Whether it's a Christmas card or a night of shopping and pleasure with the stars, giving to charities has never been easier.

The run up to Christmas is an orgy of spending and rampant consumerism but in between fighting for the last Teletubby in the shop and searching for the perfect turkey, it seems the British still take time to think of others.

"People do feel a sense of goodwill at this time of year and so for charities it is the most significant period for fund-raising," says Stephen Lee director of the Institute of Charity Fund Raising Managers (ICFRM).

Children's charity the NSPCC raised pounds 46.2 million last year, a third of that in November, December and January and Scope, formerly the Spastics Society, hopes to raise pounds 750,000 from this year's Christmas appeal. But it's not just those charities involved with children or the homeless - causes that strike a particular chord with the public at Christmas - that receive support. The National Trust for example, says that 40 per cent of the turnover in its shops is directly attributable to Christmas spending.

However, charities are having to fight ever harder for their share of public giving. According to the Charities Commission there are 155,000 registered charities in England and Wales and in the first ten months of this year alone, 6,800 new ones were registered.

They also face uncertainty over the effect of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund on charitable donations. To date it has raised pounds 13.4 million but it is unclear how much of that cash has been diverted from other charitable causes.

A spokesman for the NSPCC says: "We faced the same question when the National Lottery was launched but it is difficult to say what impact it will have on us, if any. It's a case of wait and see."

Holly Ball a fund-raiser in donor development for Christian Aid believes that Princess Diana's work for charity and the subsequent outpouring of public grief following her death may even prove beneficial to fund-raising. "The fact that Diana raised the profile of a number of charities will have a positive effect on charitable giving," she says.

One of the most obvious ways in which to raise funds is to appeal to people who have already supported a particular cause in the past. At this time of year the postal workers aren't just struggling with mountains of Christmas cards but also with direct mail shots from charities.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA says "We sent out an Advent calendar last year to thank our supporters and it also contained an appeal for funds which raised pounds 1.2 million."

But charities are also interested in "uncommitted" consumers who do not regularly donate to charity. One of the easiest ways of targeting this group of consumers is through the sale of Christmas cards. In 1995 the total Christmas card market was worth pounds 275m of which pounds 107m went on charity cards and that figure is expected to increase this year.

Oxfam sold pounds 1m worth of cards last year which covered the cost of a year's work in Ethiopia. The National Trust sold three million cards and 20,000 Christmas puddings which benefited conservation work around the country.

Mr Lee of ICFRM says: "the great thing about charity Christmas cards is not only the money that they raise but also that the people who send them act as ambassadors for the charity. They are sending a message to their family and friends that this is a cause they support."

But if consumers want to ensure that charities receive as much money as possible from the sale of cards then they should consider where they buy them from, says Neville Bass, chief executive of the Charity Christmas Card Council.

"Ideally charity Christmas cards should be bought directly from the charity concerned by mail order or from a charity card shop. High street retailers which sell charity cards obviously take a cut and may donate 5p or 10 from the sale of each card or pack of cards to the charity concerned." However, he adds "although that may not sound a lot it is better than not buying charity cards and those 5ps and 10ps all add up."

Some charities and good causes are interested in different kinds of card altogether - affinity cards. Most of the high street banks including Halifax, Midland and the Bank of Scotland offer credit cards which support charities such as Help the Aged and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Every time the card is used the card issuer makes a donation to a given charity - usually around 25p for every pounds 100 spent. They also donate around pounds 10 to the charity when a new customer signs up.

One fund raiser for a major charity says "It's a great way of raising funds because the consumer spends whatever they were going to spend anyway on their Christmas shopping and we benefit. The biggest problem is persuading consumers to swap to affinity cards - it's often just laziness that stops them."

Other charities are holding special Christmas fund raising events to persuade the public to dig deep into its collective pockets. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund is holding a "Mince Pie Mania" event to persuade the public to make and sell mince pies for the charity and the Distressed Gentlefolks Aid Association, now known as DGAA Homelife, is even selling a special Christmas cheese to bring in some extra cash.

But some charities go for a more glitzy approach. Aids charity the Terence Higgins Trust is holding what it describes as a "Cosmic" night at the department store Selfridges on December 10. Celebrities including Barbara Windsor , Dani Behr and Richard Wilson star of One foot in the Grave, will be wrapping presents and operating tills and Selfridges will donate 10 per cent of the evenings takings to the charity. A spokeswoman says that people can do their Christmas shopping, know that they are doing their bit for charity and also enjoy themselves at the same time.