My Dreamy Behind The Scenes Tour of Goodwill

by Katy on October 21, 2014 · 38 comments

I am a thrift store geek! And because I live in Portland, Oregon, I am loyal to Goodwill. (Okay, okay, I sometimes cheat with the William Temple House thrift shop across town, but I promise it means nothing to me. I swear, It’s purely physical!) I hear from readers across the country about how their Goodwills aren’t as good as our Goodwills, and I admit it, I get a little smug. Portland cultivates its hipster reputation with its food carts, bicycle culture and Portlandia vibe, but I vote that it’s our Goodwill thrift shops that put us on the map.

Because the Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette (GICW) know what they’re doing. Clean, organized and filled to the brim with treasures for the eagle-eyed customer.

So when I got an e-mail from the PR department, asking if I would like a behind the scenes tour of the Goodwill of my choice, there was no hesitation.

Why yes, I would enjoy a behind the scenes tour of Goodwill. (Understatement of the year!)

When I, the thrift store geek frugal queen of Portland think of Goodwill, it’s all about the thrift shops. But of course, the shops are just a means to an end. A way to raise money to support their mission, which is:

“To provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment.”

And because the Goodwill thrift shops are so very successful and profitable, they’re able to do an amazing amount of outreach throughout the community.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning.

I met up with Dale Emanuel, the public relations manager of all things Goodwill and instead of going into the retail space, we walked into a different entrance which was kind of a through-the-wardrobe Narnian experience for me. (What? This was here the whole time?!) There’s a long bright hallway with offices and classrooms, and the entire length is dotted with framed photos of Goodwill employees and clients. And Ms. Dale knew the detailed back story of each and every single one of them. I madly scribbled notes trying (and failing) to keep track of all of the inspirational stories. From a woman whose traumatic brain injury left her with profound short term memory issues, to a young mother with a history of substance abuse, to developmentally disabled individuals, Dale shared their moving histories. (Goodwill does extensive outreach to homeless shelters, prisons and domestic violence shelters to locate people who would benefit from their programs.)

So many different backgrounds, yet all having Goodwill’s employment career enhancement services in common.

All the while, we’re poking our noses into their English as a second language (ESL) classrooms, the computer programming school, meeting co-workers and clients who all greet Dale by name and have a smile to share. Goodwill is proud that their entire mission is supported through their retail stores, and receives not a single penny in government funding.

Before I could ask about the controversy surrounding employees being paid less than minimum wage, I was given the full story and told that not one employee of GICW is paid less than minimum wage. None. (I also need to point out that each regions’ Goodwills are run completely separately, and the trainee whose family was upset was from a different region.) Also, GICW pays their job training participants. And because there are strict wage restrictions on persons receiving state or county benefits, training wages can result in diminished benefits. Each trainee does have an Individual Service Plan. And training wages are decided as a group and in accordance with Oregon Labor recommendations. (I imagine that paying a caseworker to put in the time to cut through all this red tape is extremely time consuming, and thus is not done as a cost cutting measure!)

We then walked across the street to the Day Services Center where I was introduced to a dozen or so developmentally delayed adults who spend their days finding community and learning important life skills. (Dale also knew the name of each and every one of them!) Clean, bright and filled with great resources, I learned more and more about where the money from my Goodwill purchases have been going. (Since I buy almost all my family’s clothing, gifts, furniture and household goods from Goodwill, it’s a sizable part of our household budget!)

Of course, no behind the scenes tour of any Goodwill would be complete without a look through the donation sorting area. I tried not to geek out too hard, but I’m afraid that I failed miserably.

Hence, this selfie:

Still life with Goodwill donations

I call it “Still Life With Goodwill Donations.”

And here I am standing inside the back of a Goodwill 18-wheeler:

I am very cool

So yeah, I kept my cool.

I learned a few new things about Goodwill, for example that employees are not allowed to buy any donated item until it’s been on the floor for three days. But I’m not too proud to brag that was able to teach Dale a thing or two, like that the pink tags, (which are new-from Target items) are never discounted. And when I pointed out that their mission is much more about employment than providing cheap goods, Dale responded that “We don’t raise money like a garage sale, we raise money like an auction.”

Then it was my turn to asking my burning questions:

How does Goodwill feel about dealers that snap up the good deals from the thrift shops?

“We love it. There are beaters and beemers in the parking lot.”

Are bedbugs are problem?

Donation sorters receive “training to know what to look for.”

What was your favorite Goodwill purchase?

A $47 white gold and diamond ring from ShopGoodwill.com.

What are some of the strangest donations that have come through the donation center?

“Bags of chicken feathers and false teeth.”

