Charities adapting to change

Charity Store

Small charities face a “hurricane of change” according to the Facing Forward report by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales. The report calls for government, funders and larger charities to take action to help small charities in challenging times, echoing some of our own thoughts on the benefits of charity collaboration.

One of the prevalent themes in the report is the effect of the ever-changing digital landscape and what this means for small charities. Over the last few decades, the technology sector has completely transformed the way we live, work and communicate. Among other topics such as Brexit, changes to the government, and funding, advances in technology remains one of the most important influential factors in how the third sector is developing.

The digital divide

The digital divide is constantly widening with many volunteers now needing training and support to be comfortable with the technology they use on a day-to-day basis. Old-fashioned manual cash registers are being replaced with EPOS systems, paper forms are now filled out electronically and charities who are not partaking in digital marketing of some kind will often find themselves struggling in comparison to their more technology-savvy counterparts.

Convenience and Flexibility

Flexible and remote working is also on the increase across all sectors, and charities are not different. Managers must now communicate, plan and organise without needing to be physically present in the shop. Volunteers are increasingly demanding the freedom of adaptable shift patterns and convenient hours, and in many cases will move to the charity who can offer them. The expectation of easily viewing and changing shifts online impacts what workers want from their workplace, voluntary or otherwise.

Autonomous Processes

Automation will also have a large impact on working processes. On a larger scale, the report mentions autonomous cars affecting community transport or breakthroughs in personalised medicine affecting health charities. But even on a granular level, automation of menial tasks will replace some jobs in-store. Simple things will be made much more efficient with automation, such as sending emails out to donors or providing digital checklists to allow volunteers to complete daily tasks without supervision.

Other tech trends such as tracking (of our health, sleep, interactions, and possessions) is tipped to have a large influence on the working practices of many organisations. We’ve yet to understand the wider implications of this kind of data capture but do know that it gives businesses the ability to tailor certain products or services to an individual much easier than before.

Get digital savy

While these developments may seem too advanced or far away in the future for small charities to start thinking about, the acceleration of these trends are already beginning to alter the third sector. There’s no certainty in predicting the future, but staying clued-up and aware of technological developments will certainly help in adapting to meet change in the digital landscape.

The charity retail sector is gradually bringing itself up to date with the same working practices as some of the more pioneering for-profit businesses. While small charities are unlikely to have the capabilities of investing in the most advanced tech, being open-minded, innovative, and eager to embrace a digital transformation will help set you in good stead for the future.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Technology

It’s easy to get whisked away by the possibilities of modern technology. It’s human nature to want the newest gadgets packed with endless features that empower you to be more productive, more efficient, more successful. With a smooth-talking salesman eager to dazzle you with the amazing things technology can do, it’s very easy to be led to believe that you need all of these features and functionalities to operate effectively. But that’s not always the case.

The charity sector has seen an influx of new technologies over the last few years and many are rushing to take advantage of the possibilities and benefits that it can bring. As a charity every penny spent on technology is a penny not going towards your cause and that’s why it’s so important to invest in technologies that will be worth it in the long run, that can and will provide the largest return on your investment.

Today’s POS technology often boasts never-ending lists of functionality, all promising increased Gift Aid sign ups, improved people management, easy stock tracking, better staff scheduling, hosted documents, improved communication, user-friendly interfaces, quicker cashing up processes… It’s hard not to buy into the many features available.

There’s no doubt that these systems can be extremely helpful. They can help you to improve how you work in your charity and having all those features at the touch of a button is incredibly useful. But realistically, how many of those features will you actually use? It’s all well and good having the functionality to manage floor space within a giant warehouse and handle the logistics of international delivery, but if you are running an operation of three shops all in the same county, just how useful will this be?

Having huge functionality in your EPOS system is great – but if you’re paying for something you don’t need, you’re wasting valuable funds that could go towards supporting your cause.

