Lauren Lawson-Zilai former, Sr. Director, Public Relations, Goodwill Industries

At the height of the pandemic, Goodwill Industries International faced a pretty significant challenge. People knew the Goodwill® name, and our physical presence was strong — but there was a disconnect. Despite a 94% brand recognition rate, there was a gap in mission awareness.

Goodwill is a 120-year-old social enterprise; one of the oldest, legacy 501 (c)(3) nonprofit brands and the leading nonprofit workforce provider in North America. People knew about our donated goods retail stores, but most were not aware that the revenue from the sale of those donated goods goes toward providing skills training, support services and employment placement, enabling people to empower themselves and create their own economic mobility. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic lifted the veil on many inequities that exist in our society. It was time to tell our story and increase our visibility as a solution. Goodwill operates under a federated model, with local headquarters and leadership operating their own stores, donation centers and employment services in their communities. Each has a unique lens as they have boots on the ground, are embedded in their communities and know the needs of their local labor markets. 

So Goodwill leadership joined forces with social good strategic communications firm, BerlinRosen, to embark on a listening tour of local Goodwill organizations, partners and funders. Our aim was to reach people who could tell the Goodwill story and help provide expanded services. 

Our key takeaways from this effort revealed where we could put a stake in the ground:

  • Goodwill’s long history makes it well-positioned to persevere through the pandemic. 
  • Goodwill is uniquely flexible in meeting the needs of job seekers and employers.
  • Goodwill is a premier nonprofit organization for workforce development.
  • Equity is a growing priority for Goodwill.

Recognizing that the pandemic accelerated a massive transformation of our economy and workforce, we created a five-year strategic initiative called Rising Together™, which establishes a system that enables faster and more equitable economic recovery. The goal is to equip 1 million individuals with sustainable jobs by 2025. This involves a two-fold approach:

1. Leveraging media and PR to gain public support for the initiative.

2. Partnering with like-minded organizations with funds to expand services that create the right infrastructure to support job seekers and career advancers.

Rising Together™ provides the needed skills and supports to job seekers through a combination of holistic workforce services and support, as well as builds and expands upon Goodwill programs that address systemic barriers in the workforce. 

Our strategic partners in the Rising Together™ initiative include Fortune 50 companies, and global philanthropic and business leaders. To address an ongoing skills gap in the workforce that prevents many people from competing for available jobs and earning a sustainable wage, each of our partners made a specific commitment and provided dedicated resources to help people skill up for the available jobs. Read their commitments.  

To create can’t-miss news for media, we launched Rising Together™ and announced our partnerships in advance of Mother’s Day 2021 to tie into the she-cession hook.

To gain B2B support, we began an integrated campaign. We conducted a radio tour that garnered more than 23M media impressions. We strategically focused on markets where these partnerships existed as well as larger Goodwill markets. Native ads appeared in several leading publications, including US Weekly, Reader’s Digest, Essence, US News and World Report, TIME, Associated Press and others, which generated 150,000 impressions. A series of digital ads ran on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, resulting in more than 2.4M impressions.

Goodwill organizations and partners use a toolkit of resources to amplify the message, including a draft pitch note, social media graphics and messaging, and a content calendar for data and success story sharing.

Recently, Goodwill also commissioned a poll, in conjunction with PerryUndem and using YouGov’s online panel, to understand the challenges faced by job seekers ages 18-65 and to leverage the results for PR and thought leadership opportunities, including a recent op-ed in The Washington Business Journal. The poll revealed that the majority of adults, more than 54%, are not in an ideal job with opportunities for growth, and most say skills training would help. 

The Results

Goodwill leadership have been guests on television, including Cheddar, ABC and FOX, highlighting their positions as thought leaders and opening the door to ongoing opportunities.​ We received notable coverage through a steady drumbeat of responses to the monthly jobs reports and the news of the day in business and top-tier media, adjusting our story and storytellers as needed — educating our target audiences of donors and stakeholders about Goodwill.

We leveraged relationships with reporters who are contributors and influencers in their respective spaces. For instance, we secured a New York Post piece by Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert, author, keynote speaker, and regular contributor for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, Business Insider, etc. This relationship has staying power, as she plans to now include Goodwill in her upcoming book about employment. We also worked with Jack Kelly from Forbes, who founded two recruiting firms, has his own podcast and is well-known on Twitter.

Goodwill thought leaders are connecting and engaging with business audiences in a personal and meaningful way. When a potential partner hears our stories and experiences, they learn there are real people behind our brand, which allows Goodwill to earn trust and authority.

With the increased awareness, we have secured additional partnerships and resources to support our critical work in helping people earn jobs.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • Prioritize media requests from various outlets, not just top-tier media like The New York Times or The Washington Post.
  • Allow ample time to review communications materials ahead of major announcements.
  • Communicate internally consistently to ensure clarity and visibility for strategic planning and related coordination.
  • Identify spokespeople who can be available for media requests ahead of announcements.
  • Create a digital and social content calendar to share with key stakeholders and potential partners to leverage cross-posting opportunities.
  • Plan to track impact data to highlight and break into the news cycle.
  • Uplift real people and human-interest stories and those with lived experiences.

Rising Together™ started as a communications vehicle with a national focus. As it continued to take shape, it quickly led local Goodwill markets across North America to create programing on their own that coincides with the coalition goals. While Rising Together™ was created to drive national and local coverage and fundraising, it has now become the strategic narrative for policy, sustainability initiatives and more.

Lauren Lawson-Zilai is the former Senior Director, Public Relations for Goodwill Industries International, North America’s leader in workforce training and development, job placement and other support services for people looking for employment or career advancement.  As spokesperson for Goodwill®, she was quoted frequently in news media publications and networks, including the Associated Press, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Forbes, MarketWatch Radio, The New York Times, The NonProfit Times, PEOPLE, PR News, and USA TODAY. 

She recently transitioned from Goodwill to join Shatterproof, a national nonprofit dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the U.S. Shatterproof harnesses the models of business, the rigor of science and the power of a national movement to create change and save lives through three pillars of work: revolutionizing the addiction treatment system, breaking down addiction-related stigmas and supporting and empowering our communities. 

Lawson-Zilai is Past President of WWPR, the founder of the Emerging Leaders Awards and a former member of the Advisory Council. She is also a WWPR PR Woman of the Year honoree.