What was the most valuable Goodwill donation?

The most expensive donation ever was back in 2006. It was a mixed-media painting by masterpiece painter Frank Weston Benson, and it sold for $165,000 on ShopGoodwill.com!

The time finally came for my tour to end, and we decided to take a photo together. And when Dale asked me where I wanted to snap a pic, I knew the perfect backdrop. “In front of the wall of creepy dolls.” She knew exactly what I was talking about.

Goodwill wall of creepy dolls

Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette is about to open a brand new pay-by-the-pound Outlet store on Airport Way, their 50th retail location! I was invited to be part of the festivities, but tragically, it’s on a day that I’m scheduled to work.

It tears my heart in two, but I guess I’ll have to shop as a regular customer.

A huge thank you to Dale Emanuel, who took an enormous amount of time from her busy schedule to take an unabashed fan-girl through every nook and cranny of the main Goodwill!

Impressive Goodwill Statistics:

  • In 2013 GICW served more than 62,700 people with barriers to employment  through their Job Connection, Employee Career Enhancement and ESL programs.
  • Total 2013 revenue was 152.4 million dollars!
  • GICW has been the #1 Goodwill-retailer in North America for 23 consecutive years.
  • Goodwill’s administrative costs are less than 5% of annual revenues.

For more information about Goodwill, please visit MeetGoodwill.org.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Robinson October 21, 2014 at 4:39 am

What a great post! I, too, am a Goodwill geek here in Indianapolis. Our stores are amazing. It was so nice to see the stores from this point of view. Happy hunting, Katy!

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Lesley October 21, 2014 at 5:52 am

And a shout out to the uber-awesome Goodwill here in Iowa City. A benefit to being a Big 10 university town means awesome goods at Goodwill!

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Tina October 21, 2014 at 6:11 am

LOVE this! I work for a charity in the UK, which does similar work to Goodwill in supporting disabled/disadvantaged people into employment. It is THE most satisfying job in the world!

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Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom October 21, 2014 at 6:26 am

You geek really shone through here!

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Cheyanne October 21, 2014 at 6:49 am

Yay! I’m so glad you had such a great experience! I know a few employees and former employees of the Goodwill in my area and they haven’t had the best treatment (I’m in Southern California). Makes me sad because I love the GW so!

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Katy October 21, 2014 at 8:07 am

Sorry to hear that. Each region is completely separate, so they vary throughout the country.

Katy

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surviving and thriving on pennies October 21, 2014 at 8:16 am

My mentally challenged uncle worked for Goodwill in Beaverton for 20+ years. Not only did this give him his own life but it also gave him the power to have his own apartment and spending money. I support Goodwill because its a great company and they do take care of their employees. My uncle has since passed but I think of him every time I step foot into a store.

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Katy October 21, 2014 at 8:51 am

Thank you so much for sharing!

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Tina October 21, 2014 at 8:59 am

We have a great place in tiny (8000 people) Boonville called Savvy Seconds, which supports Unlimited Opportunities: http://uoi.org/ . My husband and I were just talking about this today and the great work that they do. It feels good to declutter when you know you can take your stuff to a place like this and actually help other people. And they provide affordable clothing and other household goods for folks here, in turn (the vast majority of my wardrobe that I’ve acquired in the last 6 years is from Savvy Seconds). UOI also takes in recycling, as there isn’t curbside recycling in this rural county anywhere. Their work is good for the environment and another source of employment for developmentally disabled folks around here. I’m a big fan!

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Theresa October 21, 2014 at 9:02 am

I’ve worked for both sides of the Goodwill Industries here in Bellingham, WA. It’s an amazing organization. I taught customer service skills, and did admin work on the training side, and worked as a cashier on the retail side. Did you know that a lot of the equipment (not the computers) but desks, chairs, file folders, book cases etc. that you see on the training side come from donations too. It saves money for the outreach budget if we don’t purchase those things retail, AND the motto is ” What we sell is good enough for anyplace!” They also have a special budget for people who have transportation issues so they can get free bus passes to get to classes etc. I’m pretty loyal to Goodwill too, although I try to support other small charity shops as well.

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Katy October 21, 2014 at 9:04 am

Good to hear! I fell in love with the Seattle Goodwills when my sister was living there for a few years. I especially liked that they let me register in their system as an Oregonian so I didn’t have to pay sales tax!

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Jennifer N October 21, 2014 at 9:28 am

I’d love to see a similar post for my local Goodwill stores. Which, are completely inferior to Portland stores, but seem better than many other areas that I’ve heard about.