Having an EPOS system is becoming a necessity but it doesn’t need to be a hundred and one things to make you more efficient. It just needs to do what you need it to. Perhaps you’d like to have some help tracking your stock movement but don’t need task lists for your volunteers hosted on your POS. Maybe you just want a simple system that processes transactions. No frills, no added costs and no faff.

So how can you identify the systems that actually do what you need them to?

Finding a good technology provider is crucial. While you may not fully understand what the technology can do for you, they’re experts in it. It’s also important that they understand your issues, your requirements, and how you work in order to choose the right solution for you.

At Charity Expertise, we know we are a good technology partner for charities. We spend time learning and understanding your charity so that we can figure out the best way to help you succeed. When we worked with Save the Children, we collaborated, listened, suggested the right system, and then worked with them to ensure they got the best possible return from their investment. The new system contributed to a 35% increase in Gift Aid claims.

When we launched our new digital Gift Aid sign up solution, Wil-U, that replaces the laborious paper forms, we knew it shouldn’t be tied to an EPOS system. We knew it wasn’t realistic or fair to expect charities struggling to increase Gift Aid sign ups to be forced to buy a whole new suite of technology for their stores in order to solve this problem. We created our digital Gift Aid solution with this in mind – the software is not tied to any system and can be used independently from technology you already use.

While we can provide multi-purpose EPOS systems, we appreciate that sometimes money is tight or that sometimes you just want to solve one problem before starting on the next.

If you’d like to know more about finding technology that truly works for you, get in touch at


The Importance of the Small Stuff

There are a lot of great small charities that sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve due to the unique nature of their cause. To remind people everywhere that small doesn’t mean unimportant, we wanted to write about a few of the small things you might be forgetting that could make a big difference to your charity.

Reward your volunteers

Something as small as a quick ‘thank you’ to your team of staff and volunteers could go a long way to improving work ethic and engagement. Better still, rewarding them with small gifts when they have achieved something particularly impressive will boost motivation and encourage other volunteers to work harder too.

Make an impressive window display

Make a good first impression by getting creative with your window displays. Enticing displays can be created easily with your team and a few props from your store and could make a huge difference to increasing footfall. Not sure where to begin? Read our blog here on how to create a WOW! Factor window display.

Don’t forget to ask people about Gift Aid

Often one of the largest barriers to increasing the rate of Gift Aid sign ups is staff in store forgetting or feeling too uncomfortable to ask donors if they’re eligible to sign up. Doing so could make all the difference! Don’t forget to urge your volunteers to remember to ask the question. Alternatively, some digital solutions such as Electronic Gift Aid could remove the need to ask uncomfortable questions altogether by allowing donors to input their own information on a modern touchscreen interface.

Allow your volunteers to grow

Giving your volunteers a little extra time to develop their skills in store is essential to building the strongest team out there. Allow them to take courses on the back office PC, practice their selling skills on the shop floor, or let them plan a fundraising event. Giving them room to grow their skills and develop their professional profile is a great way to create lasting, knowledgeable volunteers.

Talk to your donors!

Engaging with donors is one of the most important things you could do as a charity leader. In order to fully engage donors, you should open up a two-way form of communication – talk to them, not at them! Ask for donors’ advice and get them involved in community events to create loyal givers who feel like they really have a connection with you, your store and your cause.

It’s all too easy to get bogged down trying to juggle all the policies and procedures that come with managing a charity shop. While the big things may seem more important, the small stuff adds up. Making sure that someone is taking care of those little things is essential and will create a solid foundation for you and your team to reach their full potential and raise valuable funds for your cause.

Time to embrace technology in Charity Retail?

Online donating is increasing year on year yet the charity retail sector is still lagging behind when it comes to updating fundraising processes. It has been almost 20 years since the first online donation but this still makes up less than 10% of total fundraising for most charities.

However, online donations are continuing to grow and with more people requesting convenient and quick payment methods, the demand for digital payment in-store is increasing.

