The Top 9 Canadian Charity Success Stories of 2017

News | January 8, 2018

Canadians want more information about what charities do with their donations. Nearly two out of three claim that they would give more money to charity if they felt more confident about their giving.

Here’s one way to become more confident in your giving: Pore over rankings of top charities and analyzing charities’ financial impact using services like Charity Intelligence, Charity Navigator and GiveWell. Charity Intelligence claims that 77% of the people who read one of their charity research reports says that their confidence in a giving decision goes up.

But sometimes rankings and financial reports don’t tell the full story. Sometimes the best way to summarize a charity’s effectiveness is by looking at its tangible impact on the ground.

To give you a snapshot of the impact they’ve had in the last year, we’ve rounded up the tangible achievements from nine top performing Canadian charities.

Doctors Without Borders

When it comes to felt, tangible impact on the ground, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—known in English as Doctors Without Borders—is still the charity to beat.

More than 35,000 MSF front line workers were deployed in over 90 countries in 2017, delivering medical and disaster relief in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and numerous other conflict zones. MSF operated dozens of field trauma centers in hotspots like Mosul, Iraq, rescued thousands of refugees fleeing conflict zones on dangerous Mediterranean Sea routes, and withstood dozens of attacks on field hospitals in Syria and Yemen.

Some charities base their fundraising purely on timely appeals tied to the news cycle. This practice has been criticized for being unsustainable. MSF avoids the trap by bringing in monthly, sustainable donations to a general emergency fund.

“We know that there are going to be emergencies every year and there are some that are going to be ‘CNN’ emergencies [that] tug on people’s heart strings,” Stephen Cornish, executive director of Doctors Without Borders Canada, told the CBC in September.

“But there [are] others that will receive less press attention or that might be more complicated and hard to understand and not end up having that same public generosity.”

Despite its scope, resiliency and responsiveness, MSF remained one of the most efficient charitable operations in the world in 2017, spending only 15 cents on fundraising for every dollar raised—less than half of what many similar charities spend.\

MSF’s continued leadership in disaster response, coupled with its unmatched efficiency, made it one of the biggest charity success stories of 2017, drawing praise from organizations like Charity Intelligence, which singled out Doctors Without Borders Canada as one of its top 10 Impact Charities of 2017.

Canadian Red Cross and associated local Fort McMurray charities

The wildfire that engulfed Fort McMurray, Alberta in May of 2016 was the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history, destroying 2,400 homes and displacing 88,000 people. Canadian charities and donors rose to the task, donating $323 million and kicking off a series of programs designed to provide short- and long-term relief to victims.

“Disaster response is one of the trickiest areas for intelligent giving,” writes Kate Berlan of Charity Intelligence. “When the disaster happens, there is little information. One gives solely on promises.”

As it turns out, the Canadian Red Cross—which was responsible for most fundraising and disaster response activities—was up for the task. After spending 61% of the total donated funds in 2016 on immediate disaster relief—one of the fastest responses by the organization in history—it set its sights on rebuilding and helping families.

It committed $30 million lifeline to small businesses in the area, distributing the entire fund within 10 months and drawing praise from Charity Intelligence, which described the program as being “superbly executed.”

The Red Cross also sent $17 million to local community organizations and spent $18 million on helping families and individuals, providing money for housing costs (rent, mortgage payments, utilities), food and clothing for up to three months at a time. It held more than 19,000 one-on-one appointments with individuals focused on “personalized recovery planning” and “skills for psychological recovery,” walked residents through the process of cleaning and replacing damaged property, and referred residents to local charities and agencies.

Donors can read through the Red Cross’ one year donor update for a more detailed breakdown of the organization’s activities since May of 2016.

International Conservation Fund of Canada

“There’s a lot of discussion of climate change these days, but few people realize that biodiversity loss is another major problem—especially in the tropics—and that it is possible to take actions to address this.”

Those are the words of Anne Lambert, speaking to the Chronicle Herald earlier this year about the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), which she launched in 2007. In its short history the ICFC has become one of the most respected conservation charities in Canada—the Financial Post recently named it one of Canada’s top charities of 2017—and for good reason.

