Goodwill of North Georgia: Redefining the nonprofit

Goodwill of North Georgia isn’t your average nonprofit organization.

It is older than most corporations in the North Georgia area and among the fastest-growing Goodwill organizations in the country.

Between 2000 and 2012, the organization grew from 558 employees serving 491,000 donors at 25 locations to 2,425 employees serving more than 2 million donors at 124 locations. Goodwill helped find employment opportunities for 844 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2012. And its revenue increased from $18 million to $113 million in that same time period, a 527 percent increase in a little more than a decade.

To better understand the organization that has been serving the community for so long, Smart Business partnered with Goodwill of North Georgia to learn about and evaluate its services and business model.

A strategic approach

Goodwill of North Georgia’s mission is to put people to work, and this mission is interwoven into everything it does. The framework begins with a strategic planning process that outlines its goals for the following five years. It’s this planning process that predicts its growth, determines its efficiencies, defines its processes and provides the proper services to partner with employers to provide the job opportunities to those it serves.

Goodwill of North Georgia is the first donated-goods business in the world to hold the International Organization for Standardization 9001, 14001 and 18001 registrations. ISO 9001 is a standard that provides a set of requirements for quality management systems. ISO 14001 is an environmental management system that helps Goodwill of North Georgia reduce its impact on the environment. And ISO 18001 specifies requirements for implementing an occupational health and safety management system. These registrations confirm the high quality and dedication of the organization.

Business overview

All Goodwills throughout the world are members of Goodwill Industries International Inc., which comprises 165 Goodwill organizations in North America and 14 Goodwill affiliate organizations around the world. Individual Goodwills are given the freedom to design the services and programs to meet the unique needs of their local communities.

Goodwill of North Georgia has chosen to focus on driving revenue through its donation centers and stores so it can put more people to work through job training, job placement and job creation. Among all Goodwills, Goodwill of North Georgia ranks fifth in total revenue, fourth in donated goods retail revenue and fifth in the number of people it has helped find jobs, illustrating this focus has been successful.

In its donor services segment, the organization collects donated clothing and household items and sells them in its retail stores. Goodwill of North Georgia operates 41 stores and more than 60 donation centers. In fiscal year 2012, it processed 1.7 million donations and served more than 4.8 million customers while continuing to grow by adding 14 new locations and 156 new positions.

The facilities services segment of the organization cleans about 5 million square feet of space each day in the North Georgia area and generates more than $15 million in revenue a year. About 80 percent of employees in this segment have disabilities, and Goodwill gives these individuals an opportunity to obtain employment. This business provides top-notch facility management services to federal, state and local governments and the commercial real estate market and has been doing so for more than 30 years.

Goodwill of North Georgia’s career services segment serves not only individuals looking for work but also employers looking for talent. It helped put more than 10,000 people to work at an average wage of $9.86 per hour in fiscal 2012. Proving its dedication to its mission of putting people to work, the organization steadily increases the number of people it puts to work annually and is on track to put another 12,000 people to work by 2014.

Like any shrewd business, Goodwill operates its programs and services with an outcome in mind. The important outcome is how many people are now employed in the community; it does it by tailoring its services to meet the needs of employers within the community.

Business partnerships

Goodwill of North Georgia is committed to working with businesses of all types and sizes on a variety of projects. The organization is the go-to employee source for many businesses, and because of its stellar reputation and success in the community, it receives word of many job openings before they are posted publicly.

Goodwill of North Georgia has become known for the shared value it provides for both the community and businesses. These businesses receive workers who are fully trained and ready to work, and the workers receive a job that enables them to provide for their families and the greater community.

Besides hiring Goodwill of North Georgia’s program participants, companies throughout the area provide on-the-job training or utilize the organization’s training and employment resources. And Goodwill of North Georgia is open to other business partnerships that promote its goal of developing and strengthening its community.

Building cash reserves

Goodwill of North Georgia runs its business with a focus on building cash reserves of at least 30 percent of its annual revenue.

This strategy enables the organization to adroitly plan for anything that would be disruptive to the business. It has also made Goodwill of North Georgia one of the few nonprofits that was able to grow and expand during the recession.

Its business model also allows Goodwill of North Georgia to continue growing — as people outgrow the use of their items, they donate them. And at the same time, they need items, so they visit the organization’s stores to purchase them.

One of the misconceptions of nonprofits is they are not focused on operating cost-effectively and efficiently. This could not be further from the truth with Goodwill of North Georgia. The organization is focused on generating revenue and using it in a way that makes it a good steward of generous donations. It constantly looks for ways to reduce costs and live up to the highest standards of quality.

Maximizing efficiency through decentralization

Goodwill of North Georgia is one of the few Goodwill organizations in the country that is decentralized. The organization analyzed its internal processes to find ways to be even more efficient. Now it takes in donations at all of its individual locations and processes all donations to sell within 24 hours.

The organization greatly attributes its growth to this keen business strategy. It allows it to be more efficient because it is processing donations and getting them out for sale more quickly. It also saves on the costs of transporting the goods from various stores to a separate location and back again and on staffing for a separate location.

