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What price training for charity shop volunteers?

The last time I took a donation to a charity shop, it was a great experience.

I took an unwanted jewellery box, full of costume jewellery, to a Cancer Research UK shop. The volunteer behind the desk could not have been more excited or grateful for my gift. I left with the warm glow you get from doing something good.

So, this time, having had a pre-Christmas clearout, I was expecting something similar. I took a bag of clothes, in good condition, to an Oxfam shop. But the woman behind the desk looked at me blankly as I handed over my donation, and promptly shoved my gift on the floor.

I must have been looking at her expectantly, because after a few awkward seconds she said, “er, yeah, thanks.”

As I had planned, I told her I also had a bag of unsellable clothes at home, some of which were torn or had broken zips. I asked whether it would be helpful if I brought those in so the shop could sell them as rag.

She looked at me blankly again. “You want to do what?” she said. When I explained again, she called the store manager over. His response was unenthusiastic – he said they’d recycle them for me if I wanted.

I managed to stop myself from saying that I was trying to do them a favour rather than asking them to do one for me.

I left feeling deflated, and even a little annoyed. From speaking to colleagues it has become clear that I’m not the only one to have had this experience.

I understand that it’s expensive for charities to invest in training volunteers. But these little interactions at a grass-roots level play a crucial role in shaping the public’s perception of charities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also influence people’s future charitable donations. Investing in volunteer training would surely pay off in the long term.

  • This also mirrors some of my experiences Kaye. I’ve felt so uncomfortable dropping off donations in my local Children’s Society shop that I’ve resorted to leaving them outside when the shop is closed, despite knowing that there is a local person who regularly drives along and steals what’s left outside. I tired of their dismissive attitude when I used to go inside and was made to feel like an inconvenience.
    Similarly, when I approached my local Barnardo’s shop with some books they said ‘Oh, they’re not paperbacks are they? Because we don’t want any more of them’ with a weary tone, until they brightened up on seeing my hardback coffee table offerings.
    I’m not donating them so they’ll drop to their knees with gratitude, obviously, but just a simple ‘thank you’ would make the whole process much more pleasant and appealing in future. Or at least if they could make it clearer what goods they will accept so that we don’t waste each other’s time, that would be an improvement.

  • Donna L

    Whilst I am not making an excuse for poor service, which I agree is not acceptable (but however, is also to be found in many non-charity retail stores) I do question the heading of this title, regarding training of charity shop volunteers. How can you be confident this experience is due to the lack of training of volunteers, it could easily be due to the lack of training of retail paid staff members as well?

    Secondly, Mary Portas conducted mystery shopping in a range of high street chains earlier this year and found a distinct lack of customer service throughout high street retailers. I would suggest high street retailers (charity or non charity) should be evaluating their customer service practises, especially in these tough economic times.

    But as a nation we are too accepting of poor service. In order to change things you should notify the head offices of the stores where you receive good or bad customer experience. Then those who do something about it will thrive and prosper.