BURIED in the Charities Aid Foundation league table of contributions from the public to voluntary organistions is one of those statistics which make foreigners shake their heads and mutter that they will never understand us.

Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless, was 51st in the table and received pounds 5,000,500 in 1991/92. Three places above it was the Donkey Sanctuary at Slade House Farm, near Sidmouth, which collected pounds 5,226,000.

The very existence of a league table is a sign of the intense competition within the charity world. Yet most voluntary organisations feel uneasy with the suggestion that they are in a compassion market. Paul Svendsen, assistant administrator of the Donkey Sanctuary, said: 'We don't see ourselves as in competition with the human causes, which we think should be catered for by government. In any case, you must remember that in the Third World our help can lead to a doubling in the working life of a donkey, and that may mean more to a peasant farmer than any amount of conventional aid.'

Fiona Hesselden, a fund-raising manager for Shelter, added that the fact that charities swapped mailing lists, showed that it was widely recognised that if someone gave to one charity he or she would be likely to give to another.

But competition is inescapable. In the past few years the trend has been for the big charities to come out ahead. (The current top 10 are Save the Children, National Trust, RNLI, Oxfam, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Research Campaign, Barnardo's RSPCA, Salvation Army and Help the Aged.) There are growing fears that less popular, less glamorous causes could get pushed aside.

Neil Jones , spokesman for the Charities Aid Foundation, says that with 172,000 registered charities in Britain, it is all too easy for a small organisation to fall out of the public eye. 'We have seen no evidence of compassion fatigue, but there is compassion confusion,' he says. 'Four thousand new charities are set up each year and they all are asking for money. That is why promotion is so important and why the top 400 charities spent pounds 181m on direct mail, advertising and marketing in 1991.'

All charities have to face up to the fact that they have 'to spend money to make money,' he said. If their income fell below the level needed to support their marketing drives, they faced, if not extinction, then decline and ineffectiveness at the very least.

The league table showed that the often prohibitive cost of mounting a successful fund- raising operation meant that big charities with large reserves were pulling away from small and medium-sized voluntary organisations. The top 200 charities saw their income rise by three per cent in 1991; the 200 medium-sized charities below them suffered a nine per cent drop in donations.

There is an argument that this is no bad thing; that a concentration of donations allows economies of scale and prevents duplication. But many organisations have to be small - because they deal with diseases which only affect a few people or a specific historic house or museum. Others may help generally unpopular groups such as Aids sufferers, prisoners and refugees. Even those charities which work in well-established areas, such as Third World relief, may concentrate on problems that their larger counterparts ignore.

Below is a short list of organisations which fall into some or all of these categories. They cannot afford expensive promotional budgets and, in some cases receive abuse rather than support.

They are a selection of charities which Independent on Sunday staff have seen and been impressed with in the past year. There are, without doubt, thousands of other deserving organisations equally worth supporting if you are thinking of giving money this Christmas. We would not wish to imply, either, that Save the Children, Oxfam, the RSPCA and the other big charities could not profitably use much more money.

This is not a league table, merely an idiosyncratic, and inevitably partial, list of causes you may or may not have heard about and may wish to consider supporting if the charitable urge takes hold.

BONE MARROW FUND

MOST people have heard of leukaemia, but there are other equally devastating blood disorders that receive far less attention (and money), so that the prospects for cure are not good. The Marrow Environment Fund is the only charity devoted to aplastic anaemia, a disorder which halts blood production. For many sufferers, especially children, it can be fatal. The MEF was established in 1985 by two parents who lost children to the disease, and has raised more than pounds 1m for research. To set up a new unit, pounds 500,000 more is needed.

Address for donations: The Marrow Environment Fund, 42 Lower Road, Bratton, Wilts BA13 4RG.

THE JOINT COUNCIL FOR THE WELFARE OF IMMIGRANTS

IT made a charity appeal on Radio 4 three years ago, and the results were illuminating. Of the letters it received, a third contained donations, a third appeals for help, and a third racial abuse, threats and excrement. The Council tries to help divided immigrant families reunite and provides legal advice to refugees desperately fighting deportation. It is poor and overworked; its charity wing is the Immigrants Aid Trust.

Address: Cheques should be made payable to the Immigrants Aid Trust, 115 Old Street, London EC1V 9JR.

