Sunday, February 2, 2014

Goodwill rising, and what it means

Have you noticed the astonishing recent growth of Goodwill Industries, both in terms of local brick-and-mortar installations as well as their burgeoning online presence?
Goodwill has been around for over one hundred years, but it hasn't been around like this!!  I can remember when there was really only one visible donation location in the Clear Lake area.  Now there are eight...
...including this relatively new one right behind our neighborhood in the old HEB strip center at FM 518 and Highway 3.

BTW, how many local people do you think still refer to this as "the old HEB strip center"?  Yes, believe it or not, that corner used to be anchored by one of the original HEB grocery stores.  Years ago, I can remember driving down Highway 3 from north Clear Lake to get to it.  
What's remarkable is that there's a large and thriving Goodwill at FM 518 in League City, and another one just three miles south at the Victory Lakes shopping complex, at 2840 Gulf Freeway South in League City.
And the trucks are everywhere.  Here's one I recently photographed next to the League City Library.  
Their initiatives include forays into online book sales, particularly through retail giant Amazon.
I read constantly, particularly on issues of social policy, and I'm almost to the point where every single book I buy is a second-hander obtained through one of the Goodwill online retailers.  Different branches of the charity independently engage in these sales.  Here you see Goodwill Industries of Denver and Goodwill BookWorks.  
Goodwill's own reporting corroborates what is clearly visible on the ground and on the internet.
With growth like that, it would be a rare darling of the stock market if it were a public company rather than a nonprofit organization.  Screengrabbed from Goodwill's 2012 report.  
Here are the reasons why this situation catches my interest:

  1. I am a staunch believer in donating to charity, and I vet each of those nonprofits in which I participate.  Growth of the type shown by Goodwill tends to be a big-time corruption magnet, and so I took a quick look at third-party assessments of Goodwill's current cash flow.  While there have been some disclosures suggesting significant regional abuses, particularly in the area of excessive executive management compensation, Charity Navigator's current profile of the Goodwill Houston group suggests that significant financial abuses are not occurring.
  2. I am a staunch believer in bullsh*t detection and elimination to the extent attainable, and Goodwill's unprecedented growth rate speaks to the potential for public propaganda on issues of national economics.  Literally every day there's a new claim about "the disappearing American middle class", the continuing impoverishment of our country, and other perceived socioeconomic atrocities.  Two days ago, the headline rang through most major news outlets that 44% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.  Well, the proof is in the pudding (although I will concede that the devil is in the details).  How do we reconcile the stratospheric increases in charitable donations, particularly of hard goods, with this claim of growing poverty?  Walk into any Goodwill store and you'll immediately get the impression from the quality of the stock that those donated goods are not deriving from the proverbial 1% or anything remotely resembling it in terms of socioeconomic status.  Those donations are coming primarily from ordinary working people who can afford to upgrade their furniture, household goods, and clothing with new purchases, people who donate their old goods after doing so.  

We have our news headlines, and then we have what's actually happening, as verifiable through direct observation of phenomena such as this.  Investigation and reconciliation of those two diametrically opposed ideas, that we are collectively getting poorer even as we are at financial liberty to donate our material goods at record high rates, is beyond the scope of this blog.  But I like to throw questions like this out there because they are routinely picked up and pursued by entities for whom such work is not beyond scope.  Let's hope that this curious question catches the eye of someone equipped to evaluate it.  In the meantime, know that you can probably donate to Goodwill Houston with the assurance that your surplus goods and the value they represent are likely being managed with continuing integrity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'm forced to moderate comments because the spammers have become too much for me to keep up with. If you have a legitimate comment, I will post it promptly. Sorry for the inconvenience.