Goodwill of Orange County wants local residents and businesses to think of OC’s largest nonprofit as much more than a thrift store network.
As part of a strategic plan launched this year—one year before the Santa Ana-based organization hits its 100-year mark of operations—Goodwill OC is getting specific about its goals as a social enterprise that does more than recycle clothing.
“Goodwill of Orange County is most known for its thrift stores and donation sites throughout the county, but we are most proud of the work we do to positively impact lives through person-centered workforce development programs,” CEO and President Nicole Suydam said.
Still, it’s clear why many residents think first of the nonprofit as a retail business. The organization has built its brand into a thriving store network over the past century, with the nonprofit recently reaching $2 billion in cumulative online sales, just two years after hitting its first billion-dollar mark.
Those sales, combined with brick-and-mortar retail sales from the group’s 24 stores in the county, are simply a vehicle to fund the group’s true mission: workforce development.
Goodwill OC served more than 238,000 individuals through its workforce development services in the last 20 years alone. Through its job coaching and career support services, the nonprofit said it has placed 15,217 community members into sustainable employment in Orange County.
Goodwill OC is now looking to the next century, with a goal of doubling its retail footprint and workforce development impact in Orange County over the next 10 years.
At the helm of this multi-faceted strategic plan is Elizabeth Jensen, who joined Goodwill OC in early 2022 as its chief financial officer and helped develop the initiative alongside Suydam.
“The plan is very mission oriented. We want to increase the number of people we serve in Orange County and help them find and keep jobs, and to do that, we need to double the number of stores we have, which is our main revenue stream,” Jensen told the Business Journal.
Jensen was honored in the nonprofit category at the Business Journal’s 16th annual CFO of the Year Awards, held May 11 at the Irvine Marriott (see story, this page).
There’s significant demand in Orange County for additional Goodwill stores, based on the volume of donations and same-store metrics, according to Jensen.
The group currently has 24 stores and is looking to approach a 50-store count by 2033. It’s already making headway on that goal, with four new stores expected to open by early next year.
Goodwill OC leases the bulk of its retail outposts, though it owns almost a full block in Santa Ana totaling 11 acres that holds its headquarters, a retail store and an open-air marketplace where Goodwill auctions off the remaining clothes that haven’t sold in the stores.
“When you donate, nothing goes to waste or is thrown away,” Jensen said. “It goes to the store first, and if it doesn’t sell it goes to our marketplace, and anything left over goes to a recycling center.”
That process represents the greatest source of revenue for the organization, which had $166 million in total public support revenue in 2021, which also includes donations and contract services.
“The revenue generated through these sales goes right back to our mission of serving the members of our community,” Jensen said.
Goodwill OC’s retail success is bigger than brick-and-mortar.
The local organization, which launched in OC in 1924 as a branch of Los Angeles-based Goodwill Industries of Southern California, created the first and largest e-commerce auction platform created by a nonprofit in 1999.
ShopGoodwill.com today brings together items from 130 Goodwill organizations across the country, with more than 90% of an item’s sale price used to support workforce development, job placement and educational programs across the U.S.
Last year, ShopGoodwill.com generated $269 million in sitewide sales, up 10% year-over-year. The website, which has 3.4 million registered customers, reached $2 billion in total sales this year, just six years after hitting the $500 million mark in 2017.
Though that revenue is shared amongst the participating Goodwill organizations, the local chapter has managed the website since its inception.
Demand for the site is supported by demand for sustainable retail, a trend that’s picked up in popularity as younger consumers shy away from fast fashion and gravitate toward retail options that support the environment.
The online resale industry is expected to double by 2026, reaching $82 billion, according to GlobalData’s 2022 Resale Report.
Goodwill OC’s workforce development services and programs include job coaching, personalized career development, work experience and veterans’ services.
It is also a known proponent of career opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers, providing job pathways from a retail stint at one of the thrift stores to internal career roles, or by connecting individuals with other local businesses, such as Irvine-based medtech giant Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (NYSE: EW).
Goodwill OC’s headcount includes 880 store employees and 630 others.
“We aim to serve the community as a collaborative leader in workforce development, build career pathways and 21st century skills, support team member growth, and expand our nonprofit employment social enterprise,” CEO Suydam said.
That mission is part of why Jensen chose to work within the nonprofit world, specifically Goodwill OC.
“My goal is to steward our finances so we can better accomplish our mission, which is connecting the community with jobs.”
Elizabeth Jensen: Goodwill OC’s Financial Steward
Goodwill of Orange County CFO Elizabeth Jensen is a proud mother of three daughters, a role that has largely guided her career trajectory from public accountant to a leader of a top local nonprofit.
Jensen, an OC native who went to Mater Dei High School, attended University of Notre Dame where she graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting.
All three of her daughters have, or will soon, attend the same university, with her oldest graduating last weekend with an accounting degree of her own.
“The value of being recognized is in the example I give to my three daughters,” Jensen said.
Out of college, Jensen moved closer to home to work as a senior audit manager in the Los Angeles office of PwC for eight years, specializing in retail and entertainment with a focus on publicly traded companies.
“I left the business world after I had my second daughter and decided to stay home with my girls,” Jensen said.
After the family welcomed their third daughter a few years later, Jensen’s husband got cancer and passed away.
“It was a really challenging time that is still hard to talk about, but I feel blessed that my girls and I had time to be home with him,” Jensen said.
A few years later, Jensen decided to go back to work, this time as CFO of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, where she managed an operating budget of more than $100 million.
In 2021, Jensen was considering taking a step back from the business world once again when she got a call regarding an open CFO position for Goodwill of Orange County.
“I met with [CEO Nicole Suydam] a week later on Zoom, and decided the position was a great opportunity to dedicate my skill set to something bigger than myself,” Jensen said.
In addition to developing a multi-pronged strategic plan that includes doubling the nonprofit’s impact in Orange County over the next decade, one of Jensen’s current goals is to improve the nonprofit’s automated systems to improve accuracy when tracking inventory and revenue forecasts to better manage budgets.
“We don’t know what we will sell week to week, as we don’t always know what our donations will look like,” Jensen said. “This process will help track historical sales and predict future sales.”
Jensen oversees a team of about 25 individuals at Goodwill OC, which currently counts 1,500 employees.