/ Money

Can you afford to give to charity this Christmas?

At this time of year thoughts are invariably turning to Christmas – the season of giving. But with the economy in such a bad state, is it inevitable that charities will lose out? Or will you be generous this Christmas?

Anyone braving the high streets over the next few weeks will probably find it even harder than usual to avoid being accosted by a chugger. No surprise there, what with Christmas just around the corner.

However, as irritating as chuggers are, at least you can tell what they’re up to. It’s less clear when it comes to retailers’ so-called good intentions.

What’s wrong with charity Christmas cards?

Take charity Christmas cards. Whether you regularly give to good causes or hardly give it a thought, these cards seem like a no-brainer. After all, most of us will buy up packs of cards to send to friends and relatives, and for little, if any extra cost, a charity will benefit. Makes you feel all warm inside, doesn’t it? Maybe not.

When we looked at the offering in major retailers, we found that the amount that’s passed on to good causes is relatively low, often between just 10 and 20%.

So, anyone who really wants to make the most of charity Christmas cards would be better off buying them direct from your chosen charity, either online or in store.

No spare money, no problem

Given the high costs of covering the festive season, many of us will feel that we can’t afford to give to charity, however much we’d like to. However, there are ways to support a good cause without it hitting your bank balance too hard.

If you shop online, charity intermediaries may provide the ideal answer. There’s loads of these kinds of websites, which let you raise money for charities by doing sponsored runs (not a bad way to work off all the festive cheer) like Just Giving, or even buy pressies by clicking through to retailers’ sites, such as Everyclick.com. The retailers pay the intermediaries a commission, a proportion of which is then donated to a good cause.

Let the taxman pay

Another way to give without feeling the sting is to use Gift Aid, which lets charities claim back tax on purchases and donations. So, if you’re planning to buy a joint National Trust membership costing £88, the charity gets an extra £22 courtesy of Inland Revenue, if you’re a standard rate taxpayer.

Of course, if you have some spare cash, you can buy products from charities direct, but think carefully before letting your heart rule your head. You may think it’s great to buy your parents sponsorship of an ailing donkey or a goat for a village in Africa. But how thrilled your recipient will be is… debatable.

Ultimately, you might be better off giving them what they want and donating some money direct to a good cause. That way you don’t risk not being invited back for Christmas dinner. Will you be giving to charity this Christmas, and if so, how do you think is the best way to do it?


I will probably continue to buy charity cards but the percentage of the cost that goes to the charity is ridiculously small. At least 50% should go towards the charity and this should be marked very clearly on the packaging.

Sophie Gilbert says:
19 November 2011

I have direct debits that go out monthly to four carefully chosen charities and I buy all my Christmas cards directly from two of them. I also put together a shoebox’ full of little gifts for a child through a fifth charity every year just before Christmas. I sometimes get caught and I buy a raffle ticket or two here and there throughout the year, but that’s enough. My budget won’t stretch any further. Apart from the cards and the shoebox, Christmas isn’t a particularly special time to me, so I don’t feel driven to give anymore then.

I’ve been doing the Operation Christmas Child shoebox scheme for the past two years too Sophie – thanks to someone organising it here at Which? This year my daughter was old enough to help out so I talked to her about why we were doing it and we talked about the little girl who might receive it – I think it’s a brilliant idea, not only for the recipients but for the senders too!

Sophie Gilbert says:
21 November 2011

Yes, Hannah, I too take real pleasure in putting together the shoebox, and just thinking of the child’s reaction when getting the box and opening it is fantastic.

Sophie Gilbert says:
22 November 2011

I forgot to add that it is great to hear when children themselves are involved in this sort of thing. Class act, Hannah. It can only be positive.

I think charity Christmas card shops which trade for a few weeks before Christmas (in my local library, for instance) are the best way to buy charity cards. As the shops are manned by volunteers, all the money you spend goes to the chosen charity, there are no postage costs and there are loads of charities to choose from. Also you can check out the cards in person. Of course, you might not have one near to you.

I have just bought some packs of charity cards from a shop run by the British Heart Foundation. The packaging indicates that ‘BHF receives 100% of the profit from the sales of these cards’. That is not really providing the customer with useful information, is it?

I used to help with a local branch of a major charity a few years ago – all these big charities get their Christmas catalogue goods from the same wholesaler. The charity pays half the marked price to the wholesaler and keeps the other half for themselves. So BHF is probably getting half of what you paid for your cards.

Thanks Colin. I have been a little bit suspicious of charities since the press revealed the large overheads of a major charity about 20 years ago, and reading about paid chuggers on this site has made me more concerned.

Charities that have low overheads do not necessarily use their income to the best effect, so it is difficult to know who to support.

