Recessionary times can be a double-edged sword for charities, which see their donations shrink while the demands for their services swell.

But while the downturn may make it difficult for some people to donate money, said Michael McKnight, president and CEO of the United Way of the Lower Mainland, it shouldn’t impact people’s ability to engage in their community.

“Get out and volunteer,” McKnight suggested. “Get out and spend a little time cleaning up your neighbourhood. Talk to the person that you haven’t talked to down the street … Those are the things that make a community stronger and a better place for all of us to live.”

Donations to the United Way, an umbrella organization that fundraises for a wide-range of charities, were down 15 per cent in 2008. But it met its commitments despite the shortfall by drawing from a contingency fund.

McKnight said he expects 2009 to be a difficult year, but one that promises better economic news.

He also said that there’s research that indicates when times are tough, those who are able to donate dig deeper.

The tough economic times are also motivation for the organization itself to improve its efficiency, he said.

“We can have however a severe economic crisis; if people are engaged in this community, it’s going to be stronger. It’s going to rebound better. It’s going to be a better place to live no matter what.”