In a recent study on the retail industry in general, half of young people surveyed said they would be more likely to frequent a business that offered contactless payments, with four in ten saying they preferred the ease of paying with one tap compared to chip and pin. The opportunity for contactless donations therefore is vast and charities could take advantage of this, simply by embracing technology.

Technology offers charities other opportunities to increase revenue. Take Gift Aid for example. Many charities implement a manual process around Gift Aid. An Electronic Gift Aid solution has many benefits; not only saving on storage of paper forms, but eliminating the 20% of forms that are thrown away due to messy handwriting, mistakes, ineligibility or because they’re unusable. Gift Aid is a great way to boost donations and it’s a shame to see potential support going unclaimed.

Digitising the process and allowing donors or volunteers to sign up to Gift Aid on a tablet or computer means that data is stored securely and backed up, and the process is streamlined for all involved. This means charities can increase the amount of Gift Aid sign ups, claim more money for their cause, and make their volunteers’ and donors’ lives that little bit easier.

Moving quickly and embracing these new methods of supporting and fundraising means charities can tap into the generosity of younger, more tech-savvy givers. By ensuring convenience of giving, this can pave the way for future generations of regular donors.

Charities rely hugely on people’s desire to do good in the world; thank them by making it as easy as possible to do so.

chris richards pxtech

Chris Richards, PXtech Head of Charity Retail

Why You Should Invest in Your Volunteers

We can be guilty of assuming that volunteers don’t want all the responsibilities that come with looking after a retail store. Many charities are hesitant to offload tasks seen as boring or complicated onto their volunteers in fear of scaring them away. However, not giving volunteers any responsibilities can deter them too.

When surveyed, only 31% of people said that their charity makes them feel valued. There are seven in ten people who do not feel like their importance is recognised by the organisation to which they choose to donate their time. When we talk so frequently about how volunteers are fundamental to a functioning charity shop, it is surprising to hear that they feel so disconnected.

When speaking with volunteers, we found that their most common needs are to feel valued, trusted and listened to. Ensuring your volunteers know they are highly important and are contributing to the wider mission of your organisation is key to recruiting and retaining the volunteers you need for success.

Enhanced communication with your volunteers can help boost motivation. Telling them they are important, what their hard work goes on to achieve, and how they impact the end mission is a positive way to reinforce hard work. In order to make them feel listened to, there must be a two-way line of open communication. Volunteers offer a wealth of experience and knowledge and can deliver an abundance of good ideas to help increase funds, improve the charity and better the organisation as a whole.

There needs to be this communication for them to feel trusted too. To further develop trust, it’s a good idea to offer them the more difficult or important tasks. It’s easy to assume that they don’t want the responsibility or are not up to the job but by not asking them if so, you are making them feel like they’re not trusted enough to fully contribute to the cause.

While being listened to and trusted will contribute to making them feel valued, there are also other things you can do for your volunteers. Demonstrating that you are ready to invest in volunteers where you cannot offer wages can be an excellent motivator. Sending them on training courses means they have the chance to develop their own personal skills while also making them better at the job they do in-store.

In our blog post on the importance of collaboration, we outline many ways you can raise extra funds to pay for something like this. Partnering with businesses who will pay for training bursaries in return for a short ad in a monthly newsletter or a feature on your website is a fantastic way of sourcing funds. Alternatively, join hands with another charity and improve volunteering skills across the sector while sharing the costs!

Giving volunteers different skills than they already have is a great motivator for many and investing in them is a sure way to make them feel worthwhile. Young people just beginning their careers will likely want extra experience to boost their CV, while older people or those trying to get back into the working world will also be looking to learn something new.

Knowing you’re taking the time to invest in them and develop their skills beyond the charity will boost motivation and will allow volunteers to invest back into your organisation. Interacting and engaging with volunteers is a two-way street, so treating them as valued members of your team will result in reciprocal respect and hard work. Investing in your volunteers will allow them to invest in you and create a more skilled, friendlier and more profitable retail store.

