In focus: The Charity Shop Gift Card

Lee Fellows, managing director of The Charity Shop Gift Card explains what it is, how it works and how charities can benefit.
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What is the charity shop gift card and how does it work?

At its most basic, The Charity Shop Gift Card is a ‘multi retail’ gift card that can be spent at participating charity shops. It is bringing together retail charities to gain meaningful access to the £7 billion UK gift card market. We’re marketing the cards to consumers looking to shop more sustainably and have made the card available online through our website and third-party websites, via participating charity retailers, via incentive companies that supply gift cards for consumer and employee rewards and incentives, and via the gift card malls – the large racks of gift cards in supermarkets and other large retailers.

We’re also working directly with councils, charities and other support agencies that provide financial support to those in hardship as the gift card offers a more sustainable way to disburse funds, aiding the circular economy, reducing landfill and generating revenue for the participating retail charities.

How did you come up with the idea?

I can’t take any credit for the idea as this came independently to two different people; Sarah Cox who is our head of support has a background of teaching in an innercity area of Bristol and had seen first-hand some of the challenges families can have in ensuring that their children had appropriate clothing. She has always been a keen charity shopper but this passion took on a new light when circumstances meant that donated items became a necessity rather than choice.

After rebuilding the life of her and her children, Cox wanted to find a solution that would enable people experiencing financial hardship to shop ‘for free’ in charity shops so that they could choose the items they need with dignity and autonomy. She strongly believed that a charity gift card that could be made available to councils offering welfare assistance, food banks and other support organisations was the answer.

Lottie Bradley also had a hand. She has worked in charity retail for over five years and is currently the retail design manager for Save the Children. She saw a gap in the market for an eco-friendly gifting solution that could unite charity shops on the high-street and champion circular fashion.

Following an introduction by Robin Osterley, CEO of our partner, The Charity Retail Association, the two complementary ideas helped shape what has become The Charity Shop Gift Card. What I’ve been able to do is to use my industry experience working for a large global gift card issuer to help make the idea a reality.

What are the benefits for charities?

Ultimately this is about generating incremental revenue. Whilst some charities have already launched their own gift card schemes, The Charity Shop Gift Card is perfectly placed to capture market share from consumers who are currently buying and receiving retail gift cards for many other high street shops due to the lack of available options.

Critically, our gift card provides an effective, low admin way of working with councils, charities and support agencies that provide financial support to those experiencing financial hardship. Again charities do work with councils already but The Charity Shop Gift Card will
rapidly expand this opportunity that eliminates some of the known issues of lack of choice and manual administration. We also expect the gift card to introduce new people to charity shopping which will lead to a long-term relationship of support.

Our gift card also provides a new way to engage both individual and corporate supporters in a new way. For charities and social enterprises that opt to use the card as a way of disbursing funds to their service users, The Charity Shop Gift Card ensures those funds stay within the charity sector, helping not just the recipient but also the charity where the funds are spent. As charity shops typically sell essential items, utilising the gift card reduces the risk of funds being misspent and helps reduce the number of items going to landfill.

Being a social enterprise adds another layer of giving, with 65% of our surplus going towards funding free gift cards to people who need them with these funds coming back into the participating charities as spend.

What has the response been like so far?

We’ve been taken aback by the positive reaction to the gift card and the goodwill. The most common reaction is “how does this not exist already” which is always a good indicator that you’re on to a good thing! We’re really pleased with the uptake by charities so far and this is critical as the scheme only works if there are plenty of charity shops that are part of the scheme to make it work for consumers, councils and support agencies.

We have over 600 shops accepting the card today including national chains such as Marie Curie, YMCA and The Children’s Society, and expect over 2,000 shops to be involved before the peak gift card sales arrive in November and December.

We’re also getting positive feedback from the incentive companies that tell us that their customers are seeking more sustainable gifting options, something that charity shopping certainly is.

Is it easy for charities to set up and how do they go about it?

Our gift card is processed via compatible EPOS systems and we’ve had fantastic support from most of the EPOS vendors that work with charity shops, so for most charities there is very little to do to get started.

It is simple to use for both cardholders and shops, so much so that we’ve had less than ten calls to our customer service team looking for help since we launched last year. We provide cards to our charity partners with everything that they need to get started but do ask that they help create awareness of the scheme which is key. Charities that are interested in joining the scheme and that use a compatible till system can be up and running within a few days, so it really is very simple.

Interested charities can contact the team via their website or by emailing info@
thecharityshopgiftcard.co.uk

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