'Cause cards' put their stamp on Christmas

December 18, 1992|By Orange County Register

Save the rain forests.

Be kind to animals.

Feed the children.

And Merry Christmas.

Holiday cards with dual messages probably will have their biggest year ever this season as more Americans buy "cause cards," Christmas cards with a companion message from a charitable or political-action group.

"It's another way to identify yourself and give your money for a good cause," said John Heron, executive vice president of Barton Cotton, a Baltimore-based maker of greeting cards for several non-profit groups.

"I like the design and it's a worthy cause," said Julie Swayze of the UNICEF cards she sends. Ms. Swayze, manager of the Pier One store in Brea, Calif., is one of millions of people buying and sending cause cards this year.

Only about 10 percent of the 2.3 billion Christmas cards sent this year will be cause cards, estimates the Washington-based Greeting Card Association, an industry group. However, cause cards have exploded in the past five years, as hundreds of groups ranging from disease-research organizations to environmental activists launched campaigns.

Bearing traditional Christmas messages, cause cards typically have inscriptions on the back or inside covers summarizing the work their groups do. Some are more direct. A Sierra Club card, for example, depicts Santa planting a pine tree.

Making these cards has become a bonanza for some printers.

XTC Barton Cotton estimates that it prints five times as many cause cards as it did 10 years ago. Carolyn Bean Publishing, a Petaluma, Calif., card printer, is phasing out its other card-printing business to focus on cause cards. Carolyn Bean prints 80 cause card designs for the Sierra Club alone.

Carolyn Bean now prints about 5 million cards a year, 95 percent of them cause cards.

Cause cards can be enormous moneymakers for groups that sell them.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, raises about $100 million worldwide through the sale of its greeting cards. That's double what the organization raised a decade ago, said Roger Adams, UNICEF's national marketing director.

UNICEF is a veteran of the cause-card business, having started in 1947 when a Czechoslovakian girl sent the U.N. organization a drawing in gratitude for its efforts after World War II. The drawing was used on the first UNICEF Christmas card.

No one knows just how many groups make and sell cause cards. Some groups distribute only regionally and additional groups' appeal is narrow or controversial. But the cause-card field clearly is getting more crowded.

Card lines support groups as diverse as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. Both groups' cards appeared about four years ago.

Even if sales don't swell the organizational bank account, the awareness the cards generate is priceless, explains Brenda Barnette, development director of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

This year, the group is selling six card designs, all with "warm and cozy" pictures of dogs and cats, Ms. Barnette said.

Despite their gains, cause cards don't seem to be worrying the card-making giants -- at least not yet. For one thing, sales are increasing for everyone. Overall, Christmas-card sales in the United States are expected to rise by about 1 million this year, compared with last year.

Hallmark, the Kansas City-based titan of cards, seems content that its 3,400 cards give it enough command of the market.

Perhaps.

But Barton Cotton's Mr. Heron notes that cause cards command 40 percent of the market in England. And cause cards also are big sellers in France and Germany.

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