5 Ways Charities Can Work Together

Many businesses have already adopted collaboration as a way of working, teaming up with other organisations to innovate and optimise one another’s skills. More often than not however, we are encouraged to be continually working against our competitors in order to get ahead. When it comes to charities, the competitive field is different and amazing things can happen if you work together. Why not team up with your neighbouring charities and reap the benefits, boosting your cause and others in the process?

Here are some ways you can collaborate with other charities to get better results: 

1.     Share a van for home collections

Home collections encourage people to give more because it is easy and convenient for them and allows you to take larger items such as furniture. It is also much easier for donors to sign up for Gift Aid as you already have their address. Home collections are wholly worthwhile but can be a little pricey to carry out. The cost of running a large van and all the collateral expenses can build up, as well as the need for one or two volunteers to collect the goods.

Sharing a van with a neighbouring charity means that costs can be halved and labour shared so you can do more home collections and collect more donations for both causes. Access to a van also allows you to offer home clearance, a service some charities have already found to be very lucrative. 

2.    Host events together for greater impact

Holding local events such as fun runs, coffee mornings and other fundraisers are proven ways to increase donations and bring the community together. Combining budgets, volunteers and contacts is likely to increase reach to the community and allow for a bigger and better event. Raising more donations and sharing them is still likely to get more funds for your cause than going at it alone. Putting on more impressive fundraisers together also puts you in good stead for future events. 

3.    Share an investment on products or services

Perhaps not directly related to raising funds and donations, sharing investments on certain services or products can be a fantastic way to cut costs. The most obvious example is paying for a day’s training for volunteers – if the training cost is the same whether you send 10 or 30 people along to the course, why not share the cost and all get the benefits?

Many products, ranging from consumables like receipt rolls to advanced technology solutions such as Gift Aid software or EPOS systems, are cheaper when purchased in quantity. Teaming up with other charities for a joint procurement exercise means you can achieve all the benefits at a reduced cost. 

4.   Define who specialises in which goods

Many charities look to increase donations and income by having shops which focus on specific goods. On a competitive high street, having two shops nearby that also sell books, DVDs or games is likely to mean fewer donations for all. Taking a collaborative approach – you have all the books, we’ll take the clothing – means that you’re reducing competition, increasing the chances for your volunteers to specialise and helping produce better results for everyone. 

5.    Share volunteers

Gaining and retaining volunteers is one of the largest concerns within the charity retail sector. Getting the right numbers of volunteers, with the right mix of skills and available at the right times, is a challenge for almost every charity organisation we speak with. Teaming up with other charity shops in the area to share volunteers could mean that busy periods for each shop are covered and your volunteers have a more flexible working environment. Although controversial, it could help to begin to solve the difficult problem of not having enough volunteers on specific days while also encouraging volunteers to help lots of different charities. This could work particularly well for smaller charities, who could ‘borrow’ volunteers from more well known names.

Charity shops have an edge that most high street retailers can’t match – it’s not a zero sum game. Increasing your income doesn’t have to be at the expense of your fellow charities. Collaboration is fast becoming the new way to work– and no wonder. Working with other local charities can bring many benefits to your organisation; you can be happy in the knowledge that this is good for everyone and you’ve helped another cause alongside your own.

Learning about Technology in Charity Retail

Getting charities to embrace digital change was a big movement in 2016. We’ve seen more charities begin to turn to technology to help improve their productivity and profitability. This year is likely to see a further push for charities to adopt technological solutions and get ahead of the game.

It is worrying to hear that 56% of charity team leaders don’t have a clear plan for the ongoing digital transformation of their organisation. Perhaps this is because almost half of those asked by Civil Society said they don’t understand it!

