Family First Loses Charitable Status

So Family First has been struck off the Charities Registry and as of the 27th of this month will lose all the financial benefits of being a Charity, as will their supporters.

Family First and I may not agree all the time, but I know Bob McCoskrie pretty well and have no problems with the idea of them getting financial gain from being a Charity. See when it comes down to it, it is you and I who subsidise Charities for the non-tax paying, non-bank fee paying, rebates to supporters financial benefits they get.

We subsidise them by paying the tax, paying the bank fees, and then having our government giving back to their supporters some of their donations which never actually make it into the hands of the public coffers. Groups like Family First get the donation, and then from our taxes the government via IRD give one third of that back.

So whether we support a particular charity or not, we do indeed subsidise them, and I’ll say again I have no problems subsidising Family First as I have no problem subsidising many other charities.

But now comes the conversation specifically about Family First. I also have no problem with a group, who now falls outside prescribed definition of a charity being struck off. The question is does Family First no longer fit the criteria they have apparently adhered to for the 7 years they have operated as a charity.

I have two questions for you. What charitable work does Family First do? What is Family First’s ‘core business’?

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) says for an entity to be charitable it must

  • fall within one of the four charitable purposes set out in section 5(1) of the Charities Act and
  • provide a public benefit and
  • not be aimed at creating private financial profit.

Notice that an entity must do all three be considered a charity, it’s not an ‘either or’.

The four charitable purposes in section 5(1) of the Charities Act “includes every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community.”

I think it’s pretty clear that some of those ideas are relative, in other words who is to decide if a group is providing a public benefit. In the case of Family First, much like any group, those who support and agree with them would say ‘Yes!’ and it’s likely that those who do not would say ‘No!’ which is also an interesting time to point out that there is only a three person board for registering, or de-registering a charity. So if two of the three people on the board have a vested interested in an issue, they could then get an entity registered as a charity or indeed de-registered. I am not implying this has happened in this case, I do not know that, but those are the facts when it comes to a charity losing its status.

I do wonder if where Family First has run foul of the DIA is around some more measurable criteria.

The DIA uses court definitions of what advocacy is deemed ‘charitable’. “personal and representational advocacy — for example, helping people access benefits as part of your charitable work” is acceptable where as “political advocacy — for example, lobbying for a law change” is not.

So what is ‘political advocacy’?

Again the DIA uses the courts definition which states “advocacy for political change, for a political party, for a law change or enforcement of a particular law has, however, been regarded by the courts as non-charitable” which is likely the death rattle for Family First.

I don’t think it can be argued that Family First, in the two public campaigns they have gotten the most exposure for, have advocated hard for political change with the smacking bill and for a law to be enforced in the case of Same-Sex Marriage. If you are following what the DIA sets out to be a charity then these criteria is where Family First have fallen short.

I think Family First is a lobby group and I wonder if a lobby group can also be a charity. I have no problems with Family First being struck off using the legal definition of what a charity is, and the DIA saying certain advocacy cannot be performed if you want to call yourself a charity…it’s their game and their rules to follow.

However here is my concern, and it is reflected in the last post about Aaron Gilmore, for me it now comes down to consistency. If you are going to say that because Family First doesn’t fit this part of the definition of being a charity, if that’s going to be your filter …then how many other entities need to also be stuck off? If what the DIA is saying is that the ‘core business’ of Family First is political lobby, as opposed to family advocate, how many other charities have a similar ‘public perception’ versus ‘reality in practice’ and need to be struck off.

This is where I need your help. Can you list for me in the comments below what other charities you think might have their heads on the block, if you used the same filter on them, as appears to have been used on Family First.


10 thoughts on “Family First Loses Charitable Status

  1. Anita May 6, 2013 / 16:30

    Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Incorporated (a charitable trust), states on their website:
    Political Lobbying: We try to influence the New Zealand government’s policies and laws by meeting and discussing its concerns and interests with members of the New Zealand parliament, public sector and ministerial officials, and New Zealand diplomatic representatives abroad.

  2. mccemily May 6, 2013 / 16:31

    Like Amnesty International when checking out family first’s website its hard to see what charitable work they do – it looks pretty political esp on the page where they describe what they do …

  3. Anita May 6, 2013 / 16:42

    ASH (Action on Smoking and Health)

    • mccemily May 6, 2013 / 17:27

      I got excited there for a minute Dave as I thought it might be a list which noted what charitable work family first does …

      • Kate May 6, 2013 / 22:19

        mccemily – I’m sure you could contact Bob direct and I imagine he’d be happy to explain what Family First does – he’s very approachable.

  4. Kate May 6, 2013 / 22:17

    Pat – Family First is an advocacy group (and obviously the title of the organisation means they support families) but because two issues which impacted on families, they did have to lobby the government on behalf of families so that’s maybe why you thought they are a political lobby group. In my opinion, Family First does a great job and I’m very disappointed their charitable organisation status has been taken away – but I will still support them.

    • Pat Brittenden May 6, 2013 / 22:49

      I think the fair and accurate way to define Family First is an advocacy group for some families, as opposed to the carte blanche way they are often used to say imply the represent all families. Sometimes the issues Bob champions I wholeheartedly agree with and his fight helps my family, other times it does now. Family First did not lobby for my family in the Same-Sex marriage conversation, or the anti-smacking conversation. I also wonder if a gay couple raising children would consider FF an advocacy for them. In saying that I think they have a valid voice to offer the debates…but I am always a little weary of giving an person/group the advocacy for every entity within their title 🙂

  5. ZenTiger May 11, 2013 / 11:16

    I would argue the forum they provided for people affected by the police or CYFS over-zealous enforcement of the smacking laws is a charitable purpose. They say they offer advice to people coming to them with such stories. I think that is a charitable purpose.

    They also promote research and raise awareness in the public mind on a range of issues (child prostitution, HPV vaccine, parental leave, child care etc). In the age of information overload, I think this could be argued as a charitable purpose. I think it possible to make a distinction between such forms of advocacy as opposed to a sole focus of lobbying government, and FF clearly advocate on family issues, and maybe that is a distinction requiring further assessment?

    Even so, I’m mostly in your camp – if they aren’t deemed a charity, then so be it. Just make the rule consistent.

    The ruling has to be applied fairly to other organizations too, and I don’t think it is (which may be limited resources as much as anything). This is not a great excuse, as it sets up charities to be targeted by activists (thus the FF questions back to the Board) and struck off because some small groups of people may be very vocal and very demanding. The irony then is that the so-called objectivity of the Charities Board is actually manipulated by political lobbying – which is not fine even if there’s no tax deduction.

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