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Sunday, 06 December 2015 22:52

Kathy Crosby, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

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Not just a strategy for manufacturers or consumer-facing companies, design thinking can also help nonprofit organizations grow and better meet the needs of their constituents. That’s the message championed by Kathy Crosby, the president and CEO of Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids. Crosby recently presented at Grand Valley State University as part of the school’s Design Thinking Initiative. Prior to her presentation, Crosby spoke to MiBiz about how her organization integrates design thinking into its operations, as well as what lies ahead for the regional nonprofit.


How does your organization define design thinking?

Design thinking is really about understanding the human need. We tend to think of it more on the manufacturing side … but in this case, we said what is the human need since Goodwill is about putting people to work. Then (we) went back and said, ‘How do we design services that will really satisfy the customer and impact the change that we expect to see?’


How has that way of thinking manifested in Goodwill’s operational philosophy?

When I arrived, we were in the habit of looking at strategy from the point of view of how do we continually improve what we already do. Particularly in the nonprofit sector, that traps you into a place where suddenly you may have been left behind. Perhaps there have been changes in the people you’ve been serving or the tools available to serve them and you haven’t really gone back and used all of the data to reframe the problem. So we said we’re going to really redefine the talent program, the talent problem that we’re facing here, and look at what the community wants to invest in and what they want Goodwill to accomplish.


What pieces of design thinking do you consider integral for your business model?

I think a lot of it is creating this huge funnel of information at the beginning. Today, where there’s so much data in the world, it’s really a shame if you don’t take advantage of that and look at all of the information available to understand what the problem really is, instead of making assumptions without that information. We recently created a business intelligence unit inside of our Goodwill. We’re getting to know all of the databases we have internally as well and integrating them so we know more about what we are dealing with and thereby we hope we create better solutions.


How does design thinking drive return on investment for Goodwill?

On the thrift side, it’s so visible. But on the service side, the fact that we have employers who hire from us repeatedly and advance people from us into more supervisory roles, that makes our mission more meaningful. It becomes a place to give your used goods because you saw somebody’s life changed.


How does design thinking help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions?

I think the importance of design thinking for nonprofits is starting at that place where you’re really empathizing and understanding the human need that you’re addressing. We can lose track of that depending on how long we’ve been around. This Goodwill is almost 50 years old (and) it’s always focused on jobs, but think about how much jobs have changed in 50 years.


What’s next for Goodwill in 2016 and beyond?

In 2016, we’re rebuilding (the store) in Portland we lost to the tornado last June. We’re also building in Mt. Pleasant. But I think the most exciting thing is that we have plans to open a brand new store in Grandville in the fall and that will be a great addition to Kent County. 2016 is going to be a busy year.


Many nonprofits are currently figuring out how to attract the next generation of donors. How is your organization developing its marketing strategy to target millennials?

We’ve been in the social media space more than other nonprofits, particularly related to thrift over the last several years. Although millennials are very important, particularly where we have stores in proximity to colleges, we also want to know who the customers are that are shopping at the Beltline store. We want to know which customers come back the most frequently and which customers spend the most while they’re there. That means that we’re not marketing at all of those stores the same way anymore because they are not identical shoppers.


That sounds like it goes back to the data collection and design thinking approach, right?

Absolutely. You have to collect that data and why we created that data inside is to have a group of people who know how to look at the data and correlate it to everything from the weather service to the payroll numbers to when you’re ordering merchandise from the warehouse. You have to have a group of people in all of those databases who are using the information to create a picture of what the customer wants.


What pending challenges do you see on the horizon?

I think that the challenge for us is to balance the dwindling government funds with how much can we replace. We do take some government funding, but my commitment has always been to continue those services even if the government can’t. So when you see mental health funding dropping, or when workforce investment funds are cut, that’s us saying, ‘OK, we have to earn some more money or we’re going to see people do without those services.’

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand. Courtesy photo.

Read 2569 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 00:03

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