The RNID is to make a number of staff redundancies in a move to safeguard its "ongoing financial viability".
Newly appointed chief executive John Low told staff last week that 20 jobs would be cut to reduce planned expenditure for the year 2003/04 by £1.2 million (Third Sector, 5 February).
The charity's reserves now stand at close to £4.75 million, which, according to Low, is the bottom end of the range agreed by trustees and accepted by the Charity Commission.
Low blamed the "severe downturn" in the economy for the problems. "Other large charities, such as the RNIB, have already had to make cost savings involving redundancies.
"Through careful and effective cost management, we have tried to avoid this step but, unfortunately, we are being forced to act as the outside economy has continued to decline and our anticipated legacy income has not materialised," he said.
He promised that no further cuts would be made unless there was a "significant deterioration in the economy".
An RNID spokeswoman declined to say where the cuts might fall in the charity's 1,400-strong workforce but asserted that services to deaf and hard of hearing people would not be affected.
All the charity directorates, which include communications, fundraising, services, finance and human resources, will be asked to review expenditure and propose cost savings.
In response to its financial problems, the RNID has sent out an urgent appeal for funds to its donors and members.
The direct marketing campaign - the first of its kind the charity has launched - urges donors to ensure that projects and services are maintained during 2003/04. The mailing has been sent out to 200,000 people.
The proposed cutbacks at the RNID do not seem likely to be followed by other deafness charities. Legacy income at the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has increased by 25 per cent in the past year and it is expecting general income to rise by £2 million next year.
"We are posting a record year with heavy growth across all forms of income, with the exception of corporate fundraising," said Mark Astarita, deputy-chief executive at NDCS.
On the RNID's announcement, Astarita said: "External factors are an excuse.
"The problem is not the economy. Most legacy income doesn't come from stocks and shares but from the final asset - the house. And house prices have gone up 50 per cent in the past two years."