Interview with David Alder of Click Collection | UK Fundraising

After an initial pilot, multicharity online donated clothes service Click Collection is embarking on expanding its service to more charities and serving shoppers across the EU. Managing Director David Alder spoke to UK Fundraising’s Howard Lake.

Why did you start Click Collection? When?

I saw that many charity clothes collections give charities a poor deal, and realised that an innovative approach could make them far more money. Typically a charity might get £100/tonne from collecting clothes from supporters. Our trial made £500/tonne for the participating charities.

The business concept was born about two years ago, but it took until the middle of 2012 to launch the Click Collection beta site for our trial. It was worth the wait, because it‘s a ‘gamechanger’.

What inspired you to create it? Have you seen this model work elsewhere?

I am passionate about increasing cooperation between charities to boost efficiency. Having had wide commercial experience I see too much duplication of effort and cost in the charity sector. The Click Collection concept came from chatting with ex-colleagues who worked with me on a charity recycling scheme for mobiles and cartridges.

The process was developed for clothes using similar advanced technology. The key innovation is the tracking of every individual item of clothing to the named donor. This changes everything. It means everything suitable for resale can be sold separately but tracked back to the donor, and that Gift Aid can be added to the value of the entire donation, retail and wholesale.

Many charities spend a fortune on activities like street fundraising to gather donor data. 100% of Click Collection users input their data. It’s just part of the process. That’s added value compared with black bags dropped at a charity shop! Whichever way you look at it, Click Collection has the potential to change charity retailing and clothes collections radically, with a huge boost to charity income and efficiency.

What is the current state of donated clothing for charities? Is the traditional model under threat?

Maybe I’m the wrong person to answer that! What do we all know? Many charity shops complain of a lack of good clothes to sell. We also know that literally millions of pounds a year is lost through theft of charity bags. And we know that Local Authorities are increasingly looking to make an income from textiles. So, yes, the traditional market is under great pressure, if not exactly threat.

I believe High Street charity shops will always have a place in the market if they are run efficiently. One day you might see Click Collection ‘multicharity’ High Street shops! Why not, if it is more efficient to collaborate? The ‘brand awareness’ argument only stretches so far.

There is also a lot of current public concern about the ‘High Street’. Whether from Mary, Queen of Shops or Local Authorities, the goalposts are being moved. But it’s the massive share of the fashion market now traded online that is the biggest driver for change. Click Collection is at the forefront of this change in the charity sector, selling the best of the donated items in our specialist multicharity online fashion store. And we can make a bigger ‘profit’ for charities than the average High Street shop.

As for security, Click Collection does things differently. Our system is far safer than kerb-side collections because each bar-coded bag is handed to a responsible contracted courier who is accountable for delivery to our sorting operation.

How can charities take part?

Any charity can join Click Collection by signing an agreement with us. The income generated naturally depends on the number of supporters, their generosity, and how well the scheme is communicated. As Click Collection is a collaborative scheme – so that charities get the benefit of economies of scale as we expand – we naturally want charities with a substantial supporter base to get on board and help spread the word as soon as possible. Every participating charity is expected to help communicate the scheme to the wider public.

You reported your pilot project was successful. What is new about the scheme as you embark on its second stage? What lessons are you incorporating?

We learned a huge amount from the pilot, and we are very grateful to the charities that were far-sighted enough to go along with us. When we launch the improved scheme in October the main improvements over the original scheme are (some already mentioned above):

  • Our convenient national ‘Home’ collection service continues – and we’re adding 5,000+ local ‘drop-points’ around the UK for people who can’t stay in all day to wait for our courier. Lesson learned: easier for supporters to donate clothes!
  • We gather personal data at the initial bag-ordering stage, and add Gift Aid opt-in.
  • We are introducing new stronger, larger bags for even greater logistics efficiency.
  • We’ve got an improved deal on wholesale textiles: now every full bag gives a ‘profit’, even if it contains nothing suitable for resale. Everything is recycled and sold to generate charity income. No creaming-off. Everything is transparent.
  • In agreement with PayPal Giving Fund, the Click Collection store, already an eBay ‘Power Seller’ and ‘Top-Rated Seller’ will operate exclusively under the eBay for Charity banner, saving eBay charges.
  • Our tracking allows all items to be sold by Click Collection on behalf of individual donors. This allows the charity to claim Gift Aid on both wholesale and retail sales.
  • The Click Collection Store will sell throughout the EU.
  • Click Collection has achieved a great reputation already. We will further improve our customer service to keep Click Collection at the top of the charity clothes market.

Who is the team behind Click Collection?

Our original logistics partner was one of the UK’s largest charities in this market, but they prefer to remain anonymous. They were very interested in our concept, and felt they could learn from the pilot as well as share ideas with us. We are now partnering with a major UK textile trade specialist that works with many Local Authorities and charity shops to collect waste. They have already made a significant contribution to improving our process.

You’ve started in the UK. Do you plan to expand the business further afield?

When our new Click Collection eBay for Charity fashion store opens around October, we will be selling all items to anywhere in the EU. That’s a step in the right direction. As far as collections go, I am keeping an open mind. There appears to be a need for our service in the Republic of Ireland, for example, but we will not bite off more than we can chew.

Frankly we need to expand step by step, growing our logistics and administration capacity with demand. After all, we want to provide a top-quality service for our charity partners.

That may mean limiting the number of charities we work with initially, adding more as our capacity grows.

Naturally we expect that Click Collection to be of most interest to charities without retail operations. But I also hope retail directors will be asking themselves if our collaborative, stand-alone solution may not be better for the charity than more ‘bricks and mortar’.

For national charities with only a few shops Click Collection can fill the geographic gaps, of course, giving immediate national coverage. It doesn’t have to be ‘either/or’. And certainly I expect a few calls from charities currently earning £100/tonne or so from clothes collections asking if they really could make £500/tonne with Click Collection.