Goodwill Columbus uses social enterprise to advance its mission

Celebrating its 75th anniversary, Goodwill Columbus continues to steadfastly and passionately support its mission of “transforming the lives of individuals with disabilities and other barriers in our community through pathways towards independence and the power of work.”

Although most often recognized for its retail stores, Goodwill Columbus provides a diverse range of services, including day programs and residential service for individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as workforce development support to individuals with disabilities and other barriers including ex-offenders, veterans, the formerly homeless and those with English as a second language, limited education and mental health diagnoses.

“We take a holistic approach to changing lives,” says President and CEO Margie Pizzuti. “Our capable team members dig deep to provide meaningful services to the individuals we serve by not only providing job training services, but also helping individuals work through their own unique barriers to achieve more independent and fulfilling lives.”

The agency’s social enterprise model plays a vital part in fulfilling this mission. Smart Business spoke with Pizzuti about the work of Goodwill Columbus.

SB: Your stores are an example of a social enterprise model, a growing trend for nonprofits. Why do you think this model is so successful?

MP: The funding landscape, both nationally and locally, continues to significantly stretch government, foundation and corporate funding resources, while the needs of our community’s most vulnerable citizens are ever increasing.

Nonprofit organizations that advance the model of social enterprise through the businesses we operate find a level of predictability and financial stability with these revenue streams to support our vital programs, many of which are subsidized by these additional sources of income.

It is especially important for Goodwill’s mission since those business operations provide opportunities to train and employ individuals with disabilities and other barriers, many of whom need that first transitional job experience to include on their resumes.

Also, our agency’s ability to demonstrate a return on investment in our social enterprises that we can, in turn, reinvest into our mission services, offers a compelling case for philanthropic and public grant support.

SB: Beyond the stores, what other social enterprises do you have?

MP: Goodwill has pursued a variety of social enterprise opportunities, given its long success as entrepreneurs, both locally and throughout the country.

We have been operating contract services in both janitorial and unarmed security for more than 30 years through contracts with state agencies. These business relationships generate earned income to support mission services and employ individuals.

In addition, Goodwill began a startup, Auto Auction, in 2004.

SB: With your history with this business model, how would you advise other organizations?

MP: For those organizations committed to pursuing a social enterprise business model, there are three key factors to consider. First, the board of directors must fully embrace this approach, given the investment and some risk that will be required to succeed.

A rigorous and intentional evaluation/exploration process of the organization’s key competencies and potential business opportunities also should be conducted. This will guide the direction that the social enterprise path will take.

Finally, organizational buy-in — especially from the leadership team — is imperative.

SB: How do your social enterprises relate back to Goodwill’s mission?

MP: Our businesses not only create opportunities to help fund our programs but also to employ individuals. Goodwill understands the transformative benefits of employment and we believe in taking a holistic approach.

We offer family strengthening resources to ensure employees have the tools they need to balance the demands of work and home. From money management classes to personal fitness assistance, we connect employees with the tools they need to thrive.

By empowering individuals most in need to become more self-reliant, we are helping to make a stronger Central Ohio.

SB: What are some recent accomplishments, as well as a glimpse into what the future holds for Goodwill Columbus?

MP: In 2013 our agency served nearly 4,000 individuals representing more than 2 million hours of, often, high-touch support. It is difficult to convey in words the passion and hard work those 2 million hours represent. Our staff takes special care to work through a variety of challenges with each individual — going the extra mile to help them reach their personal goals.

Goodwill also expanded the reach of its mission through community collaborations. After stellar outcomes from a pilot program, Goodwill’s Workforce Development program was awarded a three-year grant in partnership with the Community Shelter Board to serve formerly homeless jobseekers who now live in permanent supportive housing.

In addition, Goodwill takes in thousands of donations each month, and those items that cannot be sold are responsibly recycled. In 2013 alone, Goodwill diverted 5,873,536 pounds of waste from Central Ohio landfills.

For the future, Goodwill Columbus is working to make an even bigger impact. That means exploring new business opportunities and expanding our existing lines of business, including growth in our donated goods retail operations, in the interest of generating more support so that we can change more lives.