Goodwill means good wages for thousands of Canadian charity workers.

An analysis of tax filings by The Canadian Press has found salaries often run well into six figures, raising questions about how money raised in the name of charity is being spent.

The Canada Revenue Agency keeps a database of all the country's registered charities, which now number around 85,000. Charities must disclose how much their 10 highest-paid workers take home.

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Charity workers at thousands of Canadian organizations often run well into six figures, according to an analysis of tax filings conducted by The Canadian Press. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

There are around a million charity workers in Canada. The agency's database shows more than 6,000 of them earned above $120,000 last year. A few hundred made over $350,000.

Another 12,000 workers made between $80,000 and $120,000. And about 163,000 earned less than that.

Only top 10 earners' salaries exposed

It's likely the number of charity workers making six-figure salaries is actually greater since organizations must only disclose their Top 10 earners.

Charities defend the high pay by saying they have to pay top dollar for the brightest talent.

"If you really want those charities to have an impact and make a real difference, you're going to need to bring in the best people to work in that sector," said Marcel Lauziere of Imagine Canada, an  advocacy group for Canadian charities.

"It's not only in government and in business. So you will have to pay salaries that are commensurate to that."

The definition of a charity is murky. Not every group that's registered as a charity builds schools in poor parts of the world or raises money to fight diseases.

Hospitals, school boards counted

Many are Canadian hospitals, school boards, universities and colleges. These groups tend to pay top dollar to attract the best talent, which perhaps explains many of the six-figure salaries.

Registered charities with at least 10 people earning $350,000 or more include the La Salle Manor retirement home in Scarborough, Ont., the Regina Qu'Appelle Regional Health Authority, the University of Saskatchewan and Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.  There are also many churches and religious or community groups.

However, some of those lists include people not directly involved in the charities. In the cases of the Regina Qu'Appelle Regional Health Authority and the University of Saskatchewan, the list includes highly-paid school administrators and medical personnel.

By registering as charities, these groups can issue tax receipts for donations.

Some spend millions of dollars on salaries.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation paid its 156 full-time workers and 30 part-timers nearly $13 million last year, Canada Revenue Agency records show.

All of the foundation's top earners made more than $120,000 last year — and three of them made between $200,000 and $249,999.

The foundation also spent about $23 million last year on charitable works, including research grants and scholarships.

'Acceptable salary range'

Sandra Palmaro, head of the foundation's Ontario branch, said that's the going rate.

"From our perspective, that's basically what the market dictates as the acceptable salary range for employees at that level for our size of organization" she said.

The Sick Kids Foundation, which mainly raises money for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, paid its staff of 136 full- and part-time employees nearly $12 million last year.

The 10 highest-paid workers at the Sick Kids Foundation all made more than $160,000 — and five of them made more than $200,000.

The group raised $51 million for the hospital last year, and spent another $1 million on other charitable programs.

Ted Garrard, head of the Sick Kids Foundation, said the group's board of directors sets the top salaries and reviews them every year.