The advice I would give to someone wanting to develop similar projects in their community is first to understand and recognize that each organization has its own culture and needs therefore to find out what works for them and their participants.
~ Chantale McNairn, Girls’ Club Facilitator
There is a lot of potential! Girls’ programs can be offered in a variety of contexts and forms. For example, they can be offered through an existing youth organization, through schools as an after-school program or as a weekend conference. Young women can take a leadership role and organize girls’ programs in their schools. Students of Women's Studies can offer girls’ programs as a way to make connections between the theory they are learning and their community. Teachers may create a program in their school. Organizers may also choose to start a girls’ organization.
The organizational structure you choose is one of the most important initial decisions that you will have to make. However, this is a decision that you can change as your program grows. Before finalizing your decision, we recommend that you get legal advice in order to guarantee that everything is as safe as possible and to ensure there will be limited liability for you as an organizer. We also recommend that you speak to an accountant to get information about how different ways of structuring your organization will affect the process of reporting taxes, account revenues or expenses. Some lawyers and accountants may be willing to work at a discounted rate or for free (called “pro bono”). These are also people that would be very helpful to have on your Board of Directors or steering committee – don’t be afraid to ask!
Here are some structural options:
Partner with another organization
This means your program is under the umbrella of another organization that will “host” your program. The host organization is ultimately responsible for what your group does, this means your group must fall under the mandate of the host organization and follow any policies they have for programming and reporting.
Register as a business
There are many different types of business structures. No matter what form of business you choose, there will be certain liabilities and responsibilities that you will have to consider. Common forms of businesses are:
A legal entity that is separate from the owners or operators (for example, from you!) and can enter into contracts and own property in the businesses own name. Since a corporation has a separate legal existence, it has to pay tax on its income and therefore must file its own income tax return.
A corporation can be created provincially (if it operates in just one province) or federally (if you plan to do business across Canada).i Creating a corporation is more expensive than other businesses to form and maintain, but it provides the business owner with more personal liability protection (so you do not lose your own money if something goes wrong).
A business or organization owned and operated by one individual. In this form, your business is an extension of yourself and you would be personally liable, or responsible, for what happens in your business. This means that if the business fails, any of your assets (for example the money in your personal bank account), can be taken and used to pay those that you owe. This is the easiest type of business to start up. If your business is in your own name, with no additions, you don't even need to register your business name to start operating as a sole proprietor.ii
When two people operate the organization together, and each one contributes money, property, labour or skills with the expectation to share in the profits and losses of the business. This is less expensive to start up, but you will have more personal liability protection than with a corporation.iii
A business organization with one or more partners who manage the business and assume legal debts and obligations. This structure includes one or more limited partners who are liable only to the extent of their investments. Limited partners also enjoy rights to the partnership’s cash flow, but are not liable for company obligations.iv
Create a non profit (called a society in British Columbia)
A group, institution or corporation formed for the purpose of providing goods and services under a policy where no individual (for example a stockholder or trustee) will share in any profits or losses of the organization. Profit is not the primary goal of non-profit entities. Assets are typically provided by sources that do not expect repayment or economic return. Examples of non-profit organizations are governments, charities, universities, religious institutions, and some hospitals.v
A charity is a specific kind of non-profit. The exact definition is widely contested and the Canadian Income Tax Act does not provide a definition of charitable activity, however a charity is understood as being comprised of four principle divisions: trusts for the relief of poverty; trusts for the advancement of education; trusts for the advancement of religion; and trusts for other purposes beneficial to the community not falling under the preceding heads.vi
One of the most important reasons for being recognized as a charity lies in the provisions of the Income Tax Act. A gift to a registered charity offers tax relief to the donor (for donations over $10). A gift to an organization that is not registered does not produce tax relief. Registered charities may also automatically get preferred treatment for the purposes of the Goods and Services Tax regime.vii Since September 2003, charitable organizations have been restricted in the advocacy activities they can carry out. Up to 10% of human and financial resources can be used for political activity that is in direct service of the charitable mandate.viii Advocacy is defined as, “…the act of speaking or of disseminating information intended to influence individuals.”ix
Co-operatives share profits among their member-owners on the basis of how much they use the co-op, not on how many shares they hold. Co-operatives and credit unions also tend to invest their profits in improving services to members and to promoting the well-being of their communities; by definition co-ops are non-profits.x
In a worker co-op, all members have an equal say in the way the business is run and in the decisions affecting their everyday work lives. Members combine their skills, interests, and experiences to achieve mutual goals, such as creating jobs for themselves, providing a community service, or increasing democracy in the workplace.xi In a worker co-op there is no board of directors since the workers act as directors. If you structure your organization as a worker co-op it is important to set up an advisory committee for outside advice and to be very intentional about how you will make decisions, to ensure the process is as democratic as possible.