In the decade since its founding, the ICFC has implemented numerous successful programs, reversed declining populations of threatened species, pioneered techniques for working with pastoral communities in Mali to protect critical elephant and human habitats, and partnered with the Kayapo people of Brazil to protect large swathes of the southeastern Amazon.

In 2017, the ICFC continued to make progress on numerous conservation efforts, including its Red Knot protection program in Tierra del Fuego, designed to protect the threatened shorebird’s feeding sites from ATV riders and other disturbances.

The ICFC provides project timelines, milestones and status reports on its website for donors interested in tracking the organization’s progress more closely.

The Samaritan’s Purse

The Samaritan’s Purse has provided emergency relief to victims of war, poverty, disease and famine since the 1970s, deploying volunteers and supplies around the world at a moment’s notice and developing a reputation for being “first in, first out” at the scene of major disasters.

The charity continued to provide crucial relief in some of the biggest disaster zones in 2017. When Hurricane Irma hit the Island of St. Martin on September 7th, the Samaritan’s Purse was the first foreign organization on the ground, sending a plane with 14 volunteers and 20 tonnes of blankets, tarps, hygiene kits and other supplies.

Despite its responsiveness, the charity remains one of the world’s most sustainable and efficient disaster response operations. The Samaritan’s Purse was the highest-scoring charity on Money Sense’s list of the top 100 Canadian Charities, receiving top grades in fundraising, spending and governance.


The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA)

continued its work as one of North America’s largest animal welfare organizations, providing kenneling and relief for more than 30,000 animals, operating 20 adoption centers across British Columbia, and handling more than 20,000 requests through its animal cruelty and injured wildlife call center. In 2017 the organization continued to expand its animal cruelty investigation program, whose constables carried out more than 10,000 individual cruelty investigations. For its continued success, the BC SPCA was given a maximum four star rating by Charity Intelligence in 2017.


Few international charities match the global impact of UNICEF, which in 2017 continued to provide urgently needed crisis response and development services to millions of children around the world. One of the organization’s priorities this year was helping children in conflict zones, who UNICEF claimed in a December press release experienced a “nightmare year” in 2017.

“Children in conflict zones around the world have come under attack at a shocking scale throughout the year,” the statement said. “In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight.”

Working in 190 countries, UNICEF delivered life-saving supply packages and aid to conflict zones in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and northeast Nigeria and Cameroon. The organization also continued to implement its broader 2017 goals, which included providing treatment for 3.1 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, as well 8.3 million measles vaccinations and psychosocial support for 2.4 million children.

Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

This Calgary-based charity and engineering firm has developed a reputation for delivering reliable, tangible results since launching in 2001. Their mission? Giving people in more than 160 countries access to clean drinking water through a combination of technological solutions and education. CAWST claims that its work has helped 15.4 million people gain access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

“They’ve been able to hit their targets every year, and their targets aren’t just fundraising,” Gena Rotstein, founder and chief executive officer of Place2Give, a charity evaluation site, told the Globe and Mail in May. “They say how many millions of people they want to get water to, and every year they hit their target.”

For its achievements, CAWST was recognized by the Financial Post as one of Canada’s top charities in 2017.

United Way Toronto & York Region

As the largest United Way in North America and one of the most successful fundraisers in Canada, United Way Toronto & York Region plays an important part in building strong communities, helping youth and fighting poverty in the GTA.

After raising $102 million during its 2016 fundraising campaign—more than any United Way chapter—in 2017 it announced an investment of $87 million in local charities and community programs, one of its largest financial commitments ever.

“We’re excited to serve the current needs of our region, and its growing and diversifying needs,” Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO of United Way Toronto and York Region, told the Toronto Star.

A majority of the funds will go to organizations like the YMCA of Greater Toronto, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Toronto, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and various housing services and shelters. The charity also invested $3.4 million into its Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, which will fund community hubs offering various social and community services.

Seva Canada

Maybe you remember Seva from our holiday gift guide back in December: they provide the world’s poor with access to low-cost procedures like sight-restoring cataract surgery for as little as $50 a procedure. Seva Canada’s sister organization was singled out this year by a panel of experts assembled by The Life You Can Save—including world famous ethicist Peter Singer—as one of the world’s 20 most effective international charities.

Looking for more great charities to support? Check out our post about the Top Impact Charities According to Charity Intelligence.


Share this through social media.