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Goodwill is Leading Efforts to Help Get 1 Million People Employed Post-Pandemic

By Rob Acker August 4, 2021

As one of the most successful social good enterprises on the planet, Goodwill has long been a household name.

The organization’s incredible 94% awareness — a measure of brand familiarity — is a marketer’s dream. But as Goodwill’s new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Onney Crawley, told me during a virtual fireside chat conversation last month, most people still don’t know that the organization’s biggest focus of work is on its comprehensive workforce development program. Which, after a devastating pandemic that sent unemployment numbers soaring, is an area that Crawley sees as a massive opportunity for Goodwill to lead.

Throughout her distinguished career working for prominent consumer goods companies like General Mills and The Kellogg Company, Crawley has been an avid champion for brand purpose — something that certainly won’t be lacking in her new role with Goodwill. Since starting in February, she’s already off to a quick start leading a brand transformation aimed at expanding public understanding of Goodwill’s dynamic mission.

We talked extensively about her priorities in her new role, Goodwill’s biggest challenges, closing the opportunity gap, and the importance of technology in solving big problems.

Two women smiling while looking at a computer
Most people know Goodwill for their stores, but don’t know that the organization’s biggest focus of work is its comprehensive workforce development program.

Most people know Goodwill from the nearly 3,300 stores across the country, which, last year, diverted over 4 billion pounds of usable goods from landfills. A lesser-known aspect of Goodwill’s work is its workforce development programs, which placed more than 126,000 people in jobs in 2020 alone. To that point, what’s the biggest challenge that Goodwill faces today?

Onney Crawley (OC): From a brand standpoint, people know what Goodwill is but they don’t really know what we do. There’s often a misconception that we’re a for-profit company, but we’re not: 86 cents of every dollar we get goes into funding our mission, which is getting people back to work. Which brings me to the second common misconception: that we’re in the business of selling used goods. We’re in the business of self-empowerment and helping people find that through employment. So there’s a big divide between what people think we do and what we actually do.

From a wider perspective, the challenge for Goodwill — and the country — is addressing the inequities in job opportunities. The pandemic really revealed how dire that situation is. Even before the pandemic, workforce development was a big part of our mission. So we’re uniquely positioned to address workforce development during this time that it’ so highly relevant across the nation.

What does the opportunity gap look like when it comes to job opportunities?

OC: Many lower-wage workers, many of whom are people of color, disproportionately bore the brunt of the pandemic crisis. There’s a big skills gap that was already accelerating due to company automation and digital intelligence, and that skills gap was further exacerbated by the pandemic. The result is an even higher bar to get into the workforce and develop skills that prepare an employee for the future of work.

For the most vulnerable populations, a comprehensive approach is required to help them close the gap. We have to take into account basic needs like their access to childcare, if they have stable housing, what their transportation options are, etc.

Two men working
Goodwill’s Rising Together™ coalition aims to help 1 million people find sustainable careers by 2025.

How is Goodwill addressing this opportunity gap?

OC: The impact we can make is so visible. When I look at where we are now and where we want to be, this is a brand that wants to create and uphold a system that values the many different ways people can get skilled for a job. Whether that’s a degree or a certification or experience or something else — we want to create a more equitable world when it comes to developing skills and capabilities. There are so many people on the sidelines right now who are skilled, ready, and experienced, but because they don’t have a specific piece of paper they can’t get into those jobs.

We have a goal of helping more than 1 million people find sustainable careers by 2025 through our new Rising Together™ coalition, which will address all the needs of a job seeker — ranging from digital skills to transportation to housing. As you mentioned, we helped place over 126,000 people in jobs in 2020 across our 841 service locations, which includes career centers, staffing services, etc. We also helped over 1 million people advance their skills or careers with face-to-face assistance, and we helped 70,000 veterans with career planning for their post-service lives.

What role does technology play in your work at Goodwill?

OC: There’s no question that technology is critical for the success of our work in all aspects — corporate, service centers, retail operations, career centers, etc. The rate at which tech is advancing is exponential and we know we have to be technology-minded in our approach. We need to digitize our services, like career coaching, and continue to build out a CRM system that helps us better engage with our supporters and gives real insight into the needs of job seekers, donors, funders, etc. The digital investments we make now will help us be ready to adopt emerging technologies down the line.

Every aspect of our work will require technology advancement in order to be successful and sustain long-term. Being able to leverage the combined platforms that Salesforce has to help people better understand what Goodwill does is critical for setting us up for success and driving brand relevance. I don’t see any area of our business that can be successful without the implementation of technology.

Learn more about Goodwill’s Rising Together™ program, and learn about how your organization can get started with’s Marketing Cloud for Nonprofits.

About the Author

Rob Acker, CEO at
Rob Acker
CEO at
Rob leads, a social impact center at Salesforce. focuses on delivering world-class technology to nonprofits and higher education customers.