The charities struggling to find funds

image captionDifferent Strokes provides exercise classes for people who have had strokes

Charitable donations from individuals have fallen by a fifth in real terms in the past year, a survey has found - leaving some charities facing difficult times indeed.

The problem doesn't seem to have affected the larger, most popular charities too badly.

Oxfam, for instance, says: "I don't think we have been hit by it in the same way," while the RNLI says: "It is tough for all charities in the current economic climate.

"We have seen a slight decline in charitable donations this year. However, our decline is less than 20%."

But voluntary donations tend to make up a larger proportion of the total income for smaller charities - and some of them say they have been hit extremely hard.

Different Strokes is a small, user-run national charity which helps people of working age who have had strokes - it sends out newsletters, runs a helpline and offers exercise classes around the UK.

It has an income of about £250,000 a year and is funded entirely by voluntary contributions - about half of which comes from individual donations, and half from charitable grants.

Chair Sarah Welsh is "worried".

Last year the charity suffered a drop in donations of about 20%, she said - "and in fact in the three months to the end of October it was down 50% on last year".

The charity hasn't yet had to cut any services or lose any of its team of seven part-time paid staff, although "obviously we can't rule it out", she said.

Instead "we have been eating into the very small reserves we have", and doing things like renegotiating rents and tackling photocopier costs.

The charity was set up in 1996, but donations have been down in only the last couple of years, Ms Welsh says.

Yet the charity isn't doing anything different in what it offers or how it fundraises - she thinks it is "very much about people just not having any money" because of the economic climate.

Different Strokes will have to try to make up the shortfall by trying to get more charitable grants, she says - but even that might not be the answer as "there are more and more charities competing for the same number of grants."

'Down and down and down'

The Society for Abandoned Animals, a local animal charity which cares for unwanted cats, dogs and rabbits in the Manchester area - it currently has just over 100 in its care - is also suffering.

Sanctuary manager Natasha Woest says she is "very, very, very worried".

She says the charity's income from voluntary donations has fallen by about 30% - from £93,227 in 2011 to £64,157 in 2012 - which out of a total income of just over £200,000, is a significant blow.

People are simply reluctant to give because they are not sure they are going to have the money, she says.

"They're reluctant to commit to standing orders, they're not sure if they're going to have the money - even if you are just asking for £2 a month," she says.

She feels the charity, which was established in 1966, is "teetering on the edge of the emergency campaign".

It was in 2010 that the amounts first really fell, she says. That year the charity launched an emergency campaign and raised £25,000 in a month, and one legacy gave them a boost, "but since then it's just going down and down and down, and to get back up again is really hard.

image captionThe Society for Abandoned Animals looks after dogs, cats and rabbits

"We used to get cheques in the post all the time... but in 2012 that's completely fizzled out, now it's twice a week we may be lucky enough."

For about two years the charity has not had a fundraiser after one left and there was no money to replace them, but a part-time fundraiser recently started ("we can't afford full time").

And the charity has had to cut down on one position in animal care, going down to eight paid staff from nine and replacing the ninth with a volunteer.

The Institute of Fundraising says its members have not found such steep fall in donations.

"As far as we are aware it doesn't reflect the experience of our members, with charities who have spoken to us saying that they have had an increase or giving has been at worst, flat," says chief executive Peter Lewis.

It wants to see how the reported downturn is reflected in the next Civil Society Almanac, which is based on returns to the Charity Commission "and reflects what people gave, and not just what they said they did".

"This may well show the value and importance of actively fundraising, as charities who have continued to invest may not have had this impact," says Mr Lewis.

But Miss Woest says: "We're still doing the same that we've always done" when it comes to fundraising and advertising - it's just that people don't have the money to spend even on things like bric-a-brac and tombolas at a summer fair.

The £6,000 the charity used to make at its summer fair has now fallen to about £2,000, she said - "and that is not even a month's vet bills".

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