Goodwill?

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According to the IRS Data Book 2007, the U.S. alone has over 1.1 million charitable organizations existing today. For every 271 U.S. citizens, approximately one charity is operating. Based on these statistics one would find it difficult to decide which charity to donate to. Well facilities that accept non-monetary contributions are often the easiest and most preferred choice of charity for Americans. One such institution would be the Goodwill. Unlike other charities, the Goodwill contributes a whopping eighty four percent of their proceeds to fund job placement and career training, among other programs. People that were considered unemployable have gained a sense of success and self-sufficiency through Goodwill’s assistance. The company’s main source of revenue stems from the operation of over 2,200 retail stores that resell donated merchandise. Retail sales generated 1.9 billion dollars for the Goodwill in 2007.

The Goodwill Industries International, Inc was founded by Rev. Edgar J. Helms in1902. His initiative was to collect used goods and clothing from wealthy neighborhoods and hire less fortunate individuals to repair or mend them. They would then either be resold or given to the people that refurbished them. Dr. Helms had a promising agenda; it was to offer the disadvantaged an opportunity to succeed through workforce placement. His goal was to help improve social standards among the poor.

Helms described Goodwill Industries as an “industrial program as well as a social service enterprise…a provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”

Why would a company whose message is clearly intended for the goodness of mankind be sabotaged by its own employees? According to an ex-employee, workers at a Cleveland branch would sift through newer donations and take what they found to be valuable. Most of the worthwhile merchandise wouldn’t even make it onto store shelves. Goodwill policy states that employees are not allowed to purchase goods until they have been put on public display for at least 24 hours. Yes, employees are supposed to pay for the goods too, just like any other civilian. They even get a 50% discount, as if that’s not enough of an incentive to stop them from stealing. Customers are supposed to have first choice in the purchase power of what donors have contributed.

The ex-employee also stated that workers have made remarks such as, “It’s not like the Goodwill is losing money; they get their shit for free.” Well if free meant paid utilities, advertising, and property maintenance, one couldn’t argue. But that is clearly not the case. Goodwill also accommodates to other obligations, such as the high cost of waste removal. Non-working electronics usually end up tossed in the trash. Proper disposal techniques are pricey. Mrs. Salem an ex-customer of the Cleveland branch affirmed that she arrived prior to operation hours one day and spoke with a gentleman that was dropping off donations. She noticed that he was carrying what appeared to be antique prints that seemed valuable. They were actually a couple of framed World War I, pre-depression era, genuine, Howard Chandler Christy bonds posters. Mrs. Salem asked him about the pictures and he offered that she take them. She appreciated the gesture and nobly declined. Mrs. Salem said she would prefer to do the right thing and buy them from the store. Once in the store the Manager refused to sell the Posters. He went on to state that all merchandise must go through an evaluation process to determine what fair market value would be. After a little persuasion he offered her the posters for $50 piece. Although Mrs. Salem thought the price was a little high since the posters did have minor damage and there was no verification of their authenticity, she accepted. The woman told the manager that she would be back within the hour due to lack of funds. Upon her return, the manager was gone and employees denied any knowledge of the picture’s existence. The posters were never put on display, never listed for sale. A month after the incident Mrs. Salem claims that she saw the same exact posters listed on ebay for a buy it now price of $2500 and the item location was in Cleveland.

Employee theft of donations is not the only problem that the Goodwill faces. There is a severe case of contributions that are stolen by non-employees; goods which have been dropped off during non-operative hours. Although some of the criminals are caught and prosecuted, they only make up a small percentage of those involved in the overall epidemic. Who really wants to steal from the Goodwill? It would have to be a really desperate situation.

Based on the rising prices of Goodwill inventory one can’t help but feel sorry for the thieves. Managers are instructed to price merchandise at a certain percent below fair market value. These low prices are supposed to accommodate the less fortunate, as the majority of their customer base is low-income families. What tool would a manager use in order to discern what a fair price would be? Well a current employee working at an undisclosed location reveals that her manager, (which was hired based on their ability to determine the value of goods) uses ebay for reference. She also states that the manager prices specific products on the average selling price of similar products sold on ebay. Now what kind of deal is that? The Goodwill is now raising their prices to meet the demands of inflation? One would agree, if so to speak, they actually paid for the inventory. Quite a few people have been known to scout thrift stores such as the Goodwill for the specific purpose of reselling the products online. The Goodwill not only offers people workforce opportunities but also offered customers a chance to make independent monetary gains through channels such as ebay. A charity such as the Goodwill should suggest that their managers not concentrate on raising the price of goods to such an extent where the core of their customer base is driven away; customers who are unable to afford the higher prices. But then again, why would they? The whole basis of the Goodwill is to raise money after all. Why not make the most of it?

Although there isn’t a way to monitor employee cherry picking and theft, the Goodwill needs to enforce the importance of honesty within their facility. It is a charity and the customer’s should come first as in all retail industries. The meaning of charity needs to be instilled among its staff members as it is the soul purpose of what started the Goodwill. If the core of an apple has a worm in it, it will spoil shortly after.
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