Non profit organizations do not have the benefit of issuing tax receipts for donations, unless they are registered charities. This means that non profits running a social enterprise are at a significant disadvantage if they are trying to access funding from donors, philanthropists, foundations and many government programs. For many (non-charity) NPO’s, earned revenue is almost a necessity in order to fund their social, cultural, environmental or recreational programs.

The question is  whether a non profit organization can run their business so as to intentionally make a profit?

The answer up until now has been a resounding no. Many non profits believe that so long as they re-invest any profits (that is to say the excess of revenue over expenses) in the social mission, then they are OK. However, the CRA does not believe that this so-called “destination of profits test” is a sufficient argument. Indeed, the Canada Revenue Agency in their February 2014 Non-Profit Organization Risk Identification Project Report states: “It is the CRA’s position that a NPO can earn profits, but the profits should be incidental and arise from activities that are undertaken to meet the organization’s non-profit objectives. The earning of profit cannot be or become a purpose of the organization, even if the profit is earned to fund non-profit objectives.”

To paraphrase: if a non profit organization intentionally makes a profit year over year, even if that profit is reinvested in the organization’s mission,  they run the risk of losing their tax exemption.

Social Delta recommends the research work of the BC Centre for Social Enterprise, as they’ve written several position papers on this policy issue and others relevant to social enterprise operations run by non profits.