The process of creating and registering each of these outlined forms of business, non-profit, charity or co-operative differs greatly, although the general process of registering a business is similar from province to province.xii For many types of businesses, you need to register both federally and provincially. Make sure you do your homework. Keep in mind that consulting a lawyer and an accountant is highly recommended.
Developing Program Policies
A policy is defined as a course or method of action selected to guide and determines decisions within your organization in both the present and future.xiii At Girls Action we have found that it is important to establish policies based on our learning and practice; this helps to ensure that our policies are relevant and effective.
Questions to consider for policy development:
1. Safety: What policies will need to be implemented to ensure the safety of participants and staff?
2. Liability and legal responsibility: What are your organization’s liabilities and legal responsibilities?
3. Questions of confidentiality: How will you handle confidentiality and disclosure?
4. Questions of participants’ safety: How can you develop and maintain and anti-oppressive space?
5. People: What human resource policies will you need?
The program policies that have been adopted by our girls’ programs are in place to ensure that all expectations are clear, things run smoothly, and the environment is safe. It is critical to have policies that are grounded in the reality of the work we are doing so they can be effectively applied in any and all contexts of our work.
Tips for policy development:
• Learn from other organizations. Don’t be afraid to ask for sample policies for inspiration and to help structure your own policies. Remember that your own policy development will depend on the needs and realities of your own context
• Seek legal advice to gain clarity on legal responsibilities
• Do your homework: understand your organization’s liability and responsibilities
• Seek out provincial and federal guidelines with regards disclosure and legal rights and responsibilities.
Our favourite lesson: You don’t need to overdo policies. They should grow out of the needs of the organization!
i Government of Canada, Invest in Canada, Selecting a Business Structure: http://www.investincanada.gc.ca/en/establish-a-business/selecting-a-business-structure.aspx#p2 [consulted September 4, 2008].
ii Susan Ward, “Sole Proprietorship,” About.com: http://sbinfocanada.about.com/cs/startup/g/soleprop.htm [consulted September. 4, 2008]. See also: Canada Revenue Agency, Sole proprietorships and partnerships: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/business/topics/solepartner/menu-e.html [consulted September 4, 2009].
iii For more information on business partnerships, see Government of Canada, Invest in Canada, Selecting a Business Structure, “Partnership”: http://www.investincanada.gc.ca/en/establish-a-business/selecting-a-business-structure.aspx#p2 [consulted September 4, 2009].
iv InvestorWords.com, Limited Partnership: http://www.investorwords.com/2818/limited_partnership.html [consulted September. 4, 2008].
vi Income Tax special Purpose Comrs. V. Pemsel  AC 531: http://www.queensu.ca/sps/current_students/MPA/courses/mpa880/broadening...
ix S. Sylvestre and G. Floyd, Advocacy.
x The Canadian Co-operative Association, About Co-operatives (2008): http://www.coopscanada.coop/en/about_co-operative/about_co-ops [consulted September 4, 2009].
xi The Canadian Co-operative Association, “Worker Co-ops: Bringing Employee Control and Democracy to the Workplace”: [consulted September. 4, 2008].
xii Susan Ward, “Forms of Business,” About.com: http://sbinfocanada.about.com/od/startup/g/bizforms.htm [consulted September 4, 2008].
xiii “Policy” as defined in Webster’s New Explorer Dictionary and Thesaurus (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999), p. 403.