Fulfilling Work in the Charity Retail Sector

December 19, 2017

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by Anna Grant, Carnegie UK Trust

With Christmas just around the corner, we may think about the importance of charity retail to the shopper in terms of finding a perfect bargain gift, serving as an invaluable funding source for their parent organisations, or to the donor who can spring clean whilst benefiting others. However, their impact goes far beyond this.

The current number of volunteers in the charity retail sector is estimated at around 220,000, with paid staff boosting the total figure by another 22,000 individuals. Combined, those contributing hours to the charity retail sector exceed the population of Peterborough.

‘Shopping for Good’ a report published earlier this year commissioned by The Charity Retail Association and supported by The Trust, examined the wide range of social value generated by the charity retail sector. The research explored aspects from the value to the high street to its effect on the environment, but also specifically examines the impact of charity retail employment.

The Trust’s focus in the area of employment and work highlights the importance of fulfilling work in the modern world. We believe that employment should add to an individual’s wellbeing rather than undermine it, though this task is not as straightforward as assessing income alone. A plethora of features can alter our feelings of fulfilment in work, including the availability and quality of work, and these can of course change depending on the individual. A number of these key features are clear from the stories and statistics of the charity retail sector, but two in particular stand out: social connectedness and security.

Social Connections in the Workplace

One of the significant aspects of fulfilling work is social connectedness, as a sense of belonging and relationships with others is shown to be important for overall personal wellbeing. Given that we spend a high proportion of our time every week in work, work can become a vital source of these social connections. This can be a particularly important part of the value of working and volunteering, specifically within the charity retail sector. Many individuals questioned in the ‘Shopping for Good’ study reported that the social aspect of volunteering was important to them, with 95% agreeing that it has provided an opportunity to socialise and meet new people and 92% benefiting from a sense of belonging to a team.

Security in an Insecure World

Job satisfaction is also an important lever in determining fulfilling work, and within this job security is a significant indicator and ‘is closely linked to the capacity of employment to enable wellbeing’[1]. In recent years the UK employment market is often the subject of bleak media headlines, with insecurity increasingly the focus. However, this is not the story for the charity retail sector. Employment in the sector has risen steadily since 2013, and managers also tend to stay in post for considerable periods of time compared to many other industries. The findings of the study also highlight the value of charity retail in terms of providing not only stable, but also local employment, with 70% of managers reporting living in the same area as their store.

The ‘Shopping for Good’ research does highlight the need to be mindful of other factors that support fulfilment in work. The findings warn increasing professionalisation of the sector brings increasing workloads and stress for managers which needs to be considered, and provides recommendations for the need for further structure and training for volunteers to make the most of their time volunteering and better links with employability partners.

However, overall it is clear that charity retail provides a vast amount of social value for the 244,000 individuals that work or volunteer in the sector.

The full ‘Shopping for Good’ report can be viewed here.


[1] White, D (2016) Work and Wellbeing Discussion Paper https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/work-wellbeing-discussion-paper/