Viewpoint: Why a card donation row is not just for Christmas

We shouldn't wait a year - a campaign to secure better giving deals on seasonal greetings cards must be established now.

I am preparing to wind up my greetings card business, Studio51. The aim was to give 51 per cent of Christmas card sales to charities, rather than the measly 5 per cent they usually get from retailers. In a nutshell, it didn't work. We simply could not attract enough of the buying public and I was unable to justify the development of a whole raft of new fundraising.

The business will be wound up over the next few weeks and all donations collected during 2007 have already been made in full. I just feel sorry that we will not be able to help charity fundraisers in the future.

The reason it didn't work was not the lack of charities signing up to sell their Christmas cards through us - we had more than 350. It was that they didn't have enough supporters themselves or were unable to persuade their existing supporters of the value of our offer.

There were a few notable exceptions, and some member charities did very well. But we missed our targets by a mile. It's a great shame, because every year we see the same sorry story and Studio51 was a way for many charities to benefit.

Yet again, London department store Harrods made the lowest donation from its charity Christmas cards last year. Tell us something we didn't know. I did my bit - I even managed to persuade HM Revenue & Customs to allow charities to claim Gift Aid on card sales through the company.

Why aren't charities asking why Harrods still passes on only 4 per cent of the sale price of its cards? And what's the point of complaining about card retailers and then doing absolutely nothing about it for 12 months, only to make exactly the same complaint a year later? And again the year after that?

Charities receive between £10m and £14m a year from Christmas card sales, so increasing the donation by a mere five percentage points could be worth another £7m. But that's still setting the bar far too low. Not only do highstreet retailers not give enough, but they know they don't give enough.

Charities took a back seat last year. This year must be different. They must keep this issue on the agenda and tell retailers that they are worth more than a pathetic few pence on each box of cards. They must also jointly lobby for better deals with the Institute of Fundraising and the Greetings Card Association, of which I am a former vice-chair.

Otherwise all charities have to look forward to are more "Harrods is a Scrooge" headlines in the newspapers next December.

Sadly, I don't hold out much hope for change if the sector couldn't change retailers' attitudes in the past four years. And I sincerely doubt that 2008 will be any different.

- Alan Hawkes was managing director of former online charity greetings card company Studio51

5 MORE THINGS...

The first Christmas card, produced in 1840, was commissioned by Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It depicted two charitable scenes, one of the hungry being fed, the other of the poor being clothed.

The first charity Christmas card, produced by Unicef in 1949, depicted children dancing around a maypole.It was painted by Jitka Samkova, a seven-year-old Czechoslovak girl. Jitka's home town of Rudolfo had received help from Unicef after the Second World War.

Mintel's 2003 report on the UK's greetings card market said 72 per cent of all cards sold in the UK were Christmas cards - 1.3 billion, with a value of £350m. Studio 51, which gives 51 per cent of sales to charity, estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of sales are charity cards, and charities receive between £10.5m and £14m a year from their sales.

The Institute of Fundraising recently launched a PR campaign advising people to buy cards directly from charities, rather than from high-street retailers.

In 2006, 82 million Christmas cards were recycled - up by 30 per cent on 2005.

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