Card retailers are charity Scrooges

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Record amounts are being spent on charity Christmas cards, with many buyers apparently not realising that their chosen charity may receive less than 2 per cent of the sale price.

Labour is calling for charities to receive a statutory minimum share from shops selling Christmas cards in their name, after unpublished figures from the Charities Advisory Trust revealed many "royalties" to be shockingly low. The worst offender in a survey of this year's Christmas cards is a set sold by the chain Books Etc and published by Roger la Borde, from which charities for the homeless receive 1.8 per cent.

That compares to the 20 per cent given by Debenhams to the Cancer Research Campaign for Debenhams' own-brand charity cards, or the 25 per cent of Card Aid, the CAT's own outlet for more than 100 charities.

Charities license their names to publishers for a share in royalties, often determined by the publishers themselves. Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, said he had been pressing the industry to set higher royalty targets. "Two per cent is ridiculous. I would like to see 30p in the pound. The problem is that the lottery has put a lot of pressure on charity funding, so charities are being virtually blackmailed into letting their names be used for very low returns. If someone offers you pounds 5,000, you might not realise that they're making pounds 100,000."

Publishers say their profit is minimal. But while they make the donations to charity, retailers make handsome, largely undisclosed profits from the cards, as well as receiving the vicarious goodwill of shoppers. As the donation is fixed, the higher the retail price, the lower the percentage the charity receives.

John Proctor, managing director of Scribbler, a retailer whose charity cards, with an average 4-per-cent donation, are among the worst in the survey, said he considered them "just another product line" and that profit margins were irrelevant.

Hilary Blume, CAT's director, said chains such as Woolworths and Sainsbury's were "muscling in" on the charity end of the pounds 350m Christmas-card market, cutting costs by publishing their own while donating around 10 per cent. "There's an enormous amount of profit there," she said.

Sainsbury's, one of the few stores to comment, refused to say if it made a profit on charity cards, but stressed that it supported charities all year round.

In recognition of fears that charities were being exploited, the 1992 Charities Act forced Christmas-card publishers to state how much money goes to the given charity. According to the CAT many such statements are at best opaque and at worst misleading, using terms like "retailer's purchase price".

One batch of royalty cards sold through Books Etc states: "By buying this card you have made a donation of 8 per cent of the wholesale price to Friends of the Earth." The actual percentage of the pounds 3.50 sale price received by the charity is 3.4 per cent, or 12p. Charities are unwilling to bite the hand that feeds. A spokesman for Shelter said the average profit it would accept would be about 10 per cent.

Leading article, page 11

How the shops compare


Retailer Charity Percentage of retail

price to charity

Books Etc "Homeless Charities" 1.8

Scribbler Shelter, Crisis 2.0

Neal Street Care Britain Trading 2.9

Heals Friends of the Earth 3.0

DH Evans Greenpeace 5.0

John Lewis Macmillan Cancer Relief 5.3

Habitat Save The Children 5.6

Rymans Oxfam 6.7

Post Office Shops Save the Children 7.9

Waitrose WaterAid 8.6


Card Aid 100+ charities 25.0

Clinton ICRF 20.2

Debenhams Cancer Research Campaign 20.0

Paperchase Honeypot Home 18.2

John Lewis RNIB 14.2

WH Smiths Guide Dogs for the Blind 13.3

Rymans Barnardos 12.5

Tesco Muscular Dystrophy 11.0

Woolworths RSPCA 10.1

Post Office Shops Oxfam 10.1

t Figures compiled by Charities Advisory Trust