Charity Christmas Cards: Where Does The Money Go? :

Have you posted all your Christmas cards yet? If not – and you still want to send festive greetings to friends & relatives abroad – it’s already too late to use the Royal Mail. The last date for South & Central America, the Caribbean, Africa & the Middle East (among others) was almost two weeks ago – Friday 7th December. If, however, they are for delivery within the UK, then you’ve still got a couple of days – until Thursday 20th December, but you’ll have to use a first-class stamp, which now costs 60p. Anyway, if you are a “typical 18 to 25-year-old” you will write (as indicated from research published last week by the mobile phone network “Three”) a maximum of six cards but will e-mail or text about 50 messages during the Christmas / New Year period. You’ll have a wide variety of interactive options available: “”, for example, say they can provide “cute or cheesy humour or more adult-friendly-topics”. You can also choose a “sombre or religious Christmas eCard if that’s the style you’re looking for”.

Meanwhile, even the country’s “senior citizens” (the demographic group most attached to the Christmas card tradition, which began in 1843) appear to be cutting back on this particular item of expenditure – mainly due to the increase in stamp prices. “Saga” (the organization for the over-50’s) has observed that “In 2011, the average number of Christmas cards posted by people of this age was 38. This is expected to fall to 28 this year – a reduction of 26%”. Journalist David Sexton asserted in a “London Evening Standard” article on 13th December that, logically, “Christmas cards should have been made redundant by Facebook, Twitter, e-mail & Skype” and indeed this is precisely what appeared to be happening between 2005 and 2010, when the numbers purchased & posted “fell by around 20%”. According to a Royal Mail survey, however, this trend has gone into reverse: “An overwhelming number of people (they state) would prefer a traditional card to ‘electronic festival wishes’ conveyed through the social media channels”. Furthermore, Royal Mail statistics suggest that the “average person” expects to send 19 cards, a 27% increase on last year and that 85% plan to display the cards they receive around their home.

David Sexton noted (with some scepticism) that this increase is “partly attributed to a fifth of people planning to send more cards this year as they feel bad about having forgotten to send a card to someone who was expecting one last year”. He also quoted the opinion of Sharon Little (Chief Executive of the ‘Greeting Card Association’: GCA) that “Many people feel insulted by e-cards. They know it’s free and has taken two seconds to do”. The GCA points out on its website that – more than in any other country – “the sending & receiving of greetings cards (not just for Christmas) is an important part of our culture” and provides the additional information that “85% of all cards are bought by women”. 

Greetings cards, of course,  fulfill a comprehensive range of functions, such as “Get Well Soon”, “Good Luck in Your New Job” and “Happy 100th Birthday”. This year (reports the Independent), West Midlands police are sending Christmas cards to “career criminals, including burglars, robbers and car thieves living in the region” encouraging them to choose a “new & better life” in 2013. A few years ago, the “Daily Telegraph” discovered that the Jephson Housing Association had sent Christmas cards threatening its tenants in the South-West with eviction, using the less than subtle rhyme: “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way, please make sure you pay your rent so in your home you’ll stay”.

In her Daily Mail column on 12th December, headlined “Don’t Let E-Mails Stamp Out The Christmas Card”, the commentator Tessa Cunningham admitted that she feels a “genuine glow of enthusiasm” whenever the cards “clatter through the letterbox onto the doormat” She is also clearly unconvinced that acquaintances who have sent e-mails announcing that they have “decided to donate the money saved (by not buying Christmas cards) to the charity of their choice” will in practice do so. “Like most people”, Cunningham buys charity Christmas cards. She will probably not have been too impressed, therefore, by the Charity Advisory Trust’s (CAT) “Scrooge Awards 2012”, which calculates how much of the retailers’ income from charity Christmas cards is forwarded to the charities on whose behalf (so most customers assume) they are collecting funds. “AOL Money UK’s” indignant conclusion from the CAT survey is that “Some retailers (such as Selfridges & Heals) are passing on as little as 7.5% from the sale of charity Christmas cards to the appropriate good cause”. Though the percentage varies considerably, depending on the company, there has been a decline in most cases: “WHSmith’s contribution has fallen from 25% in 2011 to 16% in 2012” and Clintons (which has had to close 350 or its 700 shops) has dropped the share from 25% to 20%.

The analysis by Toby Waine on the “This Is Money” website is even more critical: “High Street shops can pocket the lion’s share of the proceeds from charity card sales, leaving less than 10p in every £1 for the good causes. Both he and the consumer watchdog “Which” (who estimate that Christmas cards bring in about £50 million per year for charities) recommend “buying direct from charity shops. After production and other costs, this could mean about half the price of the card reaching the charity involved”. Peter Jones (the Sloane Square store which is part of the John Lewis Partnership) is described by Waine as “The worst offender this year. It is handing over just 6% of the sale price of its Shelter cards to the charity”. CAT director Dame Hilary Blume is forthright in her evident disapproval of the current situation – namely that “Shops use the charity label for marketing purposes to boost their own profits”.


Filed under: General, Society | Posted on December 17th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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