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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 2 August, 2014

Sales aren’t a problem for charity shops… it’s a lack of donations

Oxfam has recorded an increase in sales this year. However, many are struggling to get stock in the door.

A charity shop on George's Street in Dublin.
A charity shop on George's Street in Dublin.
Image: infomatique via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE CHARITABLE SECTOR still stands on shaky ground after recent controversies over salary top-ups at the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab.

Donations are down for as many as 61 per cent of charities, with public trust truly dented by the experience of former and current board members of organisations  dragged before the Public Accounts Committee and the ensuing revelations.

At Bóthar, seven out of its 19 staff were made redundant earlier this week due to a dramatic drop in donations.

However, a strong source of revenue for charities untouched by these controversies continues to be their retail arm.

The only problem is is getting people to unload their unwanted items at these stores.

This isn’t a new problem – it’s been going on since the recession first began to bite, with the situation deteriorating further this year.

“This year, in terms of sales, we’re experiencing a small growth,” Michael McIlwaine, Oxfam Ireland’s Head of Trading, told TheJournal.ie.

Over the past few years we’ve seen donations drop by around 40 per cent. There’s a lot of different factors at work here, ranging from the current economic clinic to issues in public trust. They want to know if their donations are going to do what they expect them to do.

McIlwaine added that so-called ‘clothes for cash’ shops, that will often a set price for a kilogram of clothes, are also distorting the market.

One way Oxfam has been improving sales is by offering a point of difference, by selling refurbished computers to wedding dresses – “If  you go in, you never know what you’re doing to find,” McIlwaine said.

However, another charity, Gorta has been hit particularly hard this year by this fall in donations, prompting a urgent appeal earlier this week.

The charity, the oldest not-for-profit development agency in Ireland, said its stores across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to stay fully stocked.

“All are desperately in need of new stock,” Maggie Dwyer, Gorta’s National Retail Manager, said.

“In this challenging and competitive climate, it is now more important than ever for us to receive merchandise donations. Any items donated, no matter how big or small, are hugely appreciated.”

On the ground, while some rainy days shops “are like a ghost town”, there is a definite feeling that people are still heading to charity shops to scope out some bargains.

photo 1 (1)

SVP's store on Aungier Street

Source: TheJournal.ie

Rebecca Kieran, Shop Manager in St. Vincent de Paul’s charity shop on Aungier Street in Dublin city centre, said that conditions haven’t been the best in recent months.

“We still have loyal people who have been helped by SVP for many years, and in return are still helping them with donations,” she told TheJournal.ie.

She noted that in some residential areas stores are performing very well, as people are still donating unwanted items from their garages or attics, but this isn’t quite the same in urban areas, where people are generally living in apartments.

photo 2

Some items on sale in the shop.

Source: TheJournal.ie

However she’s hopeful that the recent storm in the charity sector might have a silver lining.

“A lot of people have been rocked,” she said, “It’s unfair that everyone has to suffer.”

Kieran noted that this can be frustrating, as SVP are “completely transparent” and publish all accounts online.

Maybe in the long run it might be better, people will get more in tune with what we’re doing. It might just change their opinion on charities, when they see the work organisations like ourselves are doing, and encourage them to help out.

Read: Fall in donations hits Bóthar as 7 out of 19 staff made redundant >

More: Rehab and CRC scandals still driving down donations for 61% of charities >

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