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Canada’s top charities for high-net-worth donors

Sole Food Street Farms has grown food in an empty parking lot on the former Expo site beside BC Place in Vancouver.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

With so many worthy charities out there, how do you pick one, or several, to support? Feeling an emotional connection to a cause is one thing, but you want to ensure that your dollars are being used effectively.

This can be especially difficult for high-net-worth givers. Canadians of means are often approached by organizations seeking support. But how can donors make sure their cash will be spent well and do maximum good?

Here are a few charitable organizations deemed worthy by Canadian experts.

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Picks from Gena Rotstein, founder and chief executive officer of Place2Give Foundation, a search engine that helps givers evaluate Canadian and U.S. charities (and a Calgary-based charity itself)

SheEO Canada: This federally incorporated not-for-profit is dedicated to financing and supporting female entrepreneurs. In any given region every year, 1,000 women contribute $1,100 each, creating a $1-million fund that is then lent to up to 10 ventures led by women (the balance is for program expenses). The low-interest loans are paid back over five years and reinvested in perpetuity into other ventures. "I love it because the whole model is 'radical generosity,'" Ms. Rotstein says.

Pembina Institute: This Calgary-based organization provides research, analysis and expertise related to clean energy. "It does a really good job at connecting the dots around environmental issues facing North Americans," Ms. Rotstein says. "They're really good at explaining those really complex things that are happening in government to Canadians."

Sole Food Street Farms: This Vancouver-based organization converts vacant urban land into farms and grows produce that's sold at local restaurants, farmers' markets and stores. It also provides jobs and agricultural training to people dealing with addiction and mental-health problems. Ms. Rotstein describes the project as a "thought leader" in food-based programming.

The Stop Community Food Centre and Community Food Centres Canada: Toronto-based Stop gave rise to the Community Food Centres model, which addresses hunger by offering community kitchens and gardens, affordable food markets, wholesome drop-in meals and more. "They approach food security from a community perspective instead of from a problem perspective," Ms. Rotstein notes.

Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology: This Calgary-based charity and licensed engineering firm, also known as CAWST, is addressing the global need for safe, secure drinking water and sanitation by teaching people in more than 160 countries how to get clean water in their own homes through simple, affordable, sustainable technologies. "It has been recognized by the UN," Ms. Rotstein says. "They've been able to hit their targets every year, and their targets aren't just fundraising. They say how many millions of people they want to get water to, and every year they hit their target."

National Music Centre: The goals of this Calgary-based centre include inspiring future generations of music lovers, supporting professional musicians and celebrating Canada's musical history. Ms. Rotstein describes it as a "gem of an organization that is part museum, part learning centre, part performance space" and a "tribute to all things Canadian music."

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Picks from Charity Intelligence Canada, a Toronto-based registered charity that evaluates other charities

According to this organization, which has reviewed 700 Canadian charities, the following groups have demonstrated that they are the most effective in combatting issues such as hunger and homelessness and in improving education. "Their impact can be measured directly using what is known as Social Return on Investment," its website says, "which is a ratio that measures the amount of value created per dollar donated. Some charities create high impact per dollar and others do not."

Here are the organization's top "impact" charities of 2016:

Calgary Food Bank: Charity Intelligence has reviewed this organization since 2007 and consistently found it to be a high performer. Its administrative costs are 3 per cent of total revenue, and while total overhead costs come to 15 per cent, that falls within Charity Intelligence's "reasonable" range. Excluding the cost of donated food, the food bank has funding reserves to last eight months.

East York Learning Experience: Staff and volunteers at this Toronto-based organization provide one-on-one free literacy tutoring to about 90 adult low-level learners annually. "EYLE continues to operate as one of the most efficient organizations in the sector by leveraging a modest budget to furnish a volunteer base with curriculum training and infrastructure to meet community demand," CI says. Administrative costs are 3 per cent of revenue. EYLE has funding reserves sufficient to cover 29 per cent of annual program costs.

Food for Life Canada: This food bank based in Burlington, Ont., collects extra perishable food from grocery stores and restaurants and redistributes it to more than 80 social-services-based organizations in nearby communities. Since it began in 1995, it has diverted more than eight million pounds of food from landfills. Its current funding reserves can cover program costs for less than a month.

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Fort York Food Bank: Every month, this downtown Toronto organization helps more than 4,000 people, most of whom live on about $4 a day after housing costs. In addition to distributing food, it offers clients counselling and skills training. For the 2014 fiscal year, administrative costs were 0.4 per cent of revenue, while fundraising costs were 5 per cent of donations. "For every dollar people donate, Fort York Food Bank creates more than $8 in measurable economic benefits to its clients and society," CI states.

Fresh Start Recovery Centre: Founded in 1992, this centre treats men with alcohol and drug addictions. Individual and group counselling, curfews, chores and meditation schedules are all part of it, with the goal being to help people resume being productive members of their family and community. For every $1 donated to the Calgary charity, 85 cents is put toward its programs.

Children's Cottage Society of Calgary: This charity helps prevent child abuse and neglect due to overwhelming family crises. Charity Intelligence has analyzed it since 2011 and found it to be a consistently high-impact organization. Administrative costs are 5 per cent of revenue, while $0.13 of every donated dollar goes toward overhead costs. The charity's funding reserves of $3.2-million can cover only 59 per cent of annual program costs, indicating a funding need.

Here are the Canadian charities with the biggest footprints, measured by donations and starting with the largest, according to Charity Intelligence. Their ranking in size does not necessarily correlate to their impact, the organization says:

World Vision Canada: Established in 1957, the Christian relief, development and advocacy organization helps families and communities overcome poverty and injustice.

Salvation Army: The international Christian church operates in 128 countries and offers an array of services, such as shelter for people experiencing homelessness and rehabilitation for those struggling with addiction. With more than 200 thrift stores, it also runs one of Canada's largest national clothing-recycling operations.

Canadian Cancer Society: The community-based organization got its start in 1938 and continues to educate people about prevention, fund cancer research and collaborate with government to shape public policy.

Canadian Red Cross: Whether it's disaster management, refugee services or health emergencies, the organization prides itself on "mobilizing the power of humanity" in Canada and around the world.

Plan Canada: Inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan Canada focuses on social justice and children, with its "Because I Am a Girl" campaign being one of its most prominent.

United Way Toronto & York Region: The largest United Way in North America, this one supports more than 200 local charities. Its key goals are building strong communities, helping youth and fighting poverty.

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