“Other” The Fourth Head of Charity, Clarity

Research | May 28, 2013

Recently we identified the Four Heads Of Charity in Canada and in response I received a couple of questions about the “Other,” aka the Fourth Head.

The actual legal definition of this “other” is other purposes beneficial to the community as a whole that the courts have identified as charitable. What’s difficult to understand about this multi-purpose category is that it is too all encompassing. Comments from Chimpers, friends, colleagues, (and myself) questioned why there weren’t more than four Heads of Charity in Canada. Where is the category for Environmental Protection, or the Advancement of Art and Culture, or Health? Aren’t all of these causes just as relevant as the advancement of education and the relief of poverty?

So I went searching… The CRAThe Canadian Centre for PhilanthropyWikipedia :), and then some. I even chatted to some of the charity nerd experts Chimp has direct access to.

And I learned a Quick History Lesson:

  • These four heads come courtesy of our UK roots. From a 1891 case to be precise:
    Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v. Pemsel.
  • It references the Charitable Uses Act of 1601, commonly referred to as the Statute of Elizabeth which lists many different charitable acts appropriate for the time including “Marriage of Poor(e) Maides,” along with charitable staples such as providing care and relief for the elderly, homeless, and children. 

When these classifications were adopted, protection of the environment, art and any number of the charitable causes we now view as commonplace, were not deemed to be social problems worthy of the tax and other privileges afforded to “charity”. This made sense as I started to think about it more. If I go back far enough in history, I thought, protecting the environment wasn’t really on many people’s radar. As such, why would it be prioritized as a problem that charity should help resolve?

But as times change, so do people, their mindsets and the problems that are top of mind for a society.

So, when we arrive here today, and potentially conclude that the 3 of the Heads of Charity (Relief of Poverty, Advancement of Religion, Advancement of Education) don’t cover everything that charity can and should do in our current society, we can celebrate that the 4th head of charity was included to allow the flexibility for progress and change in the charitable sector…at least as long as the courts agree that your cause should indeed become charitable!

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