Barbara says:
22 November 2011

I have just added up the number of charity letters have recieved over the past few weeks 25! dfferent charities. All worthy causes no doubt but what drives me mad is where do the charities get your name from to send you a letter when you have never made contact with a particular type e.g. out of the blue raffle tickets for breast cancer. Who gave them my name? How do I get off all these mailing lists? Any ideas of how to give only to the charities you want to but not have them keep reapeatedly sending new appeals a few weeks / months after you have given? And is there any Which survey or anywhere you can find out how efficient a charity is i.e. how much of your donation ends up helping do the job you expect it to do?

tricia m says:
24 November 2011

write or phone the charity and tell them that you want to continue to support them but want them to take you off their general mailing list. most charities have a tag on their databases that allow them to do this. it means that you won’t get their magazines as well, but you already know what they do. if they won’t do this, tell them that you will put your money elsewhere. i have had many years of happy giving to charities that don’t bother me any further AND it generally means that they don’t sell on your details as well.

I always buy RNLI cards. These are sold by the RNLI themselves, so all profits go to the organisation to help save lives at sea.

I have always purchased my Christmas cards direct from the charity shops. They usually have excellent selections and are far better than most supermarket cards. Do the charities still only get a small proportion of the sales from their shops?

According to the RNLI website, ‘100% profit goes directly to saving lives at sea’. That is commendable, but (as with the British Heart Foundation cards I mentioned above) it gives no information about how much the charity receives from the sale of a pack of cards.

Colin C said that the major charities buy from the same wholesaler. What concerns me is that it used to be common for charities to receive 10% or less of the purchase price of cards and for all I know, this might still be the case.

If you buy your cards direct from th charity 100% of the profit goes to the charity.
How much the charity makes on each sale will depend on how much they paid the manufacturer for the cards and the sale price.

Sparky says:
24 November 2011

Instead of all this speculation why don’t people bother to ask the charity direct what percentage they receive. I fundraise for our local children’s hospices – not one of the large charities like RNLI that get plenty of publicity and money – as I prefer to support smaller charities. We have 6 local charity shops that sell our cards and we sell them at our fundraisIng events. We have to raise £23,000 PER DAY to keep our 2 hospices running without statutory government funding so every penny counts. We also do not employ chuggers. I would ask people therefore not to condemn all charities.

Quite frankly, if major charities cannot provide information about how much much of the sales price of Christmas cards goes towards their work, I suspect that there is something to hide. Obviously it could be difficult to predict, but information from the previous year or the past few years would be useful.

I am certainly not wishing to discredit charities. I work for a small charity myself, though it does not do important work like a hospice. We have however supported events run by a local hospice.

I trust small charities run by unpaid volunteers. It is the big boys that worry me, though I
appreciate that we do need they can be very effective in their work.

Sue Shaw says:
24 November 2011

I volunteer for my local hospice. They put out to tender for the best rates for producing their cards each year and pay that amount. The cards are then sold in our charity shops, at the hospice and at fundraising events and 100% of that income goes directly into running the hospice using our income to the best effect. It is a very good source of income and advertising and local people demand them, they would not buy any other card. With supermarkets what % of what you have paid for that card goes directly to the charity in question. Where exactly does the money go when you buy a major charity card with their huge overheads and salaries.

JuBee says:
24 November 2011

I buy from one of the many Cards For Good Causes temporary shops. Cards from 25+ charities under one roof. They sell the charities own cards so maximum profit to the charities and, its cheaper than buying from an individual charity on line as you don’t have to pay P&P.

Margaret Beacher says:
25 November 2011

A lady in the Ramblars Association every year asks our club if members will fill a shoebox for a child, it is organised by her church every year. Last year I made one up for a small girl and this year for a boy of 10 to 14 years old. It will give some child a surprise this Christmas and I have the joy of knowing some boy will be excited to get presents to open. We donate £2.50 towards transportation as a gift aid.

Moosh says:
25 November 2011

I avoid items sponsored by charities I don’t think companies have the charity’s interests at heart. I prefer to give to the charity direct via direct debit contributions. Worse than chuggers and charity Christmas cards though are charity can rattlers that have taken up permanent residence at Cannon Street rail and tube station. I feel guilty for not giving money, I have none left to give.
This is especially true for the Poppy Collection, I wore my poppy at work and started to feel paranoid, as if I’d done something wrong, because I wasn’t showing a poppy out and about. That will only breed ill will.

Pauline Hopkins says:
29 November 2011

I will send some cards this christmas, probably most of then will be delivered locally.
but some of the realtives that have e-mail will get an e-mail from us.
As i do send a donation to The Brian Cancer Unit at The National Hospital
for Neurology in Queens Square, London 3 times a year, and Christmas being one of them.
Giving to Charity is right if you use the right charaty.

I bought my Christmas cards from RNLI this year – they usefully tell you which cards can be airmailed cheaply as they weigh less. I prefer to donate to two or three other carefully chosen charities at this time of the year and steer clear of the big charities, especially those who spend a fortune on television advertising or who give “free” pens, calendars etc – I would prefer that they kept the funds spent on those “thank you” gifts for the recipients of the charitable donations.