Goodwill and the Economy

Goodwill in central Indiana was founded in 1930 during the depths of the Great Depression. Since that time the organization has experienced the effects of several recessions, several wars, many changes in the political landscape at the local, state, and federal levels, and incredible technological changes.

During the recession of the early 1980s, it became apparent to us that nothing would help Goodwill or the people we assist more than a strong, growing economy. That continues to be the case.

Despite the economic challenges of the past several years, though, Goodwill has had some significant growth. At the end of 2007, we had 1867 employees in central Indiana. Today we have 2500, nearly 2/3 of whom have limited options because of disability, criminal history, or low education level. We weathered the most recent recession better than we had any right to expect. However, with continuing uncertainty about the economy, the toxic political atmosphere in this country, and a widespread lack of confidence that our elected officials in Washington will be able to agree on a course of action likely to lead to a renewal of economic growth , we wonder if we will be able to continue to grow.

Time will tell, of course, but at Goodwill we’re in a stronger position today than we were in 2007. During the last three years we’ve taken advantage of some opportunities that were a consequence of the slow economy and opened several new stores that have been well supported by our customers and donors of goods. We have also invested in and seen rapid growth in our e-commerce operations, which now employ 80 people. The success of these initiatives has helped further strengthen our balance sheet.

The largest customers in our Commercial Services Division, which employs over two hundred people with significant disabilities, are in sectors of the economy that are more stable than many, and funding for the schools we operate is likely to remain reasonably stable.

It’s not all positive, of course. The outlook for job opportunities for people who come to us for employment assistance is not likely to improve – and may even worsen – thus placing even more importance on Goodwill’s ability to provide jobs for a lot of people with limited options. That, in turn, is dependent on our ability to continue to grow our businesses in a financially sustainable manner.

Also, the amount of money we have to invest in new initiatives might be reduced by the negative effect of market declines on the endowment in the Goodwill Foundation. Fortunately, we do not rely on those funds for day-to-day operations.

The brightest comment we can offer about the gloomy economic outlook is that it will continue to be a good time for people to upgrade their education and skill levels. For those who lack a high school diploma, it’s a great time to return to school. The Excel Center, launched by Goodwill Education Initiatives in 2010, offers a viable option for many adults, and we’ve expanded the school this year in response to heavy demand. And for adults who have some college, but no degree, this may be a very good time to go back and finish.

We have no control over the economy. But we do have control over how we respond and adapt to the circumstances we encounter. At Goodwill, we will continue to take actions that we believe will enable us to have maximum mission-related impact while maintaining a financial position that will enhance our prospects for continued long term viability.

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