Charity Christmas cards may be a sign of goodwill, but as little as 2 per cent of the card price reaches some charities, with high street stores the worst at passing on the profit.
One of the worst offenders is John Lewis, which sells Canns Down Press Cards in aid of the Royal Academy, which receives less than 1.5 per cent of the takings (5p on a £3.10 packet). Fenwicks and Harrods are also selling "charity" cards with only a fraction of the price reaching the charities. Fenwick's PQ2 range gives only 3 per cent to Mencap. Harrods' Caspari range for the Macmillan Cancer Relief gives only 3.4 per cent to charity.
Retailers are obliged to declare how much is given to charity, but most shoppers are unaware that their goodwill is often no more than lip service. Hilary Blume, the director of the Charities Advisory Trust, said: "Shoppers are really surprised to learn the retailers actually give a negligible amount to charity and take the lion's share. For the most part, the card manufacturer pays the charity contribution. The biggest irony is people go into shops like the John Lewis Partnership and think how public-spirited they are to stock charity cards."
Emily Wootton, a spokeswoman for John Lewis did not defend the actions of the company. "All of the charity cards are chosen on design rather than the charity," she said.
Lynne Eldrid, of Caspari Cards, which publishes cards that promote donations to Macmillan Cancer Relief, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and React, said: "Each year we raise a tremendous amount for charity, so the charities concerned are all pleased."
The Charities Advisory Trust recommends that at least 10 per cent of the price should go to the charity named on the card, and says that shoppers should be discerning when buying charity cards from the high street. One alternative is to buy cards from Card Aid, which has shops throughout London - inside churches, in the Barbican and National Theatre. Card Aid guarantees that all profits from its charity Christmas cards go to charity. This can mean as much as 60 per cent and a minimum of 35 per cent, due to differing costs of production and retail. Clinton Cards gives 21 per cent of the card pack price to charity.
Jennifer Scott, 22, works at a Card Aid shop inside the Catholic Church of St Anselm and Saint Cecilia in Holborn. She said: "People buy the charity cards from department stores thinking they are doing a good thing. In fact, some of the big stores, including John Lewis, give as little as 2 per cent of the card price to charity."
Sarah Neal, 25, who was browsing in the Card Aid shop, said: "I always buy charity cards, because I end up sending loads and it seems an easy way to donate. But it's scandalous when sometimes so little ends up with the charity."
A spokesperson for Macmillan Cancer Relief said: "As long as consumers are informed of how much of the cost of cards bought on the high street goes to a charity, we are delighted publishers, retailers and consumers choose to support us in this way."
More than 25 years ago, WH Smith opened the charity card market, selling cards with all money after costs going back to charity (about 30 per cent). WH Smith then developed its own brand, keeping the majority of the profits. Usually, card manufacturers, rather than high street stores, pay the charity contribution. So on a £3.99 pack of cards, the VAT man gets 60p, the card manufacturer £1.16, the charity (with a 5 per cent donation) gets 20p and the retailer £2.04.