Remaining in the dark about the increasing digitisation of the 21st century could be more damaging than you think for the growth of your charity. Technology is now an inherent part in how we live and work and while many are understandably hesitant to this change, learning about it shouldn’t be something to fear. Nobody expects you to become an IT expert; being selective about what you focus on could make learning about the digital world easier than you think.

Opening your mind to the digital and technological sphere will develop your personal skills, ease your working life and contribute to the success of your organisation.

2017 tech trends only look to get smarter. Words like virtual reality, machine learning and big data are discussed at such a rate that it is often difficult for us to keep up. In for-profit retail, EPOS systems are commonplace and the use of tablets on the shop floor to search stock and collect customer feedback is also becoming more prevalent. In many organisations, back office operations are being digitised, data stored electronically and business intelligence software is allowing brands to engage more thoroughly with staff and customers.

Although digitally transforming the third sector is being discussed with a little more urgency, it probably still sounds a lot more frightening than it is. Taking the first step is often the hardest but there are lots of tools you can adopt at little to no cost to you. Websites such as MOOCEDX  and BBC Learning offer free online courses so you and your volunteers can brush up on your skills from home.

It’s always a good idea to collaborate with local businesses so don’t be afraid to ask them for help, hold innovation sessions and discuss any issues you may have. Creating conversations with corporate companies can open to door to meaningful partnerships and opportunities to share skills that both parties can benefit from.

To reiterate; don’t be afraid to take the first steps to incorporating digital technology into your organisation. Even small changes can lead to big results.

Three Ways Better Communication Can Boost Volunteer Engagement

volunteer engagement

Communication can solve a world of problems. When working in a charity shop, the best tool our engineers have at their command is being able to explain what they are doing, why, and how it will benefit the people working in the shop. Making people feel at ease and in the know ensures our work goes ahead with everyone feeling comfortable and happy with what is going on around them. Engagement relies upon communication in order to be effective.

Communicating with your volunteers on a regular basis and through a variety of mediums can help keep them engaged and motivated to work for your charity. There are many reasons why communication beyond the generic email can keep your volunteers motivated. Here are a just a few:

It makes them feel listened to, trusted and valued

Creating a two-way flow of conversation assures the volunteer that someone is always available should they have any problems. It also means they can voice ideas, opinions and suggestions that aren’t just lost in an email thread. Relaying important information to them regularly instils confidence and gives them responsibility so that they know that they’re an important member of the team. Valuing them in this way means they know they are making a real difference and the work they are doing is worthwhile.

It results in a more efficient working environment  

How often do we get to work and forget what we did yesterday? Let alone what we did last week? Updating volunteers on tasks that have been completed, tasks that need doing next and what needs doing right now means that everyone is in the know. Making sure volunteers know what is ahead of them makes them feel more confident and comfortable in the work that they are doing while also ensuring all tasks get done, are not repeated and the working day is more efficient.

You can remind them of new initiatives

Having a space for regular news updates would be beneficial to keep the latest events in the forefront of volunteers’ mind. Reminding them of your latest marketing initiatives or encouraging them to ask customers specific questions when they make a sale could seriously boost results. A prompt on your EPOS system that gives volunteers a gentle nudge to ask customers to sign up for Gift Aid or a loyalty card will likely see an increase in both of these, as well as encourage your volunteers to engage with customers.

While increasing engagement has huge benefits, there are also other positives that emerge from enhanced communication. Allowing Head Office and regional managers to have a full view of what messages stores are receiving ensures complete visibility across the organisation. In addition, happy and valued volunteers are more likely to remain with your charity and promote the organisation by word of mouth and their own use of social media. Investing some time in creating innovative ways to improve communication could well be worth your time.

Five Ways to Guarantee a Good Hardware Installation

Charity Hardware Installation

Having new hardware installed can be a stressful time for volunteers and staff in a store. Closing the doors while this takes place would make things easier, but few shops will want to give up valuable trading hours for this! Here PXtech’s Service Delivery Manager, Chris Hardy, discusses five simple steps you can take to prepare which will ensure a successful install with a minimum of stress.

