific goals, desired operational structure, and the resources at your disposal. Please consult with a legal or accounting professional for advice tailored to your situation.


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This blog is not meant to provide specific advice or opinions regarding the topic(s) discussed above. Should you have a question about your specific situation, please discuss it with your GBA advisor.

GBA LLP is a full-service accounting firm in the Greater Toronto Area, but we primarily service all of Ontario as well as the rest of Canada virtually, except Quebec. Our team of over 30, provides Audits and Reviews of financial statements, and Compilations of financial information, as well as corporate tax returns.  We provide specialized corporate tax and succession planning for small and medium businesses, in addition to general advisory services.

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