What's it really like?
“Marian Lawrence is a Californian living in Warwickshire, and the manager of the Oxfam book shop in Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire”.I originally did voluntary campaign work with Oxfam, and then found myself working in a shop when the Tsunami occurred and Oxfam had asked for extra volunteers. It was great fun, and the other volunteers were all really interesting, so I settled into a regular slot. Eventually I found myself doing a paid (part-time) job as deputy manager, and now I manage an Oxfam Book & Music Shop.
There are many opportunities within Oxfam as well as in the retail side of things - campaign work, project work all over the world and the full range of administrative and financial posts.
Oxfam works with people all over the world to try to alleviate poverty and the causes of climate change, etc, which are contributing factors. This is reflected in the shops, where people from all sorts of backgrounds and abilities come together for the same cause - to help raise funds to promote Oxfam's projects, and to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.
Many volunteers are also looking for paid work, and some find it within Oxfam. We work as a team, and all the volunteers are willing to do what they can to promote Oxfam and our bookshop.
I find the flexibility of the working patterns to be a benefit, although the downside to being a manager is the expectation of always being available should anything further be required of me. I guess this is the case with many management roles, and it applies to charity shop work just as it does with anything else.
I decided to join Oxfam after participating in several campaign drives, and working in the shop became a natural progression for me. I enjoy the fact that the more effort I put into Oxfam, the more rewarding my contribution becomes. I have worked for several non-charity businesses (in various admin roles) back in the US where this simply was not the case. You never really get over the feeling of helping people, and that is the greatest reward in my job.
My responsibility is to the charity and to the 40 workers we currently rotate via the shift patterns. I enjoy working with both young and old, and Oxfam is supportive to those who want to work for the charity but have disabilities or less-than-perfect English.
My future aspirations centre around the shop in Leamington, as I have the flexibility to suggest ventures to the charity, and I am usually well supported in these goals. It helps to have such a pro-active team around me, and everyone who works for the shop on an unpaid basis does so because they find it rewarding.
We have a lot of fun doing it, too!
Charity Shop Worker
Charity shop workers are divided into paid staff and unpaid volunteers. The volunteers work various shifts each week or month, and the managers are responsible for ensuring that the retail unit under their control manages to achieve the goals and targets set for them by the charity group. Charity shops around the UK are retail outlets which function as 'front of house' collection points for a majority of the large charity organisations.
Much of a charity's income can be derived from the resale of new and second-hand products which have been donated to charity shops, include clothing, books, DVDs, music, vintage products and collectibles.
Whilst many of the people who work in these charity shops are unpaid volunteers, there will usually be a salaried shop manager, and often a paid deputy manager as well. It is the responsibility of the store manager(s) that the shop is run in accordance with the demands set out by the operating group.
All the employees in a charity shop, whether volunteers or paid staff, work together to ensure that the donated goods are sorted out and sold in an efficient manner in order to bring in as much additional funding as possible for the charity.
The salary range for a manager position at one of the larger and well-known charity organisations is between £14,000 and £18,000. This figure is pro-rata, as the expectation is that much of the shifts are covered by unpaid volunteers, so the take-home pay can often be somewhat less due to a shorter working week. A moderately-sized branch will normally have around 35-40 volunteers in rotation, so regular cover is normally available.
The salary for a deputy manager is around £12,000, but again this is pro-rata and depends on the number of hours the deputy is required to work.
It is worth noting that personal remuneration is not usually the key driver behind a person's decision to pursue this type of career, and it should be taken into consideration alongside a desire to help others.
There are additional benefits offered by many of the organisations, such as the option of a personal pension plan and flexible working patterns.
- Assist customers in finding the appropriate item they are looking for.
- Receive items being handed in by the public and sort them into relevant categories.
- Ensure the display is attractively presented and arranged in a logical fashion.
- Ensure the shop achieves its revenue targets.
- Keep up to date with group-wide happenings via newsletters and other communications.
- Manage ongoing relationships with repeat customers.
- Have a flexible approach to working and shift patterns.
- Be compassionate towards the charity group and its core operational objectives.
- Organise local events for maximum publicity.
- Attend regional meetings regarding targets and improvement.
There are no formal qualifications which are deemed necessary in order to begin working in a charity shop, except for a need for reasonable spoken English. In fact, in the larger population centres it is estimated that around a third of charity shop staff are not British-born nationals.
Because this is a people-orientated job, a pro-active attitude and a desire to help a charity are deemed to be much more important than a dazzling array of high-grade A-levels or previous work experience with coveted organisations.
Working in a charity shop, whether in an unpaid role or a paid management position, demands that the candidate has a selfless attitude and seeks to help others. It is important that customers are greeted with a smile and a can-do attitude.
It is also helpful for the candidate to have the ability to communicate with a wide age range, and to be attentive to the changing requirements of customers.
It also helps if you have a logical mind, as there is a lot of sorting and filing to be done each day. On days where a lot of goods have been handed in the workload can increase significantly, and there is a requirement to work quickly and handle pressure.
This is most evident when the shop is full of customers all demanding attention whilst you are trying to get the morning collection onto the shelves! As is often the case with these conditions, it can all contribute to a feeling of energy and teamwork within the shop.
You may be surprised to learn that the store area behind some of the larger charity shops actually exceeds the shop area in terms of floor space. This is because the rear section of the store must often serve as the storage and sorting area, back office and staff canteen at the same time.
Due to the nature of the work there can be quite a lot of moderate lifting required as there is a constant need to move a large number of books from the storage area out back to the shop floor. There is also some high reaching involved, so this could be a consideration to those who find they have difficulty with this.
Any previous experience of working in a retail environment would be beneficial, and a previous track record of helping a charity can be a help too. Otherwise, candidates are free to approach charities without prior experience, and often this can be an excellent introduction to working in a busy retail outlet.
Previous experience is relevant to the type of shop the candidate is considering. For example, a charity shop specialising in books will be most grateful to hear from an applicant with previous experience of working as a librarian.
Charity shops throughout the UK vary in size, from internationally renowned super-brands like Oxfam and Save The Children, through to smaller and more tightly focused organisations like Sue Ryder Care and Relief Fund For Romania.
Please see the links section at the end of this guide for details of some of the more established charity shops in the UK.
Career ProgressionCharities such as Oxfam and Cancer Research are large, marketing-led organisations which have become well-known household names. For this reason, some time invested on a voluntary basis can be an effective cornerstone of a CV.
Due to there being no formal barriers to entry, work experience gained from time spent working for these charities can be hugely beneficial. For a candidate who seeks to move into a retail career opportunity with a mainstream non-charity or high-street business at a later point in their career this can certainly be useful.
Working in a charity shop can also open doors for people wishing to become involved with campaign work and overseas project placements. Staff are kept informed via newsletters of new opportunities arising within the group, and most operate a very open mentality which welcomes the initiative of those who wish to move on to other areas.
Charities also have head offices just like other multi-site businesses, which means there are various paid roles which often become available within the group. Charities have a need for accounts, payroll, marketing, IT, communication, project management, design and distribution departments just as much as other businesses do. It is definitely worth inquiring if you are looking for a placement within one of these types of roles (and would like to help a good cause at the same time).