Sustainability, community, creativity. A charity shop career is so much more than retail. Here’s the first inspiring story in our campaign to raise the profile of charity shop careers.
Kelly-Marie Marshall is the Charity Retail Association’s administrator, having previously worked for St Barnabas Hospice Shops and volunteered for a small charity retailer in Lincolnshire.
Hi Kelly, what inspired you to pursue a career in charity retail?
I saw an advert for volunteers in the window of my local charity shop when I was 16. I was a socially awkward teen, but I wanted to do something worthwhile with my spare time. I hadn’t even shopped in a charity shop before then, but I knew the cause and wanted to help. So, I plucked up the courage to enquire about volunteering and I was immediately made to feel welcome. I learned a lot whilst working there and my social skills vastly improved. I knew then that I wanted to continue down the charity retail path.
What skills and qualities do you think you need for working in charity retail?
You definitely need to be able to multi-task! Good customer service skills are a must, as is communication. Creativity is a good one to have. Teamwork is important. I think you also need to be empathetic. As long as you have the basis of these, you’ll develop them more and pick up extra skills along the way.
How do you think working in charity retail differs from other retail sectors?
The people and the passion! Practically everyone you meet in the sector is so devoted to their cause and charity in general. It’s brilliant to be surrounded by such enthusiasm. It’s also so diverse, no two days are the same.
In what ways has your role allowed you to grow both personally and professionally?
Having a career in charity retail has helped me grow and develop so much. I have learned so many new skills that have led me on to new roles and opportunities. My initial volunteering experience as a teen, led to a paid role as a warehouse assistant, which led to working in shops, which led to managing them. From there I also worked in the finance and logistics offices, before moving into e-commerce. And now I work for the Charity Retail Association! Each new role improved my confidence and skillset so much. The opportunities to grow are there if you look for them. I was always keen to do more so I made it my mission to learn as much as I could and help out in every department of my organisation.
Can you share an example of when you felt your efforts made a difference?
It’s hard to think of one example! I liked to volunteer to do extra fundraising activities, so with my charities backing, I would set up and run stalls at Pride, Christmas markets, and other local events. It was great to get out into the community to increase the charities visibility, as well as make those extra funds! I also always took pride in instances where you were able to connect with an individual and assist them with something they were struggling with. Whether it be with connecting them with a charity service or just taking the time to listen.
Can you share a memorable teamwork experience?
The one that immediately comes to mind is during the pandemic, when restrictions had eased but charity shops were still closed, and many people were on furlough. A small team, including myself, were tasked with keeping some funds coming into the organisation, by moving a lot of stock online and working from a central point. The sense of camaraderie from that shared purpose was immense. It was a tough time but together we helped pull in some vital funds. And although we were still social distancing, we all became a lot closer!
How did your charity engage with the local community?
Events are always a great way of engaging with your local community. They don’t have to be huge, even hosting a coffee morning can help encourage people to your store, as well as provide a benefit to the community. If you can get out into the wider community by having a stall at an event, that is great, as you get the chance to connect with even more people. Having an online presence is also good, as you can make connections with potential donors and buyers, as well as promote your charities mission.
How do you see charity retail evolving, and what excites you about its future?
After spending over 20 years involved with charity retail, I have seen it evolve so much over the years and I am very excited about it’s future. Sustainability and ethical shopping have now taken centre stage, and as forerunners of that I can only imagine how much our involvement will grow as society shifts more and more towards conscientious consumerism. The social value of charity shops is also starting to be recognised more and I’m excited to see how that develops.
In your opinion, what are the most rewarding aspects of working in charity retail?
To work in charity retail really feels like you are doing some good in the world. Knowing that your efforts support charitable causes provides a wonderful sense of purpose. It’s more than just a job. You get to build some great relationships with fantastic people. It’s also brilliant to be promoting and supporting sustainability. I just love it, and I can’t imagine working in any other sector!
Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in charity retail?
I say just go for it, and put yourself out there. You’ll learn so much and gather many key skills for your CV. If you have the time, volunteer in a local store, and gather some customer-facing experience. You’ll meet some amazing people, and it is so fulfilling to be contributing to a cause.
Thank you Kelly!!
Do you know someone with an inspiring charity shop background who we can interview? We want to shout from the rooftops to inspire others to think about charity retail as a career path. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.