Leading article: Caught in the whirlwind

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The Independent Online

The success of this year's record-breaking Comic Relief appeal is all the more remarkable given the current economic gloom. More than £57m has been raised, and as donations from communities' fundraising efforts are gathered and counted this total will undoubtedly continue to rise. In the charitable sector more generally 2009 may also be remembered as a record-breaking year but for all the wrong reasons.

Today the Charity Commission publishes an economic survey of more than 1,000 organisations who, in the main, report that they have been presented with a double blow by the downturn, experiencing not just an increased demand for services but falling revenues. This is no surprise – any organisation which has invested in equities is likely to have been hit by the 40 per cent drop in share prices – but the effect is further compounded by the fact that the financial sector itself accounts for about one third of UK charities' income from corporate donors. Some accountants estimate that UK charities will suffer an income fall of about £2.3bn this year.

Some of the largest organisations, with annual incomes in excess of £1m, report that they are already limiting their programmes as a result. Meanwhile, three-quarters of the smallest charities admit that they have undertaken no preparation for the recession at all.

Unfortunately, for those who rely on them, it does not necessarily follow that those people who are best qualified to work with the most vulnerable members of our society are also a dab-hand at designing long-term investment strategies, but in the case of smaller charities they must often do both. There is a case for offering such institutions professional financial services. Not only that, but we must share the same generous spirit that helped Comic Relief this weekend with those smaller groups that do not enjoy celebrity backing and a significant public profile.

Dame Suzi Leather, the chair of the Commission has warned that "some charities have drawn on reserves. Now is the rainy day they have been saving for". Of course, not all have made such provision. So we should do our best, by our kindness and through service in our communities, to offer an umbrella.