At what point does a Christmas card become charitable? When 100% of the card price goes to charity? Or is 70% a better parameter?
Guess again. According to a new report from the Charities Advisory Trust, some retailers are passing on as little as 7.5% from the sale of charity Christmas cards to the appropriate good cause.
Although this is much better than previous years when the contribution was in some cases just 1.1%, this figure falls short of the Trust's 10% benchmark that it is trying to convince retailers to commit to.
The Charities Advisory Trust Scrooge Awards looks at retailers that market charity cards but actually pass on low percentages of the product price to good causes.
The review is in its eleventh year of naming and shaming, but retailers are still misbehaving.
This year the Trust felt the Scrooge Award should go to Debenhams for its festive cards sold in aid of the NSPCC.
Back in 2011 the retailer passed on 20% to charity from the sale of its own brand cards. But this year the shop has tightened its purse strings and is only offering a measly 8.33% cut for its chosen charity.
While this is not the worst offering – some like Selfridges and Heal's had packs of Woodmansterne cards only paying 7.5% - the drop compared to last year is very disappointing.
But Debenhams is not the only culprit; other retailers have been feeling the pinch in 2012 and have dropped the percentage they donate on the sale of their own brand charity cards. WHSmith's contribution has fallen from 25% in 2011 to 16% in 2012 and Clinton's has dropped the share from 25% to 20%.
In a surprising turn Debenhams decided to make a change once the results were published. The store has now pledged to pass on 20% to charity again in a bid to shake off the scrooge tag and reforms its sins.
Another prize up for grabs was the Curate's Egg Award which highlights a retailer that is only good in parts.
The accolade went to Ryman this year. The retailer managed to both impress and anger the Trust by giving 20% to charity on its own brand cards, yet only offering between 7.5% and 8.67% on the Special Edition range that is available in other shops like House of Fraser.
One pack of 20 Special Editions cards sold for £4 but only 7.5% (30p) went to Save the Children at Ryman's, whereas at House of Fraser a similar pack sold for £4 but 10% (40p) went to Oxfam.
New this year
A special prize called the Devil's Spawn Award was awarded to Royal Mail this year.
The award was to recognise the hiking of the price of postage by 30% back in March and refusing to produce a cheaper charity stamp for those sending charity Christmas cards.
A first class stamp now costs 60p while a second class stamp costs 50p.
So if you have to send 30 cards out to friends and family this Christmas it will set you back £18 if you send them first class – a price likely to deter people from bothering and therefore putting the sales of Christmas cards in jeopardy.
Only a handful of retailers dropped below the 10% benchmark this year.
The culprits included Cards Galore (9.82%), Ryman (7.5%-8.67%), Heal's (7.5%-9%) and Selfridges (7.53%).
Overall retailers managed to offer 10% and over to their selected charities. John Lewis and BHS came top offering 25% of the retail price most of the time, while Waterstones and M&S followed closely with a share of 20%.
But the Trust did criticise retailers who were found to be reducing the amount of money going to a charity through discounts and price reductions on Christmas cards that supported a good cause.
M&S for example had packs of cards that paid 20% of the retail price to Macmillan and Shelter but these had a 'three for two' offer meaning the charities lost out when customers chose to buy two packs as the third that came free didn't pay out.
In other instances, BHS, although offering 25% of the retail price to the NSPCC, had a pack of 25 cards that retailed for a lower price online (£3.75 rather than £5.00) meaning the charity received 94p instead of £1.25.
Some retailers were even guilty of hiking the price on a pack of cards for their own gain and not sharing the extra money with the charity the cards were linked to. For example a pack of cards made by Woodmansterne was selling at Heal's for £12 with a set 90p going to Childline, which made it a 7.5% share. But the same pack was available at John Lewis for £9, meaning a 10% donation, this time to Battersea Dogs Home.
Better than nothing?
But should we really be having a pop at private, profit making companies for not giving enough to charity? After all, high street charity cards do make millions every year for good causes. Isn't this – in the current financial climate – enough?
Obviously the accusation is that private companies are trading off the charity brand to boost profits. But charities are also trading off private companies to boost donations. Surely a compromise has to be reached?
The simple way to ensure that every penny you hand over for a charity Christmas card goes to the cause is to buy direct from your preferred charity. Of course, charities have manufacturing and salary costs bills that donations help foot. But at least by going direct you know your cash is going nowhere near a private company.
Several pop up charity card shops also start to emerge throughout November and December. Cards for Good Causes is one of the largest networks of temporary shops. The shops stock cards from more than 300 charities and are mainly staffed by volunteers. This allows at least 75p to be given back from every £1 purchase.
But charities are responsible for creating the cards, so some of the proceeds from the shops will be spent on production and distribution. This varies between charities and often depends on the image on the card and what the card is made from. Some charities will use their own trading arm to produce the cards and hence costs may be higher than other smaller charities. But it does mean that potentially a charity could make a loss if the shops do not sell enough cards.
This is different to high street stores where the retailer (or a manufacturer) will produce the card, print the charity's logo on it and then give back a straight donation. This means there is no risk to the charity in receiving donations from high street cards as they make no initial investment.
The Charities Advisory Trust's own network, Card Aid, has several locations across London and the south, as well as an online shop. Here you can design your own to link to a specific charity or pick from existing designs supporting particular charities. Card Aid usually donates 40% to 60% of the card price to the named good cause.
A further alternative is to forego cards altogether and just make a donation to your favourite charity without going via a Christmas card.
How charitable should a 'charity card' really be?