Billions of pounds are given to charities every year but most of this money finds its way to the highest profile names which leaves smaller organisations without the power of well known brands struggling to survive. In fact, more than half of them have experienced problems maintaining income flow over the past two years, according to a report from the Charity Commission entitled: 'Strength in numbers – small charities' experience of working together'.
The findings don't surprise Cath Lee, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, who points out that a major issue is the difficulty they have in competing with household names that have the financial power to get themselves in front of people. "They face a particular challenge to raise their own profiles on more limited resources," she explains. "In addition, they are often set up by people that may have passion for a particular cause but lack the marketing knowledge."
However, she points out that the work they carry out is vital. "They often deal with specific, niche causes and are rooted in their communities, which puts them in a unique position to be able to understand its needs and be the catalyst for change," she adds.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to help these organisations. All you need is a few spare minutes to surf the internet or browse local publications to discover projects close to your heart that will all be in desperate need of your time and money.
A good starting point is the recently launched website at www.localgiving.com which enables visitors to search local charities and community groups by area, cause and people likely to benefit from any donations that are received.
According to its founder and chief executive officer, Marcelle Speller, it offers charities the chance to have their own pages with the ability to add photos and text any time, giving details about their work to raise awareness and funds. "Right now only big charities have the wherewithal to build and maintain a website to raise money online," she says. "Localgiving.com was launched to help small charities and community groups do the same."
How to give money to charity
Specific ways to help at Christmas
The most obvious way is through buying and sending charity Christmas cards but make sure you know exactly how much will go to your chosen cause.
Another popular route is using a designated charity credit card which pledges to give a donation every time you use it. However, Chris Griffiths, head of Credit Cards, at Confused.com, believes the benefits are debatable.
"While they undoubtedly have honourable intentions, customers may in fact be able to make a bigger contribution by using a traditional cashback card and donating their rewards to the chosen charity themselves," he says.
If you are a UK taxpayer and want to give a donation then make sure it benefits from Gift Aid, which is a tax break that increases the value of your donation – and doesn't cost you a penny more. All it takes is for you to sign a declaration form.
For every £1 you donate Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs will give an extra 28p to the charity, while higher rate taxpayers can also claim the difference between the basic and higher rates of tax when they complete their year end tax return.
Unfortunately, two out of five people who give to charity forget to claim Gift Aid on their donations potentially depriving good causes of a 28 per cent boost on money raised, according to research from Virgin Money Giving shows. Just over half of donors (53 per cent) always claim it and 40 per cent say they would do so if reminded.
Giving as you earn
Donations can be made through your salary. With 'Give as you Earn', donations are taken from your pre-tax pay and benefit from the full income tax relief. This means that a £10 donation will only cost a basic rate taxpayer £8, a higher rate taxpayer £6 and a 50 per cent taxpayer £5. All you need to do is ask your payroll department to deduct regular charitable donations from their gross pay. The company then passes that money to their chosen Payroll Giving agency, which forward the donations to the nominated charities. In addition, some employers even agree to match donations.
Donate to your local charity shop
Visit the Charity Retail Associations' website (you'll find it at www.charityretail.org.uk) to find shops near you. Anything can be donated but ensure it's not broken and try to take it in yourself rather than the charity having to pay for its collection.
Items that are always in demand include bags, books, clothing, crockery, games, films, jewellery, music, ornaments, paintings, shoes, and toys, as well as more unusual items such as sports equipment and musical instruments.
Opening up a charity account
An option for those who plan to give regularly to a variety of charities is a Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Charity Account which works in the same way as a normal current account, but only holds cash you have put aside for donating. As CAF is a registered charity it reclaims the basic rate tax on the money in 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.
Leaving money in your will
A legacy allows people to leave something behind for a good cause. Visit ww.rememberacharity.org.uk for more information.
Molly Bedingfield has been a passionate supporter of charities for many years, but her life dramatically changed after realising the public increasingly wanted reassurance that every penny they donated was going to their chosen cause.
Her solution was to set up Global Angels (www.globalangels.org), an international charitable foundation that champions the causes of children and young people around the world and helps develop sustainable solutions to their problems.
In the five years since it was launched the organisation has raised more than £2m for projects as diverse as providing safe drinking water for 100,000 people in Kenya and helping build secondary schools in Uganda.
"I felt there needed to be a new model whereby donors knew the money would all go to specific projects," she explains. "My kids had also just done really well in the music business so there was a platform among their fan base to make a real difference."
Those children are the international recording artists Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield who are both heavily involved in the organisation that works by researching the work of various charities and then offering its assistance.
"We have a large network of smaller charities and projects that are doing an excellent job but need help to move them on to the next stage of their development," explains Molly. "Everyone that donates knows that their money is making a real difference."
While most of the money raised goes to projects overseas, the organisation also works with UK focused charities. However, Molly's pride at what Global Angels has achieved is tinged with sadness and frustration that so many more people are in need.
"Nearly two million children are dying each year because they don't have safe drinking water," she explains. "Part of you is pleased to have helped 100,000 of them but you can't help asking yourself: what about the rest?"
There are a number of ways in which you can get involved. The simplest is by logging on to the website (www.globalangels.org) and giving money directly to one of the projects featured – or raising money by dreaming up your own adventure.
"Everyone can be an angel and we make it easy for them by finding outstanding projects," adds Molly. "I would urge everyone to visit our website and help make a real difference to millions of people's lives."
Small charities that need help
The Barby Keel Animal Sanctuary in Sidley, East Sussex, has been caring for neglected animals for almost 40 years, but is finding it increasingly tough to raise the £6,000-a-month needed to carry out its work. As well as accepting donations, its fundraising efforts include an annual fun day, held in August, as well as the opportunity to sponsor one of its many residents, including dogs, chickens, birds, cats and horses. Find out more at: www.barbykeelanimalsanctuary.org
Empowering Families is based in Brent and aims to develop the capacity and skills of families in lower income neighbourhoods. It also promotes social inclusion so people can participate more fully in their community. The work includes a Family Life Skills & Parenting Skills Programme, a programme helping Year 7 pupils make the transition to secondary school, and support groups foryoung parents. Find out more at www.empoweringfamilies.org.uk
The Coventry-based Erb's Palsy Group exists to educate the public about the condition, as well as providing guidance to sufferers and their families in order to assist them achieve their full potential. Its work includes giving support, linking parents up with each other, producing a quarterly newsletter, helping obtain medical information, advising on benefits and organising annual education days for professionals. Find out more at www.erbspalsygroup.co.uk