This process is more efficient and environmentally friendly. Shoppers at Goodwill of North Georgia’s stores are essentially buying their neighbors’ clothes, and the money and goods stay in the community.

Goodwill of North Georgia applies the decentralization philosophy to its career centers, as well. Instead of one central career center, Goodwill of North Georgia has many centers spread across its territory, making it more convenient for those who use the services and therefore enabling it to put more people to work.

Business processes drive results

Goodwills around the world are known for their donation centers and retail stores. However, not everyone knows the power of those donations and what goes on behind the scenes.

Goodwill’s stores are stocked with the items people donate. The proceeds from these sales support the operation of the organization’s career centers and other programs, which fulfills its mission of putting people to work.

Donations add up. For every nine shirts or blouses donated, Goodwill is able to provide one hour of resume preparation. For every chair donated, Goodwill is able to provide 12 minutes of career counseling. Donations have a huge impact on the organization and the communities Goodwill serves.

Because of this, Goodwill of North Georgia continually evaluates its stores to ensure they are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. As times change, it quickly adapts and responds to ensure it is still meeting the needs of its community. The organization takes good business practices that work well in its best-performing stores and implements them in its other stores. This standardizes the stores so they all have the same processes and makes it easier for both employees, who can easily relocate from one store to another, and shoppers, who can visit different locations and expect the same great quality and service.

Goodwill of North Georgia makes donating easy and convenient in other ways, as well. It has an area of its website ( where individuals, businesses or organizations can choose to donate money. If the donor desires, these contributions can go to a specific program. If the donor does not specify a use for the money, the board of directors selects a program.

And donations don’t have to be tangible — Goodwill of North Georgia also has volunteers who help the organization as placement call specialists, computer support assistants, class instructors, job fair support staff and more.

What happens to donated goods?

Goodwill of North Georgia accepts a wide variety of goods, including:

  • Bicycles
  • Books
  • CDs
  • Clothing
  • Computers
  • Dishes
  • DVDs
  • Pots and pans
  • Stereos
  • TVs
  • Video games and systems

Goodwill of North Georgia is grateful for all of its donations and does not waste them. Items that aren’t up to the organization’s quality standards or cannot be sold within three weeks are offered for sale to the secondary/salvage market.

Great business practices equal great opportunities

Goodwill of North Georgia provides job training opportunities for a wide demographic across 45 counties, including youth, veterans, people with disabilities and people with limited education, although its career centers are open to anyone.

Goodwill of North Georgia has eight career centers that are free and open to the public. The centers offer weekly listings of local job opportunities often not found online or in the newspaper, computers with Internet access and resume writing software, phones and fax machines to arrange appointments and communicate with employers, a resource library with materials to help job seekers prepare for and secure employment and other resources such as coaching and interview tips. These services are critical to the community as many job seekers need the extra help in securing a job.

Goodwill of North Georgia also offers training programs at these centers, including programs for single mothers, noncustodial parents and other niche groups, and also offers certification programs, such as programs for forklift operators and apartment maintenance technicians. Workers who have attended these training programs have impressed many employers with their knowledge, perseverance and professionalism.

Talented, passionate staff and volunteers who provide guidance, coaching and strategies on job hunting operate these centers.

These services are particularly important because of the current economic climate. Many workers, especially skilled and semiskilled workers who have been affected by the loss of jobs or reduced hours, need the career assistance Goodwill of North Georgia provides.

In response, Goodwill of North Georgia ramped up its training offerings, working through weekends and holidays to solidify its mission of putting people to work.

Focus on the future

Goodwill of North Georgia ensures its employees are cognizant of its mission — putting people to work. The mission is posted and visible in its stores and career centers and is communicated during meetings and visits by executives. This communication ensures employees feel connected to the organization and are reminded of the importance of their work.

The organization also engages its employees in its strategic planning process. Goodwill of North Georgia has a volunteer board of directors, executive staff and more than 100 other managers engaged in some level of strategic planning.

Also, when a new store opens, Goodwill of North Georgia President Ray Bishop personally meets with its employees to discuss the organization’s planning process and why the stores exist. Employees are encouraged to read and understand the 5-year Strategic Plan and then ask questions.

This method of engagement is a main reason the organization has been so successful. A thoroughly followed, reviewed and communicated plan is critical to an organization’s success, and Goodwill of North Georgia’s method of creating and utilizing its plan is on par with some of the top businesses in the world.


Goodwill of North Georgia is effectively and efficiently run and well positioned for the years ahead. The community-based organization owes its success to a dedicated strategic planning process and commitment to excellence and execution at all levels of the organization.

Its current plan calls for it to double its size and revenue from 2010 to 2014, and it is on target to do so. The organization plans to open five new stores a year and each new store will employ about 40 people. It also plans to add one career center per year. Each career center increases the number of people the organization serves by an average of 3,000 and the individuals it puts to work by an average of 650.

The bottom line: Goodwill of North Georgia’s services and programs put people to work. It is an experienced and capable organization that operates with an effective business model, uses its resources well and focuses on bettering the North Georgia community.

HOW TO REACH: Goodwill of North Georgia, 235 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30303. Phone: (404) 420-9900. Website: