Charities Commission figures show nearly $1 billion was given to charity last year in donations and bequests, down slightly from 2010.
The biggest donations last year went to the New Zealand Red Cross ($112 million), the Salvation Army ($31 million) and the National Assistance Fund ($29 million).
Figures for the Bay of Plenty region were unavailable, however the reduction in donations resonates with local charities.
The Bay of Plenty Times this week reported that the Tauranga Breast Cancer Support service cancelled its 50 Shades of Pink fundraiser, scheduled for last week, because of low ticket sales, and how few people turned up to an auction to raise money for 10-year-old Logan Alison, who has a rare form of cancer.
Organisers of the two events said less discretionary income and competition from other events were to blame.
However, Cancer Society regional communication manager Rachael Mounsey said the organisation was pleased with the donations it received for this year's Daffodil Day appeal.
"We had a lot of community support ," she said. "It's our largest fund raising event and we had a really good result," she said.
Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ) chief executive James Austin said public donations had dipped in recent years.
"It is harder to get. People are working harder at raising funds than they were before," Mr Austin said.
People were more cautious with their money now, focusing more on saving and justifying any discretionary spending.
"Everyone's being a little more careful, they're paying off debt and they are questioning all those letters they're getting in the mail asking them to give to everything from child cancer, Canteen ... you name it," Mr Austin said.
"At the same time, charities are doing more, there are more fundraising activities going on, there are more street appeals going on."
Charities were working harder to maintain funding and those that relied on a sole income source had struggled to survive during the economic downturn, Mr Austin said.
Those that survived had high credibility, good marketing teams and more than one income stream.
Online giving had also seen a massive boon, which older charities with "dreadful" websites needed to adapt to, Mr Austin said.
Mr Austin said New Zealand was one of the world's most generous countries, however, we tended to give more time than money and needed to give more through bequests.
By the numbers
Of the 10,526 charities which filed an annual return in 2011:
$884,038,883 was received in donations
$108,865,559 was received in bequests
Of the 11,064 charities which filed an annual return in 2010:
$1,024,623,676 was received in donations
$89,603,624 was received in bequests