How charity shops work

green lineCharity shop
Staff and volunteers

Most charity shops have a paid shop manager, working with a large team of volunteers, who help to sort and sell the stock. A few charities have all of their shop staff as volunteers: many other organisations have found that employing a manager 'pays for itself', as these people can give more time, skills and attention to the role. Charities with several shops often employ an area manager, to oversee all of the shop operations.

Rent and bills

Charity shops have to pay rent on their premises, and bills for services like electricity and gas, like any other business. However, they do get several tax concessions, as all shop profits go to fund the work of the charity, which provides public benefit. The key concessions are 0% VAT on the sale of donated goods, and 80% mandatory non-domestic rate relief, which is funded by central Government.


Paid staff and volunteers alike are given training on both retail matters – including health and safety – and the charity itself, so as they understand what the organisation is working for as well as how to work safely instore. Guidance is given on sales techniques and display, as well as security issues and health and safety. The Charity Retail Association also provides a wide range of information and guidance to its members.

Acquiring donations

Most charity shops acquire their stock through people coming in with bags of stock. Some shops also do collections from houses, businesses and schools. If you have a large amount of donations, it is often worth ringing a local shop to see if they can come and collect it from you.

The quality of donations

Unfortunately, a proportion of donations are not suitable or of sufficient quality to be sold in shops, for example, clothing that is badly stained or torn, broken electrical goods, games with missing pieces, etc. However, the vast majority of this can be reused or recycled with only a very small proportion of donations going to landfill.

Unsaleable donations

Only 2% of clothing donated to charity shops is discarded as waste. Textiles that cannot be sold are put in a 'rag bag' and sold to a textile reprocessor or 'rag man': these goods will either be recycled as fabric or exported as garments for sale overseas. Books and records can also be sold on to commercial collectors in this way. Other items, such as glass or wood can also be recycled. The remainder goes to landfill. Unfortunately, a large number of local authorities persist in over-charging charity shops for the removal of rubbish as if they are commercial premises: they should not do this, as such rubbish is classed as "household waste", for which a lower collection charge should apply. The CRA has been campaigning on this issue for some years.

Sorting donations

Donations are processed in the backroom. Bags should be emptied onto a sorting table, and gloves worn as the donations are inspected. While some donors take great care to sort and clean their goods before giving them to charity, others are not so stringent, and charity shop workers need to beware of soiled or sharp items.

Cleaning donations

The majority of charity shops have steamers, which are used to clean and freshen up textiles. Some shops also have a washing machine in the backroom, or a volunteer who takes goods home to clean them.


The pricing of goods is often left up to the shop manager and their team, though some organisations issue pricing guides. Benchmark guidance can be provided by things like the Argos catalogue, or Record Collector magazines. More valuable antiques can be sold through auctions, etc.

Selling online

Some charities also sell things on eBay. This is particularly valuable for collectables, such as records or china, as they can attract a far greater market than they could on the high street. Other eBay users can also sell goods on behalf of their chosen charity.

Gift aid

A lot of charity shop now claim Gift Aid arising from the sale of donated goods as well as cash donations. This scheme allows them to claim an extra 25 pence for every £1 a Gift Aided donation raises. Participants will need to give their contact details to the charity shop when they make a donation. When the goods have been sold, they will be notified how much they have helped to raise for charity.

Staff and volunteer benefits

Volunteers are not paid a wage, although some do get expenses to cover their travel. Some shops allow their volunteers to purchase goods at a discount, often subject to certain limits.

The value of charity shops

Charity shops make money for their parent charity, and raise awareness of their work: charity shops raise more than £290m every year. They also allow people to reuse and recycle their goods, preventing large quantities of stock from entering the waste stream. Volunteers in stores can make new friends and learn new skills as they gain work experience. Lastly, charity shops are a dependable source of good quality items at low prices.


Updated: 7 October 2013