10 tips for running a successful charity shop

April 4, 2011 by Wendy Kay

Spanish charity shop volunteersWe have all heard of the wonderful work that Mary Portas does in the world of retail – well she might not quite have her own TV programme yet but our very own Learning Consultant, Wendy Kay, is the volunteer responsible for managing a charity shop in Spain.  And it’s not just your usual charity shop.

Based in a modern shopping mall near Malaga, the shop is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 10pm and has to keep up the standards required by a rather austere shopping centre manager.

With approximately 50 volunteers, 5 concessions of new goods, a library and a turnover over €75k per annum the shop is a vibrant part of the local community.

In the light of our new e-learning for charities we asked Wendy to share her top 10 tips for managing a charity retail emporium.

Tip 1:  Decide what rules are absolutely necessary and forget the rest

Too many rules are hard to enforce and leave volunteers feeling over-managed. We keep to the basic ones that are about maintaining health and safety and abiding by the rules of our contract with the shopping centre.

There are loads of little niggles that I would love to manage by rules but I found out early on that unless I’m there 24/7 it’s almost impossible with the number of shift changes and people to have everything 100%. I would rather have 75% and a full complement of volunteers.

Tip 2:  Have a simple mechanism for feedback and comments from the volunteers and customers

We use a combined diary and day book and it is always checked when we open the shop in the morning. Any comments are responded to quickly or a date given when people can expect an answer.

Tip 3: Take care of the little things

Ensuring there are always black sacks for rubbish and recycling, information about the charity to handout in English and Spanish, loo roll, cleaning materials, tea and coffee – these take away some of the frustrations volunteers have.

Tip 4:  Invest time in meeting all new volunteers and carrying out their induction

This builds an early relationship and helps you to gauge their personality. It also ensures that they understand the work of the charity and why we are here.

We try to match up people on the regular shifts that will get on together and we always follow up to make sure that we got it right. If people don’t gel we accept this and try another shift or a “float” role.

Tip 5:  Provide a regular newsletter

This will keep people informed of how the shop is doing, what issues have been raised that need formal communication, what good news has happened etc. Mention all births, marriages and deaths.

We do ours monthly and we always try to mention the volunteers by name in the articles.

Tip 6:  Lead from the front

If there are bags of dirty sorting to get through you need to be prepared to get stuck in.

I also tend to do the unpopular Saturday night shift…it’s not such an issue though in Spain as socialising doesn’t usually start until after we finish at 10pm. 

Tip 7:  See the shop as part of the community

We encourage chatting, singing and getting volunteers to bring their visitors with them to the shop (some even work a shift or two!). We try to remember all of the regulars, we reserve clothes or books if we think a regular might like something and we offer tea/coffee on the quieter evening shifts.

We also work with other local charities – any stock we can’t sell that is good quality is given to 2 other animal charities that do market stalls, children’s toys are collected for the local orphanage and kids club and unsold books are donated to the British Legion to distribute to their elderly members.

We also have young volunteers who do work experience with us and put us to shame with their excellent Spanish language skills.

Tip 8:  Always have a theme

People love themes and occasions and the smallest effort can bring big rewards. We collect any items donated that can be used for our themes and we mark all the key events during the calendar by decorating the shop accordingly.

Our resident window dresser is also a local artist and ensures that her displays appeal to locals and ex-pats.

We also include in the theme a monthly raffle to raise extra income highlighting one particular project or animal as the objective of the fundraising. 

Tip 9:  Look for partners

Our concessions donate 25% of their takings to us for the sales they make in the shop. We have pet related items, jewellery, giftware and gardening supplies.

As well as extra income they bring in customers who would not normally visit a charity shop and they help local business people in these tough times.

Tip 10:  Have fun and celebrate success

Recognise the contribution your volunteers make. We hold quarterly social events in the shop – the most popular being tea/coffee mornings.

 These help with communication as some of the volunteers rarely meet up in the shop due to the nature of the shifts we work. We keep the cost minimal by asking our partners to contribute and holding events like a cake making competition – proving a platform for the volunteers to show off their baking skills and lots of cake for everyone who attends.

What tips can you share about running a charity shop or getting the most from your volunteers?

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Delightful blog Wendy – they do say if you want something doing, give it to a busy person!

    Everyone – remember to check out our new learning resource for charities and voluntary sector groups at http://www.mylearningpool.com

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