Goodwill Industries International (GII) is actually not a single organization at all – rather it’s a network of over 165 organizations in the U.S. and Canada as well as 14 affiliates in 13 other countries.
All Goodwills maintain the overall identity of the parent organization by using the “smiling G” – a uniquely identifiable logo created by Massachusetts graphic designer Joe Selame in 1968 that forms both a lower case “g” and a smiling face. And all Goodwills raise money for their employment and training programs by doing essentially the same thing – selling donated goods through more than 2,500 retail and outlet stores. But it’s the creativity used on the local level that makes each Goodwill stand out.
Take Goodwill of Greater Washington (Washington, D.C.), for example. Last month, the organization held a “trunk show” to spotlight some of its higher-end designer merchandise. It wasn’t just a sale at their retail location; Goodwill of Greater Washington had a professional stylist on hand to help customers choose the right items for them, and customers were served sparkling cider and chocolate.
Brendan Hurley of Goodwill of Greater Washington told NPR (National Public Radio), “The misperception I think amongst most donors and consumers is that Goodwill’s mission is to sell low-cost goods to people in need. We’re always trying to maximize the amount of revenue that we can make off of each sale. A big part of our marketing strategy right now is to educate the public on that, which is one of the reasons we’re really focused on fashion. We’re trying to reach a new and a younger consumer who might look at Goodwill as a realistic fashion option.” The organization even started its own fashion blog.
That’s typical of the kind of forward-thinking attitude present among the individual Goodwills, encouraged, no doubt, by the parent organization. In fact, Goodwill Industries International has become something of an online and social media innovator. Over ten years ago, GII started an online auction site called shopgoodwill.com. It was the first and only Internet auction site run by a nonprofit organization. Today the site has more than 576,000 registered users and has chalked up $100 million in sales – money that goes directly to help Goodwill’s mission. Over 5 million items have been purchased through the site – items provided by the independent Goodwills in the network.
On the social media side, GII makes active use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube —and encourages individual Goodwill organizations to do so as well. Arlene McCrehan, Senior Director of Online Media for GII, says, “Using social media tools to tell our story and integrating our online assets was key. …Social media fans and followers are the primary sources of online conversations about Goodwill.”
McCrehan notes that GII launched a blog and podcast called “MyStory” more than a year ago – “a weekly chronicle of lives changed by Goodwill.” GII also created a website that focuses on the “Donate Movement” the organization launched in June 2010 “to demonstrate how a donation can have an influence on both people and the environment,” says McCrehan. A “Donation Impact Calculator” on the site shows consumers the impact they’re making when they donate such items as a coat, a chair, or a computer.
The recent recession actually represented a blessing in disguise for Goodwill, since consumers flocked to its stores in search of bargains. In 2010, over 160 Goodwill stores opened, a net gain of more than 125 stores since the end of 2009. From January 2010 to October 2010, total retail sales increased nearly 10 percent compared to the same time period in 2009. In October 2010 alone, there were 18 store openings, and donation drop-offs that month increased 12.5 percent over October 2009.
Goodwill’s evolution comes at a time when fellow nonprofit Oxfam is looking to modernize its appeal. Goodwill has a strong foundation as it looks to the future, with 83 percent of store revenues help fund job training programs and employment placement services for people who need them the most. Consumers, meanwhile, are happy because they’re finding quality recycled merchandise at low prices. It’s a formula that creates good will all the way around.