The festive period is a good time to boost fund-raising – but are charities selling themselves and their Christmas cards short? Graham Hopkins reports
Have you done your Christmas card list yet? There is a good chance, given the goodwill that swirls in with the season, that you will have bought or will be buying charity cards.
Even better if the money you pay for the cards goes to help those who designed them. For example, the charity Leonard Cheshire has on sale three cards by artists with learning difficulties including Carol Singers by Paul Pagett who says: “I like the colours and am excited that it is going to be sold.”
Similarly, Mencap runs an annual competition to design a Christmas card. Last year the winning designs accounted for one-third of its 30,000 card sales. This year 10-year-old David Sheward began dancing around the room when he heard he had won with The Jolly Snowmen: “My legs went to jelly. I was so excited.”
That’s how it is with Christmas cards. You can snuggle in the warmth of sending a card, the recipient is touched and a nominated charity makes a bob or two: everyone’s a winner. But are they?
If you’re buying a charity’s own designs – then yes. By publishing and selling the cards direct, the return to the organisations is high. Mencap, for example, has spent £60,000 this year on producing stock to sell through Cards for Good Causes. This is a national network of 350 charity card shops, staffed mostly by volunteers and set up temporarily in churches, libraries, community centres and so on. Charities know that at least 81p of every pound spent on their cards comes to them. The deal, however, is substantially less on the high street.
Mencap, for example, benefits from card sales in the Cards Galore chain, but the return is a Scrooge-like 3.6 per cent. It’s a trend not lost on the director of Charities Advisory Trust, Hilary Blume. “The public prefer to buy charity cards and it’s only in the past 20 years that commercial companies have muscled into that sector,” she says. “The charities are selling themselves too cheaply. They shouldn’t be allowing other people to steal their market.”
Cards Galore – whose range includes 39 designs that donate less than 5 per cent – says it is tied to its suppliers. “We have no say on what proportion, but it is stated on the cards for each pack and customers can then choose,” says a spokesperson.
Blume is not convinced: “That’s fine, but do you read all the ingredients on food packaging? Retailers should say to the suppliers that we won’t buy any cards unless they give 10 per cent to charity; and anyway why are the suppliers paying it all and not the retailers? People go into shops and think ‘Gosh, what nice people, they give space to charity cards’ when the truth is that they give nothing at all.”
In its defence, Cards Galore has also produced its own design this year from which 25 per cent goes to Breast Cancer Research. Blume is heartened by this – as she is with the impact of the Scrooge Awards, which are aimed at shaming the retailers which donate the least. But they also shower praise: Clinton Cards and Paperchase are the “angels” of the high street for giving the most money back to charity.
No such praise, though, is found for Harrods. “It has cynically expanded its range of charity cards nearly fivefold, at no cost to itself,” says Blume. It has 35 designs that donate only 3 per cent to charities – including Mencap. Shouldn’t charities demand more?
“It’s a fair and interesting point,” concedes a Mencap spokesperson. “However, it would be very difficult for us to pay in advance for all the cards required by retailers. Therefore Mencap allows its name to be used by greetings card publishers, which in return bear all the costs and risks.
“This ensures an awareness of Mencap within the high street stores and provides an extra source of income. Nevertheless, the reality is that certain retailers are very generous in what they return to the charity and others simply are not.”
Harrods, denying its range has increased fivefold, stands its ground: “The level of donation is negotiated and agreed between the manufacturer and the charity, not the retailer,” says a store spokesperson. “One presumes that the charities do so willingly with full possession of the facts and are grateful for the money the donations deliver?”
Blume remains unconvinced: “It is understandable to agree to lower percentages with small suppliers, but several publishers are part of multinational companies. Charities should hone their negotiating skills and say: ‘No to below 10 per cent’. ”
Where to buy
● Buy direct from a charity’s website, catalogue or shop.
● Look out for Cards for Good Causes shops – visit www.cardsforcharity.co.uk
● Visit www.cardaid.co.uk which gives all its profits from card sales to charities.
This article appeared in the 14 December issue, under the headline “Charity card sharps”