I want to tell you about my first paid job. It was the late 80s, in the run-up to Christmas.
I was sixteen and a half.
Mind you, I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was shockingly inept with a pricing gun. And I had no clue what a sweet potato was. I’d probably have looked for it in the confectionery aisle.
But there were some things that I learned while doing that Saturday job that have stayed with me, and that are relevant for the charity sector.
Think ahead, come prepared
Most of my colleagues would wear gloves while stacking shelves. At first I wondered why. Well, we unpacked yogurts into fridges from plastic trays, and then packed the plastic back into metal cages. Working bare-handed, I would repeatedly get tremendous static shocks. Do you learn from the jolts you get in your organisation? Do you warn your colleagues to look out for them?
Share your knowledge
I used to dread being asked by customers where to find particular products. I only worked Saturdays and they kept moving stuff around. What I needed was a handy summary of where everything was or what had changed. How do you ensure that time isn’t duplicated in your organisation? Particularly, how do you help part-time staff feel like they know where everything is?
Don’t invent unnecessary jobs
One afternoon, rather than help out in the warehouse where I was needed, I decided to spend time sorting out the packets of custard from the packets of crème anglaise. Only later did I realise that they were actually the same product, with the french term on the other side! Do you have your version of the pointless task you do instead of the important ones? I know I do.
Technology changes everything
Working the till was quite a skill, requiring speed, dexterity and concentration, as we quickly typed in all the prices. But now barcodes and scanners have changed everything. Has your organisation taken that leap forward? Some seem reluctant to use modern processes and embrace technology. I’ve seen a few that still only offer potential supporters postal addresses for donations, even though giving online is easy to set up, and cheque books are scarcer. Think of the customer. Chuck out that till. Get yourself a scanner.
This is the big lesson for me. I learned in that job how often we apologise unnecessarily to each other. Someone would tread heavily on my foot, and I would be the first to say ‘sorry’! And do we not also apologise too much as charities? Shouldn’t we be prouder fundraisers? We achieve great things. Supporting a charity can be a tremendous life-changing experience. Why are we sometimes so sheepish about what we offer? Why do we consider that our role has a low status?
Our charities are not temporary, seasonal or part-time. It’s time to stop apologising as if we’re in the way. It’s time to puff out our chests.
Let’s be proud of who we are.