Barby Keel's Animal Sanctuary has experienced the best and worst of human nature over the past few weeks. While volunteers were working flat out to prepare the 12-acre site in Sidley, East Sussex, for its annual open day next Sunday, thieves stole raffle prizes and hundreds of pounds in donations from its town centre shop.
The robbery came as a savage blow to the charity, which is already struggling in the downturn to find the £6,000-a-month needed to look after its collection of 600 animals, including cats, pigs, chickens, birds, dogs and horses.
Barby, 73, who set up the sanctuary in 1971 while she was living in a caravan, said the break-in was an aggravation they could have done without considering the amount of effort required to get everything ready for the biggest fundraiser in its calendar.
"A couple of years ago we'd have cheques arriving through the post every day, but that's no longer the case," she said. "We are still well-supported, but it's becoming extremely difficult to get donations these days."
The sanctuary, which cares for unwanted, hungry, abandoned or neglected animals, has established a website (www.barby-keel-animal-sanctuary.btik.com) to raise awareness of its work, and to attract more volunteers and donations.
It will look after many of them for the rest of their lives, meaning it shoulders a particularly heavy burden as far as veterinary fees are concerned. A constant stream of volunteers is also needed to help care for the residents and maintain the grounds.
Its innovative fundraising ideas include offering people the chance to sponsor one of the animals, and providing a free minibus to ferry visitors from nearby towns when it opens its doors to the public on Sunday afternoons from April to October.
But the charity still relies heavily on the success of its open day, which attracts more than 2,000 visitors and features a huge range of stalls and traditional games, as well as an opportunity to meet the animals.
"Our goal is to raise enough money to survive," added Barby. "We have taken in a lot of animals from sanctuaries that have closed down, or have not been able to cope with them, and our aim is simply to attract enough donations to keep going."
The experiences of Barby Keel are not unique. More than half of all causes have been affected by the economic downturn according to figures published earlier this year by the Charity Commission, with a third being forced to dip into reserves, reduce staff or increase fundraising.
"What makes the current climate even more challenging for many charities is that these factors are combined with increases in both costs, as well as a demand for the charity's services but a decrease in income," said a Charity Commission spokesman.
The prospects don't look good either. A depressing 80 per cent expect their income to remain flat or decline, according to a study by the Charity Finance Directors' Group, the Institute of Fundraising and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The impact of the recession is particularly devastating for smaller organisations with limited financial resources, says Patrick Cox, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition.
"It is incredibly tough out there and we lose 5,000 charities every single year," he said. "We're all fighting for the same pound, but if you have a big fundraising budget and a big marketing budget then you're going to attract more donors."
The problems afflicting the 164,000 small charities in the UK were the reason why the coalition (www.smallcharities.org.uk) was established: to bring small and large organisations together to increase resources, and improve both knowledge and skills.
"There's so much talent and resource in the charity sector that I want it released to help everyone else," said Cox. "We've signed up the likes of Cancer Research UK and Oxfam who allow their workers time off to volunteer for smaller charities."
The expertise they can bring is vital. Whether it's planning a major fundraising event or getting publicity for a particular campaign, the insight provided by an established, major charity can make the difference between success and failure.
There are plenty of ways charities can help themselves, such as developing strategies to manage in the current climate and plan for the future, points out Louise Richards, director of policy and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising.
"It's all about ensuring charities establish long-lasting relationships with their supporters and engage their donors in what they're doing," she said. "They also need to look at diverse fundraising streams and not be reliant on one source of funding."
Showing people how their donation will be used – and the effect it will have on the lives of those being helped – will illustrate the importance of the charity's work and make the donor feel a crucial part of its future.
Building partnerships with local businesses, working with fellow charities to win corporate support, and coming up with innovative fundraising ideas are other ways they can help to overcome the current downturn.
"At the same time as a number of charities are seeing their incomes fall, the demand for services such as health and housing is on the up," she added. "It's really important to convey how important the money is to keep those essential services going which charities provide and which the Government either can't or won't provide."
So how can you get involved?
Many people decide to give a one-off donation, but if you go down this route – and you're a taxpayer – make sure it benefits from Gift Aid. This is a tax break that increases the value of your donation at no extra cost to you. All it takes is a few minutes to complete and sign a declaration form.
A combination of being able to reclaim tax on the gross equivalent of the donation and the Government giving extra cash (until 5 April 2011) to make up for the recent fall in basic rate tax means every £1 donated will be worth £1.28 to the charity.
Payroll Giving is a flexible scheme that enables donors to make charitable donations straight from their gross salary (before tax has been deducted). Therefore, for a basic rate taxpayer wanting to give a £10.00 donation, it will only cost £8.00, or just £6.00 for higher rate taxpayers. It works by an employee asking their payroll department to deduct regular charitable donations from gross pay before tax. The company then passes that money to their chosen Payroll Giving agency, who sends off the donations to the nominated charities.
Opening up a charity account
You may want to consider opening a Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Charity Account if you want to regularly give money to a variety of causes. This works in the same way as a normal current account, but only holds funds you have put aside for this purpose. As CAF is a registered charity it reclaims the basic rate tax on all the money you put into your account and adds it to your balance – less a fee to cover its costs – so you won't have to sign separate Gift Aid declarations.
Websites such as Justgiving.com provide links to numerous of good causes to which you can donate. Even auction sites such as eBay enable you to donate a percentage from the sale of goods to the charity of your choice. Gift Aid can also be added to the equation, while eBay fees will be re-credited, depending on the level of donation. More recently, a number of charities have even opened their own online shops.
Donate to a local charity shop
Visit the Association of Charity Shops' website – (www.charityshops.org.uk) to find those near you. Virtually anything can be donated – as long as it's not broken – but taking it in yourself means the charity won't have to pay for its collection.
Leaving money in your will
A legacy allows people to leave something behind for a good cause. Free of inheritance tax, it can either be a gift of money or other assets. There are two main types of legacy: pecuniary and residuary. Pecuniary legacies specify a sum of money or item of value to be donated, while a residuary legacy allows someone to donate a percentage of the net value of their estate or the sum remaining after you have provided for family and friends.
Plastic fantastic: Easier giving boosts donations
It's not all doom and gloom for charities and, despite the impact of the credit crunch, making it easier to donate has encouraged some people to flash the plastic for good causes, even in difficult economic circumstances.
Donations to charitable organisations made on plastic cards hit £1.19bn in 2008 – up 18 per cent on the £1.01bn given in 2007, according to research published by The UK Cards Association.
Sandra Quinn, the association's spokeswoman, said the recent trend of charities offering donors additional ways to pay – particularly with cards, and online – had helped to boost the figures.
"All of them make donating extremely easy, and unquestionably that plays a part in the increase in charity spending on plastic cards," she added.