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About charity shops

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How charity shops can support the fundraising objectives of your charity.

Charity shops are retail outlets which raise funds for their parent charities, by selling primarily second-hand donated goods. Only registered charities can set up charity shops.

Why charity shops are a good idea

Charity shops can help charities, the environment and the community, in a variety of ways:

  • Fundraising: every year, charity shops raise more than £110 million (data from annual Charity Finance surveys), funding causes such as medical research, overseas aid, hospice care, homeless shelters, environmental initiatives and animal welfare projects, among many others.
  • Brand awareness: a presence on the high street increases awareness of the parent charity and its work
  • Environmental benefits: new resources are not used in the creation of goods and selling second-hand goods prevents them going to landfill. All clothing that cannot be sold is recycled, for example, and shops remove 250,000 tonnes of textiles from the waste stream each year (data from Association of Charity Shops surveys and Charity Finance).
  • Budget shopping: charity shops are a dependable source of good quality items at low prices.
  • Ethical benefits: new bought-in goods are often Fairtrade products, while reusing goods means outsourced sweatshop labour is not involved in the creation of new stock.
  • Volunteering opportunities: volunteers in stores can make new friends and learn new skills as they gain work experience.

Setting up and running a charity shop can raise funds for and awareness of your charity but is a complex business to undertake successfully. Proper consideration should be given to whether this is the best way to fundraise for your charity and if you do decide to proceed, then the undertaking should be overseen by someone with suitable retailing expertise.

The first charity shops

In the nineteenth century, Salvation Army shops sold second-hand clothing to the urban poor. During the Second World War, other charities started to run shops as a way of raising money for the war effort and relieving hardship. It was after the conflict had ended that the first modern-style charity shops appeared, selling mainly donated goods to raise as much money as possible for the parent charity.

The first such shop was set up by Oxfam in 1947-8 in Oxford, to raise funds to relieve famine in Nazi-occupied Greece. The charity’s name in fact originated as a contraction of ‘Oxford Committee for Famine Relief’.

Today’s charity shops

There are now more than 7,500 charity shops in the UK, supporting more than 300 charities. Charity Finance’s 2008 survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of goods sold - 88 per cent - are donated. The remaining 12 per cent are new bought-in goods, such as Christmas cards or Fairtrade foods and crafts. As far as possible, goods that are not sold are recycled. For example, textile processors will buy bags of clothing and other materials from shops and then recycle them or export the items for reuse.

How do the public support charity shops?

  • Donating to them: four out of five people have donated to a charity shop
  • Buying from them: around two out of three people have bought from a charity shop
  • Volunteering in them: there are an estimated 130,000 volunteers working in charity shops.

(Data taken from surveys conducted by Charity Finance and the Association of Charity Shops.)

Types of charity shop

  • Standard shops: selling clothes, furnishings, toys, crockery, music, videos etc.
  • Specialist shops: selling only furniture and electrical goods, or bridalwear, or books and music etc.

Source: This guidance in this section, on getting started in charity retail, has been prepared with particular reference to John Tough’s book Setting Up and Running Charity Shops (The Association of Charity Shops).