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Dale Emanuel October 21, 2014 at 10:25 am

Your post is such a lovely way to remember our tour. Katy, thank you for honoring us with your donations and words. Next tour – behind the scenes of our two very popular Internet stores (virtual stores all your followers can access). You are the best –

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Katy October 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

So happy that you liked my blog post. Even though I admitted my shameful torrid affair with your competitor. 😉

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Dawn October 21, 2014 at 10:43 am

Wow. How cool and fun! I want to go to Portland and see these great GWs! I used to live in northern IN and the Goodwill district there was fabulous. The small stores, the bigger stores, they were all so well organized. I am near Birmingham, AL and the GW in Birmingham is absolutely terrible. I have found a few good things there but by and large it is disappointing. They have literally had the same terrible pieces of furniture there for 6 months or more because of the insane prices. There is a big chain of thrift stores here not connected with GW and I would thing GW would step in and improve this one to compete with them.
Okay–rant over.
What a fun day for you!

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Vickie October 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Katy, what an awesome story, your area GWI rocks!!!
I need to find out more about the one in our state. The store I frequent is always clean and orderly and I find the best stuff there. I love donating and shopping there – their employees are so friendly and helpful. My daughter plans her shopping trips to visit the one in our area, when she has lunch with me.
Thanks for sharing your tour with us. I’m a GW geek too! 🙂

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Sheryl October 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm

What is this about a Bins on Airport Way? Yippee! I seldom get to the West side of Portland (beyond the Zoo at least) and the Sellwood bins have to wait for me to have a bunch of errands and some extra time, but Airport Way is just a teeny detour when visiting my mom in East County, or Costco!

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Kristen October 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm

So jealous of the bin stores you guys have!

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Diane C October 21, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Wow! What a great day. Thanks for sharing.

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WilliamB October 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm

My area Goodwills aren’t that great (this weekend’s haul notwithstanding) which constantly surprises me – there are many, many wealthy people in the area who donate their goods. Where do these goods go?!? They don’t sort as well, either. I can’t tell you how many times a CD or DVD box has turned out to be empty.

Another difference: in my area, Goodwill employees are not allowed to buy anything from the store they work at.

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Molly October 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Eeek!!!!! This is so cool. I was waiting for this post. 🙂

This weekend I tried out our Goodwill outlet and found two outdoor chairs for $2 each. MAJOR score, especially since we’ve been scouring yard sales and clearance shelves for months for them.

There was one Goodwill in Chicago that was known for jeans. So if you hit up Chicago, go to the Goodwill on Washington in the West Loop. Like. Whoa.

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Diana October 21, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I’m glad you wrote this. I’ve read this about goodwill online “GOODWILL CEO and owner Mark Curran profits $2.3 million a year.
Goodwill is a very catchy name for his business.
You donate to his business and then he sells the items for PROFIT.
He pays nothing for his products and pays his workers minimum wage! Nice Guy. Read more at http://snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp#szYHockOr0zptGiI.99

And that other charities give the money back to a cause or the workers…that made me pretty sad with Goodwill lately…I’m still not sure how I feel about all of this…it’s hard to tell what’s true on the internet sometimes…

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Katy October 22, 2014 at 6:34 am

I’m not sure where this information comes from, but you will read in the article that not one actual Goodwill employee here earns less than minimum wage. It is some trainees in their programs, (such as ESL) who are earning less, which only to make sure they don’t lose their government benefits. The hour wage is carefully decided with the employee’s case worker, parent or guardian and the employee themselves.

Also, as Goodwill is a no-profit, there can be no “owner.”

Less than 5% of Goodwill’s profits go to operating costs, which is very impressive.

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marieann October 22, 2014 at 8:26 am

I not sure you actually read the Snopes article. It states that Mark Curran is not the CEO, and the present guy is paid $700,00 which is still too much (in my book) but no where near the millions noted.

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raccoongirl October 22, 2014 at 6:52 am

Diana, there is no person named “Mark Curran” who owns all of Goodwill.

Goodwill operates in 15 countries, each district is independently run with its own CEO and board of directors.

I work for Goodwill Industries of Alberta, in Canada. The rewards in seeing the smiles of the individuals we work to employ is so worth it!

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Mrs. GV October 22, 2014 at 7:59 am

I visited Portland this summer and my only regret was that I did not get to one single Goodwill while I was there! My closest Goodwills vary, since they are in different regions. One has set prices for all clothes which I love because it makes it easy to shop but never has any sales and the others have 50% off everything the first Saturday of the month but their prices are variable.

