Running Your Organization to Maintain Incorporation and Charitable Status

Maintaining incorporation and charitable registration of your organization comes down to two basic components: following basic operating guidelines and reporting.  These two components are discussed separately here with considerations for provincial/territorial incorporation, federal incorporation and charitable registration requirements.  Because most land trusts immediately become registered charities or the equivalent in order to offer tax benefits to their donors, the tables and text provided in this section summarizes obligations of registered charities.  Not-for-profit organizations’ operating guidelines and reporting obligations have not been considered in isolation.  If you are administering a not-for-profit organization that is not a charity, you should seek operating guidelines and reporting requirements from the agency that provided your incorporation papers (i.e., provincially/territorially; or federally, Corporations Canada).

Basic guidelines to operating an incorporated, charitable land trust

There are several resources available to guide the initial steps and ongoing operations of an incorporated, charitable land trust.

Many of these will also be helpful for a land trust, possibly an Indigenous Land Trust, that is recognized under a status equivalent to a charity.

It is beneficial to refer to, review, and print or otherwise maintain easy access to the checklists and information provided in this list:

The varied canopy of the forest at JBJ McDonald Conservation land. This land is home to Larch, White and Black spruce, and large aspen trees.

Courtesy: Edmonton and Area Land Trust
      • Consider ways to include alternative, less formal, and/or decolonized approaches in the by-laws, perhaps reflecting with permission Indigenous governance approaches in your area. These might include: terms (council or circle vs. board), representation (elders, youth, women, other-than-humans, organizations), procedures (consultation with community on significant items), decision-making (consensus vs. voting), and the like.
    • The Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices offer ethical, legal and technical guidelines. Land trusts should review and then adopt these by a resolution, and continue to learn and work towards implementing those relevant to its operations.

These Standards and Practices note that they have not fully considered how best to reflect the needs of Indigenous people and land trusts; thus adaptation or alternative applications may be useful.

Other beneficial initial steps to consider that are not covered in the resources above are as follows:

    • Obtain directors’ and officers’ liability and commercial general liability insurance. 
    • Clearly define roles, responsibilities and expectations of directors (see Carters Law Firm’s summary on the legal duties of directors of charities and not-for-profits)
    • Set up an effective structure of committees, working groups and possibly staff to support the work of the Board and organization.
    • Create a system to track tasks and responsibilities.
    • Develop a membership program, including terms of membership, fees, etc., in order to help engage and get support from the broader community;
    • Set up a system for clear and transparent communication with the public and membership.
    • Create policies, plans and procedures based on examples from other organizations, as they become necessary.

Reporting Responsibilities

Annual Reporting Responsibilities

The annual reporting responsibilities to maintain incorporation and charitable registration of land trusts and tax filing requirements are summarized in Table 1 below.  The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) outlines when a charity is able, not able or required to register to charge HST in the Basic GST/HST Guidelines for Charities. Applying for GST/HST rebates (beneficial but not mandatory) is included in Table 1 as well.

Tax and/or accounting advice is highly recommended to complete these annual reporting responsibilities, especially financial statements, charitable information returns (T3010-1) and HST returns and/or rebates.  Many accountants will prepare all forms required by CRA with input from staff/board members on key topics like Board of Directors details.  However, to save money, the forms can also be completed in-house, by a bookkeeper, and reviewed by a qualified accountant.

For more information on reporting requirements to maintain a land trust’s legal and charitable status, please view the appropriate links and the tables below:


Table 1: Annual Reporting Responsibilities for Charitable Land Trusts

These are some of the annual reporting responsibilities based on what kind of charitable organization you operate and your method of incorporation. See which apply to you »

Special Reporting Responsibilities

There are also additional special requirements for reporting organizational changes to the various government authorities. These are outlined in Table 2: Special Reporting Responsibilities for Land Trusts ». Reporting who are members of your Board of Directors is necessary to maintain incorporation and charitable registration. It is thus highly beneficial, and efficient, to keep a confidential up-to-date chart of your Board of Directors (track name, date of birth, contact information, date of inception onto board, position, any non-arm’s length relationship to other Directors, date and type of every change in position, and date of resignation or term completion).

Tracking operating and reporting tasks

Given the multitude of reporting requirements your land trust will have, it is beneficial to develop a system to track the responsibilities and completion of administrative tasks such as the reporting obligations.  Complete the following two steps to create an annual administrative calendar from the simple template provided on Charity Central’s website.

    • Add all of the annual reporting dates to the annual administrative calendar with deadlines based on fiscal year end; and
    • Add reminders to the same calendar of when to begin working on associated tasks (e.g., completing forms, tracking information, completing financial statements and having them audited or reviewed) within reasonable amounts of time of the reporting deadlines.

Typical internal documents to guide land trust operations

As your organization matures, it will be important for you to develop policies, procedures and plans to guide your operations. While it is unrealistic (and likely unnecessary) that these all be put in place immediately upon your establishment, your organization should familiarize itself with the types of documents that could benefit your operations and work towards their development and approval over time as they become necessary.

Check out Appendix 4: Important Internal Documents to Develop as Needed for a detailed list of important systems, strategies, documents, plans, policies and/or procedures we recommend. Often, organizations aim to have some of these key documents developed and approved sometime in the first five (or so) years of operation.

The Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices also provides a comprehensive overview of the policies, procedures and plans a land trust should consider to guide its operations, many of which may be developed later on to meet particular circumstances within more mature land trusts and land holding programs.

Garter Snake, Ontario

Courtesy: Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) and Ontario Land Trust Allaince (OLTA)
Please note that this document may contain links to other websites over which Alliance of Canadian Land Trusts has no control. ACLT provides no endorsement, representation or warranty of any kind regarding the products, services, content or appropriateness of such websites.