Christmas makes people irrational. It is the one time of the year when people suddenly discover an urgent need to visit all their long-lost (probably long-hated) relatives; use of credit cards goes into overdrive; and it becomes acceptable to bandy about clichés such as “the spirit of giving” even as we are mentally compiling our wish lists and plotting ways to ensure that we are paired with someone more thoughtful and generous at Secret Santa than last year.
Yet even as many people forget or ignore the religious purpose of Christmas, they still seem to search for some kind of deeper, ‘real’ meaning of 25th December. As spending a day or two with the whole family becomes ever more tiring, the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas is moving away from the ‘family’ theme towards the idea of ‘giving to charity’.
Charity Christmas cards are therefore becoming ever more popular among the British public. The concept is appealing: you combine the unavoidable task of sending out cards to all your relatives, friends and acquaintances with the soul-warming act of donating to charity. Moreover, charity Christmas cards are a very public way of doing so; each recipient will be able to see, on the back of the card, that you have been a Good Citizen who has carefully chosen to transcend the commercialisation of Christmas by using the opportunity to donate to charity. Even if you have always walked past Oxfam and the Red Cross or ignored those annoying pamphleteers on Cornmarket Street, Christmas seems like a good time to give something back to society.
The sad point is, charity Christmas cards actually give very little back to society. Some would argue that buying them is a waste of time. A recent report by the Charity Advisory Trust found that the highest amount that charities can hope to receive from sales of Christmas cards is between a fifth and a quarter of the selling price on the high street. Considering that an average pack of charity Christmas cards costs £5, that is only between £1-£1.25 which goes to charity. For a good that is marketed almost entirely on its moral and social appeal, this is a pathetic amount. [Editor’s note: The Charity Advisory Trust encourages people to buy Christmas cards from organisations specifically dealing in charity cards like Card Aid, an organisation they run that gives 40-60% to charity from each card costs and all of the profit.]
Yet the most shocking finding of the report was that more than two thirds of charity card retailers give less than 5% to charity, and more than one quarter give less than 2%. This would be 25p and 10p per a £5 pack of cards respectively. The trend is particularly worrying among online retailers: the company CCA Occasions donates only 1.1% of the total cost of their cards to charity. Surely it would make more sense for people to give directly to the charity, rather than waste money on overpriced charity cards which do not actually fulfil their advertised purpose of supporting charities? Moreover, some retailers try to enhance the appeal of their Christmas cards by crowding the packaging with logos of various charities to give the impression that your purchase will support a huge range of charities; but all this means is that each individual charity gets an even more pitiful share of the small fraction of the money you spend.
So this Christmas, be a Scrooge about charity Christmas cards. Don’t waste your money on overpriced cards because you want to feel better about yourself or show off to all your acquaintances. Get normal, cheap cards (if you must get any at all) and donate a fiver directly to charity. That really would be in the ‘true spirit of Christmas’.