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Charity shops being used as a dumping ground

Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

Charity shops, being classed as ‘non-essential’ have been closed for most of the last fifteen months. This has had an impact on their income, and many organisations have been forced to plug the shortfall with alternative income streams or a reduction in the services they offer.

Since April 12th 2021, charity shops have been able to open their doors to the general public. This also meant they could once again accept donations of clothes, shoes, furniture, and other items, too.

During the lockdown periods, many people took to decorating their homes. When stuck in the same four walls, and with so few leisure activities on offer, it’s not surprising that DIY became a national pastime during the pandemic. And, when sprucing up their residences, people naturally replaced their tired, worn out pieces of furniture for newer versions, or they had a massive clear out of clothes, shoes, etc. to free up space.

The pandemic saw restrictions imposed on refuse collection points (local tips) across the country, with regards to their operational procedures and opening hours. The fallout of which led to some refuse centres attracting long queues, with cars snaking round the block (and the next block, and the next)—a phenomenon that still continues to this day, as some people, unable to offload their unwanted items during the week because of their work patterns, spend the best part of a weekend day waiting to be let in.

Now charity shops have opened, some are experiencing a side effect to the ‘busy tip’ issue. The quality of donations in some cases has been dire, particularly furniture—which has left some charity shop managers believing their outlets are being used as a secondary refuse centre by people frustrated by the queues at the real thing. Even clothing donations have been sub-par compared with those given before the pandemic, with hundreds of torn, unwashed and stained items left at the charity’s door or in their ‘bins’.

Most people working in charity shops are volunteers, and their time is currently being spent filtering donations left by the general public, rather than getting items priced up and out into the shop. This is only half the story though…if a donated item isn’t suitable for sale, due to its condition, the shop has to find a way to dispose of it safely/correctly. Some of this comes with a cost; far from raising money for the charity in question, the people using the organisation’s shop as a refuse centre are actually costing the charity money.

So, what can be done about this?

Whilst charities may be hesitant to sound ungrateful for the donations they receive, when it starts to cost them money for disposal that would otherwise pay for the services they offer their beneficiaries, it’s time to speak up.

Some charities have lost their way with their marketing during the pandemic—which is natural, considering that their major focus over the last year or so has simply been on ensuring their survival. We’ve all had bigger things to think about. However, at this stage of the game, the world seems to be coping; though we haven’t been able to eradicate the country of the virus, we’re learning to live with it. Considering the range of other health conditions that have worsened or become more widespread because hospitals have thrown all their resources at the coronavirus, the help that charities provide is more acute than ever.

It’s now time to step out of the Covid shadow.

Marketing is the vehicle organisations use to speak to their audiences. Your charity may be in dire need of a new marketing strategy—to re-educate people on what you stand for, who you help and how the general public can support you (i.e. not by using their local branch as a dumping ground for their tat). Remind them of the work you do for those less fortunate; tell them how much time, energy and money it’s costing your organisation to sort through dud donations and trash for the tip; describe the kinds of items you’d love to receive instead.

I don’t think the general public have been offloading their rubbish out of maliciousness, it’s simply laziness. If they knew that they were draining crucial resources from people in need of your help, I’m sure they’d think twice, and make the effort to dispose of the things they no longer want responsibly.

Of course, this is just one message you may wish to present via your marketing—one that stems from a very real problem I’ve seen occurring all over the UK. Your charity’s marketing steers the whole organisation, and the pandemic has brought many changes to the way we live, how we work, and our attitude towards our health. It’s an appropriate time for every charity to revisit their values and mission statement, to consider where their funding comes from, and to ensure everyone knows the difference they make.

If you’d like some feedback on your marketing from someone objective, who has many years of consultancy experience in the third sector, give me a call. The pandemic has impacted everything, there’s no way it can be ‘business as usual’ for any forward-thinking organisation.


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