Thrifting Goes Upscale And High-Tech In its search for new revenue, Goodwill Industries has been supplementing its retail stores with high-end boutiques that sell designer donations. It's also selling a lot more of its donated goods online through auction sites. This year, it expects to make about $5 million in online sales.

Thrifting Goes Upscale And High-Tech

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

These are tough times for charities, and many non-profits are searching for better ways to raise money and broaden their appeal. Goodwill Industries is among them. It's taken a new approach to selling some of those books, clothes and collectibles that people dig out of their closets and hand in.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: It's Friday evening at a boutique in a trendy neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Unidentified Woman #1: I love that one and I like that one, and I really like these two.

FESSLER: And young women and a few men are searching the racks looking for something, well, a little different.

Ms. LISA TUMBARELLO (Stylist): This style is really cool. You can adjust this to be even longer and use it as, like, a messenger bag.

FESSLER: Stylist Lisa Tumbarello helps two customers choose among several cloth and leather pocketbooks. Another customer, Terry Thomas, has picked out a velvet-trimmed black coat. And she's pleasantly surprised when she goes to pay for it.

Unidentified Woman #2: That'll be $9.98.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Ms. TERRY THOMAS: What a bargain. That's great.

Unidentified Woman #2: Your total is 10...

Ms. THOMAS: A coat for $10.

Unidentified Woman #2: ...10.48.

FESSLER: That's right: $10.48. This is not your normal shopping experience. Instead, it's a trunk show, run by Goodwill of Greater Washington, which pulled together a selection of its higher-end donations for a one-night sale at this local store. There are even refreshments - sparkling cider and chocolate.

The nonprofit holds several of these trunk shows each year in the hope of attracting shoppers who might not go to a regular Goodwill store.

Mr. BRENDAN HURLEY (Goodwill): The misperception, I think, amongst most donors and consumers is that Goodwill's mission is to sell low-cost goods to people in need.

FESSLER: But Brendan Hurley of DC's Goodwill says they're really trying to make as much money as they can to provide job training for the disabled and disadvantaged.

Mr. HURLEY: We're always trying to maximize the amount of revenue that we can make off of each sale. A big part of our marketing strategy right now is to educate the public on that, which is one of the reasons why we're really focused on fashion. We're trying to reach a new and a younger consumer who might look at Goodwill as a realistic fashion option.

FESSLER: And hopefully become a loyal supporter. This Goodwill even has its own online fashion blog, with tips on great deals, like designer items with the price tags still attached. About two dozen other Goodwills around the country run their own year-round boutiques. More will be opening in the coming year.

But that's not all. Like lots of nonprofits struggling to make ends meet in a bad economy, Goodwill is turning increasingly online. It sells thousands of items on eBay, Amazon and its own auction site,

Louis Jones runs ecommerce for Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Mr. LOUIS JONES (Director of Ecommerce, Goodwill of Greater Washington): So let's just go through a scan here real quick. I'll show you how this works.

FESSLER: Jones picks up a paperback out of a huge bin of donated books at the group's warehouse. It's a Spanish workbook, in pretty good shape. And he thinks it's a good prospect for an online sale.

Mr. JONES: I'm scanning the barcode of the book right now.

(Soundbite of beep)

Mr. JONES: That sound you hear, cha-ching, means that that the book has been accepted.

FESSLER: Accepted because a national database tells Goodwill it can get at least $1.25 online, enough to make it worthwhile.

Jones says a book that could sit on the shelf at one of its retail stores for months might be snapped up in days on the Internet - often at a higher price, because the market is so much bigger.

This year, Goodwill Industries, nationwide, expects to make about $5 million in online sales - a small, but growing source of funds. And it's not the only charity doing this. Thousands of nonprofits are selling on the Internet. Earlier this year, the San Francisco based Glide Foundation got $2.6 million by auctioning off a lunch with Warren Buffett.

Clam Lorenz is with MissionFish, which runs eBay's charity site. He says it's about more than money.

Mr. CLAM LORENZ (MissionFish): When you click in, you'll see information about the specific nonprofit that's benefitting from that listing. You'll also see more information about what is the organization doing, how are they spending those dollars, and have an ability to click through and learn more about them on their own website.

FESSLER: He says it's about being creative and building long-term relationships with donors.

That's something Goodwill hopes to achieve, even if shoppers at its trunk show seem a lot more interested in the immediate satisfaction of getting a good deal.

Unidentified Woman #3: Ooh, yeah. I like that.

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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