BRITISH LUNG FOUNDATION

LUNG diseases - asthma, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, tuberculosis, pneumonia - kill one in seven. Despite this, just one per cent of Medical Research Council funds is devoted to their research. They are not, as the Foundation puts it, 'glamorous' illnesses.

Address: British Lung Foundation, 8 Peterborough Mews, London SW6 3BL.

NATIONAL ART COLLECTIONS FUND

THIS independent charity aids the purchase of works of art for public galleries throughout the UK. It supports not only painting and sculpture, but archaeological antiquities, tribal art and artefacts, design and craft, and has helped buy more than 10,000 works of art since it was founded 90 years ago.

Address: National Art Collections Fund, 20 John Islip Street, London SW1P 4JX

ST MUNGO'S

WITH homeless people from all over the country still arriving in London in the vain hope of finding work, St Mungo's Association can be seen as a national charity. It is widely regarded as the first homelessness organisation to warn that the closure of 'spikes', or hostels for the poor, and asylums, was not leading to community care, but the dumping of the sick and the mad on the streets. About half its clients are mentally ill.

Address: Cheques should be made payable to the Arches Charitable Trust, and sent to St Mungo's Association 217-221, Harrow Road, London W2 5XQ.

NATURE CONSERVATION

THE Royal Society for Nature Conservation is the umbrella group for scores of wildlife trusts. It runs small parks, educates children and campaigns against the destruction of green space. Donations can therefore be directed to a specific grass roots charity in your area.

Address: Royal Society for Nature Conservation, The Green, Witham Park, Lincoln, LN5 7JR.

HISTORIC CHAPELS TRUST

WHATEVER other difficulties the Church of England may face, Anglican churches and cathedrals are recognised as national assets. Non-conformist, Roman Catholic and Jewish buildings enjoy no such status. The Trust seeks to buy and restore the best churches, chapels and synagogues and preserve the 'hidden gems' of their interiors.

Address: Historic Chapels Trust, 4 Cromwell Place, London SW7 2JJ.

PRISON REFORM TRUST

THIRTY per cent of convicted prisoners are mentally ill; about 80,000 people who pass through the prison system each year are petty offenders. The Prison Reform Trust campaigns for changes in the law to divert minor offenders from custody into training and probation. It is run from a converted fish and chip shop.

Address: Prison Reform Trust, 59 Caledonian Road, London N1 9BU.

AIDS

THE Sanctuary is probably the lowest profile Aids organisation in the country. It offers a hospice service, nursing care, a 24- hour help line and short breaks to people who need a change.

Address: The Sanctuary, 11-13 Branksome Wood Road, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 6BU.

LOCH ARTHUR COMMUNITY

THIS village community near Dumfries is a home and workplace for 25 adults with handicaps. It belongs to the Camphill Village Trust, which over 30 years has founded eight communities in England and Scotland. Loch Arthur has a 500- acre farm, and its creamery (producing excellent cheese), garden, bakery and weavery provide work and products now sold to the public. The community is appealing for funds to build a larger creamery, and for more accommodation.

Address: The Camphill Village Trust, Loch Arthur Community, Beeswing, Dumfries DG2 8JQ.

CONTACT FOR THE ELDERLY

IT is based on a simple idea: each month a group of elderly, lonely people living in the same area, is taken out to tea at someone's house. The tea parties have proved a quiet success: there are now 150 groups dotted around the country with over 3,000 volunteers, but the charity wants to expand and needs donations and more volunteers.

Address: Contact, 15 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8QH.

THE MARX MEMORIAL LIBRARY

THIS educational charity is housed in a Grade Two listed building which was once Lenin's office. It holds many specialist collections including the Peace Library; the Spanish Civil War Collection, and the International Brigade's archive and library. It is a unique resource in Britain which could be put to far greater use if it had more money.

Address: Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY

THE agency specialises in exposing trade, often illegal, in endangered species, from birds and elephants to whales and dolphins. Many of its investigations are undercover and it has performed a indispensable role in 'tracking' products from tourist emporia and souvenir shops back to their origins in the wild.

Address: Environmental Investigation Agency, 2 Pear Tree Court, London EC1 0DS.

'The Independent' is publishing its annual Charities Special Report on Wednesday, 15 December. Some editorial space will be given to information supplied by the charities themselves. Full details will appear in tomorrow's 'Independent'.

(Photographs omitted)

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