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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 that raise funds for their parent charities, by selling second hand donated goods. Only registered charities can set up charity shops.

Why charity shops are a good idea

Charity shops help charities, the environment and the community in many 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: 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 Charity Retail Association surveys and Charity Finance).
  • budget shopping: charity shops are a dependable source of low cost but good quality items.
  • ethical benefits: new bought-in goods are often Fairtrade products, while reusing goods prevents outsourced sweatshop labour.
  • 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 it can be difficult to undertake successfully. Proper consideration should be given to whether charity shops are the best way to fundraise for your charity and if so, then the undertaking should be overseen by someone with suitable retail expertise.

The first charity shops

In the 19th century, Salvation Army shops sold second-hand clothing. Later, 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.

Today’s charity shops

The Charity Retail Association estimates that there are around 10,500 charity shops in the UK and Northern Ireland. Of these an estimated 8,500 are in England, 900 in Scotland, 500 in Wales and 300 in Northern Ireland.

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: four out of five people have donated to a charity shop
  • Buying: around two out of three people have bought from a charity shop
  • Volunteering: 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: The guidance in this section on getting started in charity retail is based on John Tough’s book Setting Up and Running Charity Shops (The Association of Charity Shops).

Page last edited Apr 13, 2017

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