/ 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.