Amazing work: Social entrepreneurship gives Goodwill a boost

“…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…”

—Isaiah 2:4

At a recent Rotary on the Move event, held by the Rotary Club of Milwaukee North Shore at Goodwill Industries in Milwaukee, we saw Goodwill turning old clothes into jobs.
“It’s about helping people and transforming lives through the power of work,” said Dan Depies, vice president of workplace & program development for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin Inc.
Once we toured the facility on 91st Street, we understood how old clothes, small appliances and books could fuel this organization’s engine and produce meaningful jobs.
“Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago helped 60,000 people improve their lives this year,” Depies said.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Goodwill organization, which also serves the Chicago area, is one of 165 independent Goodwill organizations internationally. The main source of income for this Goodwill group is its retail stores. Each store has a donation center attached, which provides the necessary merchandise to support the store’s sales. It expects to have 62 stores by the end of 2015.
The group’s retail division is headed by Vicki Holschuh, senior vice president and chief retail officer. Since the Great Recession, many nonprofits are turning to social entrepreneurship to provide a revenue stream to support their social services and outreach. Goodwill’s social entrepreneurship experiment has been a stunning success, which reduces the level of dependency on fundraising, development and government grants to run the organization. With the decline of government grants and the increased demand to meet ever increasing social needs, social entrepreneurship is one way of increasing funding. As evidenced by the rapid growth of Goodwill’s retail division, there has been a high level of consumer acceptance. The retail division provides a sustainable and growing stream of revenue to power the organization’s program.
“Our work is never done,” Holschuh said. “Our passion for our mission drives us.”
While providing a career path in retail management for its employees, the retail division aids in the achievement of Goodwill’s mission by providing jobs for many of its clients with challenges. Goodwill has established a number of partnerships with local and regional retailers and with recyclers, which permit it to obtain out-of-season merchandise from a local retailer and recycle many items that cannot be sold. As an example of these partnerships, Boston Store has a number of Goodwill Sales each year where it provides discount coupons to shoppers who donate used apparel and other items at Boston Store locations throughout the Milwaukee area.
The average shopper at one of the Goodwill stores visits twice a month. The stores are positioned between prosperous and low- to middle-income communities. In this manner, they have a steady flow of gently used clothing and household goods coming in to their donation centers.
Giving back to the community that supports an organization is critical to continued growth. Donors respond positively to organizations that address a social need, serve a common goal and invest their profits into the community. By developing a Workforce Connection Center, which processes up to 125 people per day, Goodwill has developed another free service for applicants and its business partners. It is assisting individuals with resume preparation and interviewing techniques. TalentBridge, a Goodwill temporary employment service, hosts job fairs and has helped 3,000 people obtain employment this year. Human resource recruiters are invited to the Workplace Connection Center to interview candidates. Currently, there are nine centers in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Whether it is the Girl Scouts selling millions of cookies, Paul Newman selling salad dressing or the Center for Independence repairing wheelchairs, nonprofits are applying business strategies to power their organizations. As was stated at a meeting hosted by Spano Pratt Executive Search at the Wisconsin Club, “Donors are drawn to organizations that are sustainable, with a diversified revenue stream.”
Nonprofits are employing social entrepreneurship to sustain their work in the community and are looking at potential mergers with similar organizations to expand their reach.
Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group that provides services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiation training and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point and Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at (414) 403-2942 or at

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