Ponder by Richard Bleil
For some reason, today I am thinking about Goodwill. There has been a lot of criticism of late for this company for several reason. For example, only about 1/8th of the profit goes towards its charity, its poor treatment and pay for its employees, and the pay scale for the executives are all as heartless as any for profit corporation. So, is it charitable?
This is not a pro- or anti-Goodwill piece. It’s just the rambling thoughts of a blog author trying to work out something in his mind.
For as long as I can remember, my father and my sister used to joke about how they found me at Goodwill, and they laughed. I guess it wasn’t until later that I realized just how cruel the joke was, suggesting that somebody didn’t want me, donated me for free to Goodwill and they were only willing to pay pennies on the dollar for me.
For those who don’t know, this is the operating model for Goodwill. Basically, people donate old clothing (primarily although I know they also accept other household items as well) that may or may not be accepted. There is some kind of screening, as I’ve been told they have rejected items before, which is not really a surprise. People have big hearts, whether we want to believe it or not. It’s often too easy to be distracted by the actions of one or a few jerks to lose sight of the fact that most people have kind hearts. The Goodwill warehouses are of limited capacity, so I’m sure they take in far more than they can actually store. Naturally, they’ll keep those items they believe they can sell.
Once accepted, they put a price on the items and put them out for sale. In a way, this looks like pure profit. They take in goods for free and sell them for a fee. Now, of course, there are employees to underpay, and the cost of overhead like electricity, although as a non-profit they don’t pay taxes. The prices they set are very low to be sure.
These products can be of incredible importance to their shoppers. The prices being what they are, the people who shop Goodwill (like several of my friends) are not the kind of people that make a significant income. This gives not only the opportunity to periodically rotate their wardrobe but can also be an important step in turning their life around. Among the items I’ve lost in my current decline are my sports jackets and ties. Should I manage to get an interview, I will probably need to have a tie to wear and a sports jacket, but there is no way I would be able to afford new clothes. Goodwill is the best and most obvious path for me to take.
The reality is that Goodwill is also helping with environmental issues. On of the most recent environmentally identified issues of which I am aware is the so-called “disposable clothes”. A lot of modern clothes are made of various forms of plastics. They look appealing and great for a while, but they’re not designed to last, and the people who buy them are often all about the newest fashions and frown upon “last year’s” fashions. As such, much of these clothes end up in landfills, and because they are not natural fibers, they don’t decompose in a manner that cotton clothes would. Often these clothes are still in good shape and new enough that, fashion year notwithstanding, are still very wearable. By donating these clothes, it not only helps out the individual purchasing them, but also helps to keep them out of landfills.
So just how much good will is there in Goodwill? Again, I’m not here to sway opinion; I’ve tried to show the good and the bad. The wage scheme is, in my opinion, not a reflection of Goodwill as an entity, but as American greed and business practices. The Harlem Globetrotters used to have the best basketball players in the nation. It was always kind of an honor team, much like working on the USS Constitution which is still a commissioned battleship. This keeps her upkeep and maintenance part of the Navy budget and not reliant on money from donors and visitors, but the sailors assigned are not expected to actually go to battle. When the Globetrotters started, their pay for the players was a little bit less than for those on professional competition teams. The Globetrotters pay hasn’t increased significantly, but today the NBA pays far more making it harder for the Globetrotters to find the quality of players that they need. I’m sure Goodwill would make the same argument. To get executives of the quality they want, I’m sure they would argue that they have to pay as much as they do.
Well, maybe. Then again, maybe they should be looking for executives that have greater charity of spirit, but be that as it may, it also provides a valuable service to people who otherwise would not be able to afford good clothing, and it helps reduce the landfill burden as well. The Coronavirus is helping to highlight the importance of the “lowly” workers who now are deemed essential but still vastly underpaid. It’s also showing how things actually continue to progress even when the executives are not showing up to work. I hope when this is over people come to realize the importance of a financially secure base population and we start moving back towards a reasonable balance of pay between the people who keep the profits and the people that produce them.