 1.      Make sure the decision maker is available

 It’s rare that things go exactly to plan. Having a senior person on site who can work with the engineer to decide how unexpected problems should be handled minimises delays. 

2.      Have a plan and make some space

If a new POS system is going to be installed, think about where it will go and clear a space, bearing in mind the space needed for credit card terminals, barcode scanners, etc. Being able to come straight into a prepared area means the new hardware can be in place and in use as quickly as possible.

 3.      Talk to your staff and volunteers, and make sure they are comfortable

One of the biggest obstacles to a successful deployment of new technology can be getting engagement from the people who will actually be using it. Making sure that the volunteers are briefed not only on the introduction of the new system but the benefits it will bring to the organisation and to them personally will make any training and the first few days of use go much more smoothly!

 4.      Talk to the engineer

Having a professional PXtech engineer on site can be really valuable, so make the most of his time in the shop. Share any concerns you might have, ask questions, and make suggestions on how things can be laid out to best support your shop operations. Our engineers are a friendly bunch and will be more than happy to help!

 5.  Put the kettle on, nothing breaks ice better than hot water!

 These five steps are all very simple, but we often find that the store staff are unprepared or even totally unaware of our engineers arrival. With a bit of forward planning the whole process can be made quick, easy and effective.

The Importance of Embracing Change

Change. Change is one of those words we both love and hate.

We love to cause it for other people, but hate it being done to us. We know that change isn’t just inevitable, it’s desirable – an organism which doesn’t change doesn’t grow – but how can we make it less scary?
We work with experts in a variety of fields – amongst them world renowned engagement coach Richard Merrick.

Richard has a varied background of leading change in fast moving environments, and has made an extensive study of it. Richard observes that “It is easy to make assumptions, particularly in organisations dealing with the vulnerable like charities, that we can somehow protect people from change. Not only can we not protect them, we do them a disservice by trying”. If we try to protect people from change, are we limiting their opportunities to grow?
At PXtech we are in the enviable position of bringing change into many large organisations. We have experience of working with people at all levels, from the board room to the stock room, to help them come to terms with change. We find that, regardless of people’s background, what they fear isn’t change – it’s the unknown. Talk to people, engage with them, give them all of the information they need, and the fear of change evaporates. Where you have naysayers, listen to them! Their concerns are valid, and often your loudest critics can become your most vocal supporters once they understand the reasons and the drivers for change.
The assumptions that volunteers in charity shops are resistant to change is often based on people’s experiences with poorly planned rollouts, badly implemented solutions, or inconsistently designed solutions. Volunteers aren’t fools – they know that their time is valuable, and a new system which slows them down while providing no clear benefits is bound to be met with reluctance, and in some cases outright hostility.
Looking at this from the outside, it’s easy to mistake these reactions for a general antipathy toward change; it takes empathy to understand that this isn’t the root cause. As Richard says, “The most important skill we can develop is to empathise with people. Empathy is not a “soft’ skill, and it is not sympathy – it is about understanding, about walking a mile in their shoes and helping them see a way through.”
In our previous EPOS rollouts for major charities like Oxfam and Save the Children, we have had our engineers and helpdesk staff volunteer in charity shops, speak to volunteers, and role play challenging interactions – all to build empathy with the people they will be working with. Just as your volunteers are your front line, so too are our service staff. Where the two interact is of key importance. If volunteers’ first encounter with a new till was with a surly, disengaged agency engineer, they would be unlikely to go on and sing its praises. A PXtech engineer who knows the software, understands the needs of a charity shop, and believes in the solution will give a very different outcome.
As Robert Gallagher points out, “change is inevitable – except from a vending machine”. Rather than attempting to resist the inevitable, we must learn to work with it; even embrace it. Only by working