The vast majority of charity cards sold in the Irish market do not state what proportion of the cost price is given to the advertised charity, though this is standard practice in the UK.
Some give information about the global amount raised on behalf of the organisation, but no further detail is provided on websites or in company accounts.
Most charities contacted for the survey declined to specify how much they receive for each card sold, and many said they had little to do with the printing and distribution of the cards.
There were massive variations in the proportion given to the good cause, depending on whether the cards were sold commercially or through charity channels.
This year, Irish people will send more than 50 million cards, according to An Post.
Charity cards, which cost significantly more than ordinary cards, account for an estimated 80 per cent of the market.
Nearly all the main Irish charities raise money through the sale of Christmas cards, though few have any direct involvement in their printing and distribution.
The best way to help the charity named on the cards is to buy directly, either online or in charity shops.
Unicef for example, says 75 per cent of the price of its cards goes to the benefit of the charity.
Focus Ireland says 50 per cent of its card proceeds goes to benefit the homeless.
Most of the cards surveyed which gave information on the contribution to charity did so because they were primarily aimed at the UK market, where transparency is greater.
Boots and Marks Spencer both give 10 per cent of the price of their cards to Irish charities.
Card manufacturer Hallmark gives €0.64 from a box of cards costing €5.60 to Barnardos and the Irish Cancer Society, as part of a deal with similar charities in the UK.
The only Irish card in the survey which provided this information was in aid of Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin, which gets €0.80 from a box of eight cards costing €7.95.
Lantz Stationery, based in Inchicore, says it gave over €85,000 from the sale of cards to charity in 2008, including €52,000 to the Marie Keating Foundation.
Audrey Hughes of Lantz admits a contribution of €0.50 – €1 per card “might sound small”, but it doesn’t get much either once the costs of manufacture and the retailer’s cut is accounted for.
“Everything we do is transparent; the cards are manufactured in Ireland and we give employment to 22 people in uncertain times,” says Ms Hughes, who adds that rival cards imported from the UK are often printed in China.
The Irish Heart Foundation says it raises about €45,000 annually from the sale of Christmas cards, and the money goes to fund vital research into heart disease.
Oxfam says it raised €140,000 last year through the sale of Christmas cards. All of the profits from cards sold in its shops go to the charity, but these account for only a fraction of the overall number of cards sold.
A spokesman for Oxfam says the larger print runs involved in printing cards for sale commercially lowers the cost of production, increasing profit margins on the cards it sells in its own shops.
It also receives a royalty for the cards sold in commercial outlets, but declines to say what this is. A typical box of cards, printed in Ireland, costs €7.50.
In the UK, the Charities Advisory Trust says the typical donation from a pack of cards can be as little as a few pence. It advises consumers to either buy cards directly from charities or buy cheap Christmas cards and then donate the difference saved to a good cause.
It has also expressed concern about the discounting of charity cards by supermarkets as a loss leader, because this has a knock-on effect on the amount going to the cause.
“Since when did it become appropriate to offer a discount on a charity donation?” asked Dame Hilary Blume, director of the trust.
“What do we say to the child in Africa – ‘Sorry you don’t get a school dinner on every third day, because a lady in the West wants to save money on her Christmas cards’?”
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