Kate Sayer

Guest Blog – Balancing Act, Kate Sayer

This week’s Guest Blog comes from CRA Member Sayer Vincent.

Balancing act

Charity shops can be a great source of unrestricted funds for charities, but they also create a number of operational risks. Retail managers face the problem of managing the risks in a cost effective way.

What sort of risks do managers face?
There are the obvious financial risks such as theft from the till or pilfering of goods, but additionally, charities need to be wary that the shops do not operate in their own little bubble. The shops still carry the charity’s name and can damage the charity’s reputation, so trustees and senior managers need assurance that the shop staff and volunteers are ‘on message’. Well-intentioned shop managers operating solo can create havoc. We have seen shop managers recruiting large numbers of volunteers with special needs without realising that these are vulnerable adults, corners cut on health and safety and managers completing Gift Aid forms themselves. Retail managers will have others areas of operation they will be concerned about such as stock management, displays and customer care.

Controls to manage operational risk
We find it useful to think about the controls as a holistic framework so you don’t miss important aspects:

Culture:  The charity’s values are embedded and communicated to staff and volunteers in shops so they understand the purpose and ethos of shops.


Policies and procedures: Policies are kept up to date and are available to all shop staff and volunteers. Think about a short guide kept by the till rather than a hefty manual. Sensible procedures that are actually implemented.


Roles and responsibilities: Clear role descriptions for shop managers.
Volunteers understand role before they start. Adequate inductions.
Training:  Appropriate training on policies and procedures, how to use shop tills, operate retail Gift Aid, health & safety and customer care.


Managing people:  Volunteers are managed appropriately, safeguarding in place and shop managers have good people management skills. Appropriate structure to manage the shop managers.


Planning and monitoring:  Clear plans and budgets with realistic targets and based on solid understanding of the business model. Risk assessments prepared.


Using a shops audit checklist
Once you have your training and procedures in place, you can then use a checklist to help structure and record visits in a systematic way. We have developed a checklist with ‘traffic light’ ranking of red-amber-green for the answers so that retail managers can quickly see how the shop is doing on a range of measures from the tidiness of the stock area to a balanced till. The checklist can be used by a supervisor responsible for several shops, or one shops chain introduced some independence by a form of peer review – the manager for one area visits the shops in their neighbouring area. The checklist is completed with the shop manager so it can be used to develop them and improve performance. A low score will trigger a repeat visit within a short timeframe to give the shop manager time and clear targets to improve.

Getting the balance right
You do need to keep things in perspective. This approach aims to help retail managers improve shop operations as well as manage risks. Having regular visits with a structured checklist will also provide assurance to senior managers and trustees that you have it all under control.

Kate Sayer