Families may be tightening their belts this year but many still want to do their bit to help others in need. Charity Christmas cards are a simple way to give, but with many of the high street retailers less generous than others, be careful which ones you pick.
Now in its 10th year, the Charities Advisory Trust (CAT) Scrooge Awards survey names and shames the stingiest charity Christmas cards. Although there have been improvements, some companies still give less than 2 per cent of their card sale price to the good cause. This year the online company CCA Occasions has the dishonour of winning the Scrooge Award offering a donation of only 1.1 per cent on some cards.
"The problem is people think they are buying a charity card, but very little money actually goes to the good cause. If it were a meat pie with less than 10 per cent meat, you could not call it a meat pie," says Dame Hilary Blume, the director of CAT. "The retailers have stolen the charity Christmas market away from the charities."
Many other companies were equally mean spirited; of the 40 online companies surveyed, more than two-thirds of the publishers give less than 5 per cent to charity and more than a quarter (27.5 per cent) give less than 2 per cent to charity.
On the high street, Peter Jones, which is part of the John Lewis Partnership, donates a paltry 6 per cent of the sale price on its Art Beat cards to the chosen charity Shelter. Sellers are legally required to print their donation amount on the back of each pack, but consumer organisation Which? says that only a third of people buying Christmas cards bother to check the small print.
"Buying Christmas cards can be a great way to give to charity. But, there's such a wide disparity between the amounts given by retailers that consumers need to check how much is actually going to their chosen," says Martyn Hocking, Which?'s editor.
WH Smith is way ahead of the pack, donating 70 per cent of the price its Children in Need cards to the charity. Even better, it told CAT that they give the full donation to charity even if the card pack is included in a three for two offer.
John Lewis and Clintons also offer cards donating 25 per cent, but even within the same store the onus is on you as the buyer to read the back of every pack you pick up. John Lewis also offers cards giving only 10 per cent to various charities including Mind, NSPCC and Shelter.
Former "winner" of the Scrooge award, Cards Galore, has now been given the new title of "Reformed Sinner" after increasing its donation to 10 per cent, although there are still six designs which give only 7.5 per cent.
The big problem is that even if you do check the back of each pack, it may still be difficult to work out how much of your money is going to charity. While some include VAT, others do not, and some use the money donated for the trading arm of the charity, rather than directly funding the charitable work itself.
"You need to do a doctorate in charity Christmas cards," says Dame Hilary. "We awarded our first 'clear as mud' award to one retailer because it took so long to work out what was going where."
If you really want to maximise your donation it is much better to buy directly from charity shops or through CAT's Card Aid which hands over all profits, working out to between 40 and 60 per cent to charity after all costs. Dame Hilary says that stronger rules are needed to prevent the public from becoming disillusioned about giving to charity including a requirement that something sold in aid of charity has a minimum donation of at least 10 per cent of the selling price.
The actual donation isn't the only consideration when buying, however. To complicate matters further, CAT says that many charities are falling short of its own standards: for example, charities campaigning against global warming agreeing to have cards printed in China and shipped all over the world, or UK poverty charities having their cards printed in China rather than at home to support the dwindling UK printing industry.
Again, Card Aid is a good alternative here, with all printing taking place in the UK using card from sustainable forests and environmentally friendly envelopes.
Cards sold by the Sreepur community in Bangladesh also donate 100 per cent of profits back to the organisation. The Sreepur Village charity helps to care for destitute mothers and abandoned children and its cards are made from Fair Trade handmade paper, finished by women from the local community employed to decorate them. British Airways then flies the cards to the UK as its donation and volunteers collect them from the airport.
This year, support for the charity has been so overwhelming that it has sold out of the Christmas cards online (www.sreepurcards.org), but you can be put on a priority waiting list so that you don't miss out next year.
Pop-up shops selling charity card are also worth a look, with firms such as Cards for Good Causes setting up temporary shops and stocking cards from 300 charities and usually staffed by volunteers to allow at least 75p to be given back from every £1 purchase. However, from this charities still need to deduct printing, distribution and VAT costs.
"There are other ways that you can support your favourite causes over the festive period. For example, you can substitute your cards with an email and make a donation instead," says Jane Arnott at the Charities Aid Foundation. "Alternatively you could buy someone a charity gift, make a donation on their behalf, or buy your Christmas gifts from charity shops, catalogues or websites."
Tick the Gift Aid Box if you are donating cash so that of every £1 you donate HMRC will give an extra 25p
Switch your search engine to Everyclick.com which donates half its advertising revenue to UK charities.
OnLine shop through sites such as givingabit.com or giveasyoulive.com where retailers' commission is donated to the charity of your choice. Visit the Pennies Foundation's electronic charity tin (pennies.org.uk).
Buy charity gifts from the Good Gifts Catalogue (goodgifts.org).
Sign up for Give As You Earn as donations are taken from your pre-tax pay so charities benefit from the full tax relief (cafonline.org/giveasyouearn).
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