Hot issue: Should charity shops be managed by paid staff?

Volunteers at a Brainwave charity shop in Somerset staged a revolt against plans for the introduction of a paid manager. The charity argued that paid supervisors had, without exception, increased turnover in its other shops

YES - Lekha Klouda, executive secretary, Association of Charity Shops

But they can only succeed if they are also supported by a team of volunteers - without volunteer input, most charity shops would not be successful and profitable.

Charity shops are complex places to manage. They are bound by consumer and product safety legislation, aspects of recycling and waste regulation, and health and safety legislation applying to commercial retailing. There is a clear duty on charities to ensure shops comply with all their legal obligations and raise as much money as possible for their cause.

Over the past ten years most charities with shops have found that this can be achieved most simply by using a paid manager (not necessarily full-time) supported by a volunteer team. The paid manager model also overcomes problems caused by the shortage of volunteers that faces many shops, ensuring they can continue to trade during a normal six-day working week - essential in an increasingly competitive retail environment.

However, a number of highly successful charity shops are still run entirely by volunteers that return very high net profits to their charities, so the volunteer-run model can work too. Either way, volunteers are vital to the success of charity shops.

YES - Justin Davis- Smith, deputy chief executive, Volunteering England

Some of the most inspiring voluntary action is totally volunteer-led.

The best solution to a local problem is often a local one created by people acting together.

Yes, volunteers could run a charity shop - but should they? As a grass-roots initiative, it's certainly a legitimate activity, but for established organisations there can be valid reasons for bringing in paid staff.

There's an argument that volunteers should be doing everything, with the implication that wages are akin to stealing from a charity collection.

However, this assumes professional skills aren't needed in the sector and that the areas of marketing, development work or research do not need any particular experience or expertise.

Running a shop does take skill if the aim is to create public awareness, increase turnover, manage volunteers and look after the finances. From the other end of the telescope it might look like exploitation not to pay someone for this.

Organisations also have legal responsibilities for health and safety at work and for equal opportunities. They do not have the same degree of control over volunteers as they do over paid staff.

YES - John Taylor, head of trading, Scope

Scope has almost 300 shops across England and Wales, making up a large part of our trading division. We employ paid staff to manage our shops because it is important that we operate as a business and maintain a high level of competitiveness. After all, this is a market saturated with low-cost high street retailers, online discount sites and supermarkets. We pay for the staff best skilled to generate maximum returns to support our work.

Of course, as a charity we rely heavily on volunteers to keep the shops operating from day to day. It has been known for volunteers, in many cases disabled people, to gain skills that have enabled them to go on to secure paid work in the retail sector, some of which has been within Scope Trading.

It is important that charity shop managers are accountable, that they ensure consistency with overall corporate standards, manage health and safety, are able to report on retail trends and can identify opportunities and risks. We believe it's right to pay people for the responsibility that comes with the job.

NO - Peter Simon, volunteer, Books for Amnesty, Hammersmith

My feeling is that if you employ someone in a managerial capacity to run the shop in a more professional manner, then it isn't a charity shop any more.

Whatever the shop is - Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, Barnardo's - when somebody brings in a donation, whatever you sell it for is pure profit, leaving aside basic running costs. You don't have to consider staff costs because everyone's a volunteer.

If we had to pay a manager here, we'd have to make the prices more akin to high street prices - and if we have to do that, then what's the point?

This shop is run solely by volunteers. It's open six days a week and there's no problem whatsoever running it in that way.

It would be foolish of me to speak for the whole charity sector, but it's a shame to pay someone, and it changes the whole nature of charity shops, both in relation to the customer and to the volunteers.

There is an argument that it increases the shop's turnover, but it also changes people's perception of the charity.

I don't think customers would be as willing to come into the shop and spend their money if it wasn't run entirely by volunteers.

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