Help: charities in crisis

Charities in Britiain suffer loss of funding as Niger famine appeal is launched
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The Independent Online

Charities in Britain have suffered a devastating loss of funding and some are even threatened with closure due to high-profile appeals for international disasters.

Public donations have fallen by as much as 30 per cent, some organisations say. New figures yesterday showed four out of 10 charities say donations by big business had also dropped in the wake of the huge outpouring of support for the tsunami appeal.

The crisis was revealed as an £8m appeal, endorsed by The Independent, was launched yesterday by a coalition of British charities to help relieve the famine in Niger.

Charity co-ordinators urged people to back the Niger fund yesterday but also called for an increase in support for smaller charities.

Kathy Pharoah, director of research at the Charities Aid Foundation, said: "There is real concern about the impact that these high-profile appeals have had on the smaller charities.

"We are not saying people should not give to appeals such as Niger, which are hugely important, but those donations should be over and above what they normally give. Those international disasters require a massive response, but homegrown charities are equally important and what seems to have happened is that people give to the high-profile appeal at the expense of their small, local and more precarious charity."

Even the big charities that launched and benefited from the tsunami appeal were stunned by the massive response from the British public in the days after the disaster. Eight out of 10 people gave money to the international appeal, amounting to £250m in individual donations.

That amount dwarfs the £143m annual voluntary income of Britain's second biggest charity, the National Trust. Only Cancer Research UK, with an annual voluntary income of £350m, received more than the tsunami appeal.

But rather than increasing their charitable giving, research shows people have merely stopped supporting home-grown organisations. The Institute of Fundraising made a six-month study into the effects of the Boxing Day disaster on 100 leading charities.

Headline figures from the research, to be published within months, show one in three charities has suffered a fall in giving from individual donors. This bucks the long trend of a year-on-year increase in charitable giving overall.

Of those who had noticed a decrease, three-quarters said it was due to the tsunami. A third of charities said they had cancelled fundraising events and delayed their own appeals because they knew they would not be able to compete with the tsunami appeal.

An NOP survey for the Charities Aid Foundation found 81 per cent of people had given money to the tsunami appeal but only 13 per cent said that it would be over and above what they normally donated to charity.

Fundraisers said the biggest problem has been a dramatic downturn in giving from corporate donors. Big business garnered a huge amount of positive publicity from making multimillion-pound donations to the tsunami appeal. Almost four out of 10 charities said corporate donations had decreased since.

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising (IOF), said: "The tsunami appeal is a real testament to the generosity of UK donors, but its impact has been a major worry to many charities who have been concerned how they can compete against the media attention around this campaign.

"Our research does suggest that corporate donors might have used their allocation of charitable monies to support the tsunami appeal, rather than giving an additional sum. This is disappointing when you consider that a large proportion of the UK public dug deep in their pockets."

The impact has been most severe on the smaller and more precarious charities who do not have big reserves to call on when donations drop off. Four out of 10 of the smallest charities in the IOF's survey suffered a drop in income, compared with only a quarter of the largest organisations. Organisations such as the Missing Persons Helpline have had to reduce services and the mental health charity Sane has taken a 25 per cent drop in donations this year.

Janet Newman, co-founder of the Missing Persons Helpline, said: "Since we began 15 years ago, this has been our worst year for donations. We very nearly went under this year, and we were helped only by the Home Office stepping in and giving us a £300,000 grant which we know we can't rely on for next year.

"I feel very guilty about saying this, because obviously the people caught up in the tsunami have suffered horrendously. But the truth is that people have not given more money to charity this year than they did before the tsunami; they have simply given it differently, and it is small, domestic charities that are suffering the most." The helpline's phone donations have fallen 14 per cent so far this year.

Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of Sane, said: "I have had two corporate sponsors tell me this year they cannot give us the money they usually do because it went on the tsunami appeal." The Sane phone helpline costs £1m a year to run, and the 25 per cent drop in donations has forced the closure of two local call centres, as well as reducing services in London.

Fundraising experts have long been concerned about the widening gulf between the "richest" and poorest charities. The top 10 charities, which include Oxfam and the RSPCA, account for 25 per cent of all donations.

The big charities defend their role. Dominic Nutt, an emergencies specialist at Christian Aid who was involved in the tsunami appeal, said: "I can appreciate and understand how hard it is for some of these charities. But even we were amazed at the response to the tsunami and I believe it was a one-off.

"We are all now interested to see what response we get to the Niger appeal because that may give us an indication of whether people have got compassion fatigue or will give in the same way. We would urge people not to desert their favourite charities."

How donations have plummeted

CHILDLINE

Phone counselling for children. Donations down 30 per cent.

Esther Rantzen, chair, said: "People have donated so much to the tsunami, I'm terrified our essential through-the-night service, the one most children in danger turn to, too terrified to make their calls in daylight, might have to be disbanded."

SHAFTESBURY SOCIETY

Christian charity providing schooling and residential care for young people with disabilities. Donations from "cold call" mailshots down 20 per cent. Jonathan Storey, fundraising manager, said: "We delayed the appeal we normally do in January because of the tsunami. Then the mailshots for our second appeal went out on 4 July, just before the bombings. Donor fatigue is building in."

MISSING PERSONS HELPLINE

Had £300,000 government grant after 14 per cent fall in donations.

Janet Newman, co-founder, said: "This has been our worst year. I feel guilty about saying this, because the people in the tsunami have suffered horrendously, but the truth is that people have not given more money to charity this year than they did before the tsunami - they have given it differently. Small, domestic charities are suffering most."

SANE

Mental health charity had 25 per drop in donations and lost two corporate sponsors. Marjorie Wallace, chief executive, said: "Those who give to something like the tsunami see a result - a TV shot of a refugee with a blanket. Our results are less tangible. People want to see something for their money."

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