Volunteering – The heart of charity retail

My journey in the world of charity retail began with volunteering for St Luke’s Hospice, Sheffield in their very first shop. It was 1983, I was 16 and I spent my Saturday mornings sorting clothes and learning about retail. Fast forward a few years and having got my Retail Marketing degree I decided commercial retail was not for me and volunteered at my local Oxfam shop. I learned so much there about people management, merchandising, customer service, how to be part of a team. That role set me off into a now 30 year career in the sector – and in that cyclical way life has sometimes, I’m now volunteering for Oxfam again – in rural Scotland this time, where I’ve just relocated.

I am loving it. I’ve met new friends and neighbours; learned where my bus goes from and to in order to get there (‘local’ in these parts equates to 20 miles away); been taught the till by another brilliant volunteer; been trusted to remerchandise the accessories department on my second week; been thanked by the Oxfam GB team via Twitter as well as by the lovely shop manager. I left my shift there this week with a big grin on my face, feeling good about myself and much more integrated into my new community.

All this has reminded me once again, how vital volunteers are for our sector – and how by giving them a great volunteering experience, they can be the best ambassadors for our charities AND feel fabulous about themselves too. It is easy as charity retail leaders for us to feel frustrated by not having enough volunteers, or worried about safeguarding, or caught up in the nitty gritty of our daily work – but by genuinely holding volunteers and the wonderful array of skills, stories and experience they bring to our organisations at the very centre of everything we do, we can harness amazing benefits.

Every volunteer journey begins before the potential volunteer identifies themselves to us. Everything we do needs to demonstrate how we value and support those who help us. Once the initial contact is made – either because we have proactively gone out and recruited, or the volunteer has taken the initiative unprompted by us – we need to ensure we give them the best experience possible, by listening, supporting, being clear with our expectations and abundant with our gratitude and praise. Every person who volunteers brings with them a lifetime of experiences – however long or short at that stage – and it is up to us as leaders to make the most of that amazing gift.

I believe my life is richer for having spent so much of it around volunteers – and about to be even richer for being one again. What a privilege it is for us to be part of this sector – let’s all remember how much the volunteers we know and those we are yet to meet make it that way, and make sure we give them the volunteering experience they desire and deserve.

The Charity Retail Consultancy can support you in ensuring your volunteers have the best journey possible. We offer training and support to charity retailers in volunteer recruitment, induction, development & reward. A recent charity retail volunteer recruitment and retention training day scored 93% from delegates’ feedback. Visit our website for more information or to get in touch email:



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