As a registered charity trustee I naturally take an interest in the incorporated trust sector, which gives me access to a variety of information sources.
Due to their traditional role in providing education, health and welfare in their respective communities, which was officially recognised in Elizabethan times, churches have retained their charitable status with the associated benefits of tax exemptions to the present day.
Changing circumstances with a proliferation of competing volunteer driven providers fully dedicated to health, welfare and rehabilitation; the entitlement of faith related entities is increasingly being questioned. Arguments in favour of exclusion find substance in evidence of commercial pursuits under the cover of religion that give social enterprises a distinct advantage over tax paying businesses. In many beholders’ eyes religion is becoming another form of business based on physical evidence in the form of income producing real estate holdings and forms of worship, which are rich in entertainment, pomp and ceremony that provide good returns from captive audiences of adherents.
In analysing the figures drawn from annual returns to the Charities Commission and its successor covering the last three years, I became aware that on average 70% of the top ten charities in terms of annual donations are of religious orientation. Outstanding among them and three years running are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Roman Catholic Diocese of Auckland and Seventh Day Adventist Church followed to a lesser extent by the Salvation Army in New Zealand, Wellington Diocese of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, Harbourside Church Trust, Samoan Methodist Churches in New Zealand, City Impact Church and the Evangelical Alliance. Amazingly they individually trump the fundraising efforts of our major need specific charities with less effort involved. Regretfully their success will eventually adversely affect the genuine entitlements of other denominations if the envisaged review will result in a principle based approach to charitable status based entirely on the public benefit test.