A study carried out by consumer group Which? discovered that, in some cases, only a small amount of money made from the sale of festive charity cards ends up being given to the group in question.
This compares with buying Christmas cards directly from individual charities, with many stating that 100 per cent of the profits are ploughed back into the organisation.
A number of retailers were questioned, and Which? researchers found supermarket chain Asda was the worst offender. It sold packs of charity cards for £3, of which just 20p was donated to charity – working out at only 6.7 per cent of the selling price.
This is in stark contrast to Marie Curie Cancer Care, which said that £2.99 from a £3.99 pack of Christmas cards was put back into the organisation, with the other £1 going towards the cost of producing the card.
Another charity, Oxfam, said that for every Christmas card it sold, 44p in every £1 went directly back into the charity.
Researchers looked at a range of charity Christmas cards on offer, both online and in store, from 15 of the UK’s leading high street retailers.
A Which? spokeswoman said: “Consumers may want to check how much will be donated if they’re buying charity Christmas cards because our research shows this can vary widely.”
As well as discovering Asda was the least generous, the watchdog found fellow supermarket chain Sainsbury’s donated 10 per cent from all its charity cards, while Boots, Waitrose and WH Smith all gave 10 per cent from some of the charity cards they sold.
In addition, WH Smith did sell one pack of cards that had 100 per cent of the selling price going to charity and another set that had a 20 per cent donation.
Debenhams sold one pack of cards where 100 per cent of the profits from the cards went to charity, but excluded VAT. It also excluded VAT from the 20 per cent of the selling price it donated on its other charity cards.
Waitrose sold a set of cards that donated 100 per cent including VAT, while Boots gave 10 per cent on its “standard” charity cards and 20 per cent on its Children in Need cards, including VAT.
The study highlighted a wide variation in how many Christmas cards came with a charitable donation.
Some retailers, such as Waitrose and Next, included charitable donations on their entire range of Christmas cards, while others, such as M&S, donated only on a selection.
The most generous retailer across its full range of Christmas cards, by size of donation, was John Lewis. It gave 25 per cent of the selling price on all its own-brand cards.
Some retailers offered different donation amounts depending on which pack of cards was purchased.
While Paperchase donated between 45p and £1 across its range of charity cards, supermarket groups Morrisons and Tesco said they did not donate percentages of the sale price of their cards.
However, Morrisons said it would be giving a fixed donation of £50,000 to Save the Children, funded by people purchasing its own-brand cards.
Tesco is guaranteeing a donation of £275,000 to Diabetes UK from the sales of its boxed Christmas cards.
After the Which? research, an Asda spokesman said: “Over the last 12 months, our customers and colleagues have raised over £16 million for national and local charities. We feel sorry that the donation from one product has overshadowed an achievement that should be celebrated as we reach the end of what has been a record-breaking year for charity donations by Asda.”
Other retail outlets confirmed the watchdog’s figures were correct, but many pointed out that they made other donations to charities throughout the year.
Fee Gilfeather, trading marketing manager at Oxfam, said: “We ensure the maximum amount possible from the sale of a Christmas card will go direct to the cause, which is 44p for every £1 spent. Every Christmas, money raised through card sales can make a huge difference to the lives of poor people all around the world.”
She said a year’s profit from Oxfam’s Christmas card sales helped more than 11,000 people in Bangladesh “to earn a better living and protect themselves during emergencies”.