Make sure your charity gift comes home to roost

Send a chicken to Africa; use an affinity card to benefit a favourite charity... Whatever you give this Christmas, your generosity will go further with financial know-how

You might hear plenty of Scrooge-like "Bah, humbug!" over the next few weeks but there will still be a lot of festive spirit about.

Many of us like to give to the less fortunate at Christmas, whether in the form of coins for carol singers, charity cards, purchases made from a charity catalogue or simply donating to a good cause.

But these and other acts of goodwill often prove to be less munificent than they could be because we aren't giving to charities as efficiently as we might.

While it is, of course, better to give than to not do so at all, you should always try to make the most of your generosity.

Here, we show you what to watch for to make sure your charitable instincts really count.

Christmas cards

When sending messages of festive cheer, many people choose cards that benefit good causes.

But beware - the amount going to help a charity can vary enormously depending on the card you buy.

In many cases, less than 10 per cent of the purchase price is actually donated, according to the Charities Advisory Trust (CAT), the organisation behind the annual "Scrooge Awards".

Over the past five years, the CAT has exposed many of the worst offenders in the charity Christmas cards market. "Retailers have been shamed into raising the amount going to charity," says Hilary Blume, the CAT's spokeswoman. "For example, we are delighted that John Lewis [which gave a mere 4 per cent from the sale of some cards last year] is now offering an own-brand range with 25 per cent going to charity."

Elsewhere, Ms Blume also applauds WH Smith, whose donations on its own range of charity cards have shot up from 8 per cent last year to 20 per cent.

But not all retailers have cleaned up their act.

This year, the CAT's Scrooge Award goes to London's most famous department store, Harrods, which is offering 35 designs with only 3 per cent of the purchase price going to charity, and a further 73 designs where less than 5 per cent is donated.

It has also awarded another plush London store, Liberty, with the Georgie Porgy Award for the Greedy for the second year in a row. It is selling a card that gives just 2.9 per cent to the Meningitis Trust.

Ms Blume urges consumers to boycott any card where the donation goes below 10 per cent. She advises shoppers to buy at temporary Card Aid shops, which are now open (often in churches or libraries) in London and other parts of the country. Card Aid guarantees that at least 40 per cent of the purchase price goes to charity - rising to as much as 60 per cent if you buy online (see below).

Credit cards

While piling up your purchases, you may want to do your bit by putting them on a charity gift card or affinity card that promises to raise money for a good cause.

Most cards make a one-off donation on the first purchase; then, each time you use the card, a small percentage of the amount you spend will go to the charity.

But Stuart Glendinning of price comparison service moneysupermarket.com is unimpressed, warning: "These cards offer little in the way of financial or charitable benefit."

The annual percentage rates (APRs) on the cards can be high - which means they are really suited only to people who pay off their debt in full each month.

And cards that pay a portion of your spend each time you shop usually offer only 25p on every £100.

If you do take one out, one of the better cards, says Mr Glendinning, is Amex Red. "This stands out by virtue of the amount that is donated to charity - at least 1 per cent - with a competitive typical APR of 12.9 per cent."

Alternatively, he chooses Oxfam's Advantage Platinum, with a typical APR of 14.9. It comes with a 0 per cent interest deal for both balance transfers and purchases for the first six months. Oxfam receives £15 when the account is opened and £2.50 if the account is used within the first six months - plus 25p for every £100 spent or transferred to the card.

One of the least competitive offerings, according to Mr Glendinning, is the Comic Relief card from Nationwide building society. This has a typical APR of 17.9 per cent and no 0 per cent period for transfers or purchases. It donates just £6 when first used, and 0.5 per cent thereafter.

Consumers would be better off, he says, taking out the GE Money Transformation card, offering 0 per cent on purchases for 12 months and 0 per cent on balance transfers until 1 May 2008. "You could then donate the cash you save directly to the charity of your choice."

'Good' gifts

If you're fed up with all the consumerism at Christmas, you may prefer to give an "ethical" gift. These can take the form of goats or chickens, agricultural training courses, school books or other essentials for communities in the developing world. Closer to home, you might want to sponsor a guide dog puppy or pay for a family on a low income to go to the seaside.

Flick through the pages of this year's Good Gifts catalogue, run by the CAT, and you will find gifts from as little as £3 (for a paraffin lamp to light a hut in an African village).

"Goats are still the big sellers, along with chickens and also ducks," says Ms Blume. "But we are now out of the tanks and Kalashnikovs [to be turned into agricultural tools] that were so popular last year."

Good Gifts guarantees that the money you donate goes directly to that cause, and not into a pool of funds. "This means that if you buy a goat for an orphan in Rwanda, a goat is given to an orphan in Rwanda," says Ms Blume. "Any gift you purchase can be traced directly to the beneficiary."

Elsewhere, other charities offer similar schemes: Oxfam has the Unwrapped catalogue, while Christian Aid runs Present Aid. But Ms Blume says these charities do not necessarily spend the money on the item requested: "Although [those receiving an ethical gift] get a card saying 'I gave you a goat', the small print reads, 'We use the money where it is most needed'."

Oxfam insists that "all gifts on its website are needed", but says it has to remain flexible by responding to varying needs across the world as they occur. This, it says, means that in some cases "what we have shown [in the gift catalogue] is an example, but we will always spend your money on a related item".

So, if you buy a goat or donkey, or an animal-care kit, your gift could end up being used to fund the livestock "more appropriate to the individual community".

"We are very open about this," says a spokeswoman. "If we sell enough goats to fulfil the quota required by a country, we may use the money to buy a donkey instead, say. We won't just send out more goats for the sake of it."

Christian Aid operates a similar policy.

Charitable giving

If you are going to give to charity this Christmas, make the most of tax relief available on donations.

"Using Gift Aid [to give to a UK-registered charity] means the charity will receive an extra 28 per cent," says John Bunker, tax-planning partner at law firm Thomas Eggar. "For example, if you give £100, tax can be reclaimed and added to your donation - making it worth £128 to the charity."

Higher-rate taxpayers, he adds, can claim 18 per cent personal relief on the gross value of their donation - which works out at £23 for every £100 donated.

Another way to give tax efficiently is through the payroll-giving scheme.

"If you are paid through Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and your employer has a payroll-giving scheme in place, you can donate to charity from your salary before it is taxed," adds Mr Bunker. "This means a monthly gift of £20 will cost a basic rate taxpayer £15.60 from their net pay - or just £12 if you are a higher-rate taxpayer."

Contacts: www.cardaid.co.uk; goodgifts.org; oxfamunwrapped.com; presentaid.org

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    1st Line Support Technician / Application Support

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...

    Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

    Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

    Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices