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Naughty or nice?

Holiday season leave you feeling like decking one of the halls? Like ringing Santa's bell?

If you're on the verge of a mall-induced rampage, maybe it's time to try giving instead of buying.

Studies show charitable giving boosts happiness and reduces stress, says Lara Aknin, an assistant professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University.

"Giving makes you happy," says Aknin, whose many studies of the link between philanthropy and well-being included measuring cortisol in the bloodstream. That study found that when people gave more, the stress hormone dissipated more quickly in their blood.

In short, good deeds put us in a good mood, but when it comes to playing Santa for social good, make sure you know who has been naughty and who has been nice.

MoneySense Magazine issues an annual list of the top 100 charities, based on its analysis of fundraising and spending activities.

This year, the magazine gave top grades to the Nature Conservancy Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank, the Royal Ontario Museum Foundation and the United Way, among others. The Calgary Foundation, the Edmonton Community Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation also made the grade for their program spending, fundraising costs, governance, transparency and cash reserves.

The Canadian Red Cross, which funds emergency relief at home and abroad, is a perennial favourite, spending 80 per cent of its funds on charitable programs and just four per cent on management and administration.

The Canada Revenue Agency says Santa's elves should make sure their charity of choice shares their good intentions.

The agency website has a searchable database of registered charities (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/charitylists/) that includes a breakdown of how much is spent on charitable programs in comparison to how much goes toward administration, political activities and payroll.

"Confirm that the organization is a Canadian registered charity or a qualified one," says Mylene Croteau, a spokeswoman for the Canada Revenue Agency.

Some charities are more generous than others when it comes to funnelling donated funds into action. And then there's the just plain naughty.

"Learn to recognize the signs of fraud," Croteau says.

There are some disappointing revelations on the website. More than one charity incorporating "missing children" in its title has had its charitable status revoked, and some popular animal welfare or environmental groups are not, in fact, registered because they do not meet the criteria.

Canadians are a generous bunch, according to Statistics Canada.

In 2010, individual Canucks passed $10.6 billion to charitable or non-profit organizations. Just under 24 million people aged 15 and over reported at least one financial donation that year.

When it comes to giving, it seems West is best. Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia gave the highest average amounts ($562, $544 and $543).

The Canadian Press


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