It seems the downturn in the amount of goods being donated to charity shops is continuing.

David Moir, head of policy at the Association of Charity Shops, is reported in The Guardian as saying:

<"While we are getting reports from some members of increased demand, the main effect (of recession) is that people are not replacing their existing clothes.

"They may be selling some on eBay but they are definitely not donating them in the same volumes. When people are worried and money is tight, people tend to hoard.

"But we have, we are, and we will, continue to send out the message that unwanted clothing and other items can make an enormous difference if sold through charity shops."

Other charities are reporting a similar story. 

Cancer Research UK is desperate for stock and has recently launched a detox your wardrobe campaign to encourage people to donate unwanted clothes and accessories.

It's the same for BHF. Chief executive, Ken Blair reports that sales are up but stock supplies are down.

And at the end of 2008, Barbara Buckley, the PDSA's charity shop manager on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh was reporting that sales have increased 10 to 15 per cent on last year, with a large number of new customers:

'We've never seen many of them before,' she says. 'They're talking openly about their finances at the tills and all say they're very short of cash.'

Oxfam continues to buck the trend. I've already blogged about their partnership deal with M&S, which was launched a year ago this week (Oxfam offer a £5 M&S voucher for each bag of goods that contains at least one M&S item). It's reported that this has raised an additional £1.7m over the last 12 months. 

Innovative on-line thinking has also driven sales. Oxfam's web shop now sells more than virtual and ethical gifts. A wide selection of donated goods are also available. As a result, year on year to this January, visits to the online shop have gone up by 200% and sales by 250%.

But there are new ideas being tested elsewhere too.

I was perusing my regular copy of the Wiltshire Times (incorporating Chippenham News) when I saw details of an experiment being undertaken by the Sue Ryder Care charity shop in Melksham.

From Monday, customers will be able to pay whatever they think goods are worth, as staff remove all fixed prices from donated items. It's an interesting approach. It re-positions the shop in the charity marketplace. Rather than simply being a fund-raising vehicle it becomes a community service too. 

As Helen Reynolds, business manger for the charity's shops in Wiltshire says:

“Hopefully it will help people who need that extra jumper or coat or cutlery, but can’t afford it."

This is a new dimension in appealing for donations. 

Oxfam is in reality buying stock with the M&S vouchers; Sue Ryder Care is saying to donors that clothes will go to people – who really need them – at the price they can afford. This, at a time of recession, may drive stock donations by giving people a chance to help the people of Melksham who have fallen on hard times. 

It will also be used as a means to determine if traditional pricing models are focussed too high or too low.

Helen cites Radiohead's, In Rainbows experiment as the inspiration for her test.

Choice and honour based pricing isn't new. The New York Times, Freakonomics blog, reports on a range of different businesses that have attempted it with various degrees of success. The latest being a test on Boxing Day.

I'd love to find out how the idea turned out in practice and I'll be trying to get in touch with Helen next week so I can report back on what happened.

But the whole test has got me thinking. Suggested donation levels are a normal part of cash fundraising. We use it in our postal appeals all the time. Sometimes people give more, sometimes they give less. What would happen in a charity shop if all prices were simply suggested – giving people permission to choose what they paid within a controlled framework? That would be interesting!

It makes me wish I was still in charge of the 100 odd YMCA charity shops that I used to have responsibility for.