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marieann October 22, 2014 at 8:30 am

I donate to the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul. Mostly the latter as they are in a closer location to me. I shop at the SA but their stores are small. We have a new Goodwill just opened but I haven’t visited it yet.
Thank you for your info on the Goodwill in your area, I shall have to make an effort to visit the store

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Shawn October 22, 2014 at 8:40 am

I am a HUGE fan of shopgoodwill.com. Very honest site – the merchandise is as described and delivery is fast. My home state however does not participate so I still do plenty of shopping at the two local Goodwills. I sure hope that changes someday.Best get was a vintage Marx Dollhouse Mansion that on EBAY would have sold for at least 300- 500 dollars. I won the auction for under 50 and was thrilled as I collect dollhouses for pleasure and not profit.

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emmer October 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

i am offended at the money the CEOs of most corporations make, and i think that $700k is a lot of money–more than anyone needs. that said, he apparently knows how to make GICW function better than most companies and do good for the employees and customers.
katy, if you ever come out to the westside, there is a great little thrift shop called Second Editions. it’s mission is support of the Cedar Mill Community Library. they have good quality clothing, assessories and misc, but no furniture or bulky stuff. also friendly, helpful staff. this library is the only one in Washington County that was built and funded by its community.
in some regions, St Vincent de Paul shops are very commpetitive with Good Will, and with better sales
there are many charitable thrift shops and i try to visit them in turn.:-)

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Heather October 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Maybe it’s a regional thing, but our new from Target items get discounted, just like everything else. Actually, there are a few items that aren’t discounted. New backpacks, shoes, and socks, etc. But the Target Clearance is. It’s a good thing too, because a lot of time the price is too high. I mean, if it wasn’t purchased for $2.97 at Target, why would it be purchased for $2.99 at Goodwill (I’ve seen tickets for higher than Target price, as well as lower). When it becomes $1.49, we may have a deal!

My daughters and I share your love of GW. A couple of years ago, I was a weekly Target shopper. Now when I go to pick up a Rx, I often see something on clearance and think, “Hope to see you soon at Goodwill!”

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frugalscholar October 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I’m not sure how “good” my area Goodwill is. As far as I can tell, they mainly employ college grads. The managers fire workers for very slight infractions. Then the managers are swiftly fired also. The whole thing is very corporate. The employees are fearful.

I shop there (love thrift stores) but donate to Habitat and the Food Bank–their mission and finances are much more transparent.

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Allison October 22, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I’ve been donating and shopping at Goodwill for many (50?) years and have had good and bad experiences. I’m in Oregon also (Grants Pass) and we have a great one here, but I think their prices are a little high. Nonetheless I find some great bargains…if it’s not a bargain it stays on the shelf for someone else. We have great Salvation Army and St Vinnies here too.

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karen October 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I am glad you mentioned Goodwills are different in different areas of the country. I live on the east coast and several years ago there were articles in the newspaper about the couple who ran the local Goodwill stores. Basically it said they used free inventory to make a huge profit. I cannot remember what they were making but it seemed very excessive. At that point I decided to never give them donations again. There are too many other charity thrift stores doing good works so I support them.

So I guess the lesson is, do research and find out how your local Goodwills are run.

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Diana October 22, 2014 at 8:12 pm

The snopes article was something I saw online quickly in a search, originally I learned about it when people were discussing which charities to donate to online. I don’t remember the details of the article, but it wasn’t flattering towards donating items to them, it was better to donate to the Vets or other organizations that were truly run as a non-profit.

All these years I thought my donations were doing good for the world… After reading the article I felt like my donations supported large salaries…
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-hrabe/the-worst-corporation-in-_b_1876905.html

I want help to find the right organization to both donate to & shop at… It’s hard to figure out who is right & honest in all of this…

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Dale Emanuel October 23, 2014 at 4:14 am

All nonprofits must file an annual report. You can access ours via our website @ meetgoodwill.org. It will show the financials. The article you linked doesn’t represent my Goodwill system. Each system has its own service territory and is run by its own local Board of Directors. We have an A rating. You can access – thru your states Justice Dept website all registered charities in your area. There all the financials are listed too. Watch Dogs recommend at least 60% of what you give should go to the mission. That’s a C rating. The mission may be grand…but how the business is run makes all the difference how many of your neighbors are served by Your best intension. I love that you care enough to seek the truth. Take care and keep fighting the good fight.

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Katy October 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Thank you for sharing your Goodwill-ian expertise! I need a PR person to follow me around at all times. 😉

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Dale Emanuel October 24, 2014 at 5:45 am

I am honored to help in any small way I can, Katy. Prior to my life with Goodwill I was a reporter. I love to know all the facts. So many charities want to help in glorious ways, it’s best to know though how your gift is managed. Everyone benefits. Also, most Goodwill types love to give tours. Give the administration office a call.

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