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Non-Profit Organizations, Registered Charities, and Social Enterprises – What are the Differences?
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Submitted by Mission Services of London

There are more than 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada, with 85,000 being registered charities recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency.1 Many of these also operate social enterprises as a way to help further their mission and make a positive impact in their communities. Non-profit organization, registered charity, social enterprise – these terms seem to be used interchangeably sometimes, but there are real differences between them.

1 Per Imagine Canada Sector Source at (accessed September 25, 2018)

A non-profit organization is dedicated to furthering a particular mission or cause to effect social good. It is not owned by shareholders – or any particular individual or group for that matter; it is generally operated under the oversight of a volunteer Board of Directors, which delegates the every-day activities to staff and other volunteers.

Often, non-profit organizations rely on government grants, private donations or the proceeds of other fundraising and social enterprise activities to generate funding to carry out their mission. Should there ever be an excess of revenues over expenditures in any given year, that surplus is re-invested in the organization to deliver the services it offers for the betterment of the community.

A non-profit organization’s mission can vary from providing potable water in developing countries to providing safe emergency shelter and nutritious meals (like at Mission Services of London), planting trees to improve the environment, culture and art pursuits, literacy and much, much more. While non-profit organizations are tax exempt, only some are considered registered charities, meaning that they can issue tax receipts to donors for the funds gifted to the organization. These charitable tax receipts may provide tax benefits to the donor come time for them to submit their annual income tax return.

To recap, registered charities are non-profit organizations but not every non-profit organization is a registered charity. And if that was not confusing enough, social enterprise can enter the mix.

A social enterprise is a business. However, it is operated by a non-profit organization that is involved in the production or sale of goods and services, with the aim of generating income in order to fund its mission of achieving positive social, cultural, and/or environmental good. For instance, a local example would be the Mission Store – a branch of Mission Services of London located at 4-797 York St (corner with Rectory). The income generated through the sale of gently used clothing, household items, footwear, etc., after covering Store costs, goes directly back into providing safe emergency shelter, meals, access to showers, assistance finding and maintaining stable housing after experiencing homelessness, community mental health services, addiction treatment and more. Those important supports are offered not through the Store, but through its sister Mission Services of London branches: Men’s Mission, Rotholme Women’s & Family Shelter, Quintin Warner House (addiction treatment), and Community Mental Health Programs (CMHP).

In the case of the Mission Store on York St. (the only London location), its purpose extends into programs of its own. It operates an Emergency Voucher Program that provides clothing and household items, at no cost, to those most in need; it also runs the Warm Hands – Warm Hearts Outreach Program, which delivers warm children’s clothing to elementary schools in the London area.

Another example of an impactful social enterprise would be Save On Meats – the restaurant operated by Chef Mark Brand in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which is making ripples in conjunction with his charity: A Better Life Foundation. Save On Meats has been featured in the popular TV Show: Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives but serving delicious food is not its only goal. Through its token program, the restaurant has served thousands of meals to neighbours who may have otherwise gone hungry (restaurant patrons can purchase a token and give it to a person in need so they can in turn exchange the token for a meal at the restaurant). In addition, Save On Meats offers employment opportunities to people with significant barriers to employment, helping them achieve a fresh start.

Chef Mark Brand is one of North America’s foremost social entrepreneurs; he also has lived experience with homelessness and addiction, which he will talk about at Mission Services of London’s Fall Banquet & Silent Auction. He will share his perspective on how everyone is capable of making change with a little help. Join Chef Brand on November 15, 2018 at the London Convention Centre at 5:30 pm. Proceeds of the evening will fund important client needs at the Men’s Mission branch of Mission Services of London.

For tickets: purchase online at or call 519-433-2807 ext. 2106.