Forbes Nonprofit Council members come from a wide range of backgrounds. And with their wide range of experiences, they have a lot to share with fellow members of the community. To help them share with an even greater audience, we’re profiling Forbes Nonprofit Council members here on the blog. This week: Jim Gibbons.
Jim Gibbons is the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides job training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged people. Goodwill operates 3,200 thrift stores across the country to deliver mission and fund program services.
How did your career as a nonprofit executive take off, and what do you attribute your success to most?
I had two big opportunities that put me on the path of being a nonprofit executive: working as a janitor and going to Harvard Business School. While at Purdue, I struggled to get a summer job in engineering, but I had an opportunity to work as a janitor at Ely Lilly for a summer. This opportunity gave me confidence and allowed me to demonstrate that I can show up and get the job done. But most importantly, it taught me that every job matters and someone is always counting on you to do your job so that they can do theirs. Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, these lessons have been a foundation of all of my work and of my passion for the power of work for the independence of individuals, families and civil society. My next big opportunity was to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, where I was the first blind guy to graduate with a Harvard MBA. This was a break for me, not only for the outstanding educational opportunity it afforded me but also for the ability to build bridges and demonstrate that pathways for blind people in the business arena are important.
It was really my time as president and CEO of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) that taught me I could use business to impact the lives of people in need. Goodwill then gave me an opportunity to reach a larger part of our communities with a broader range of disabilities and disadvantages.
How do you keep yourself passionate and driven regardless of how busy you are day to day?
Reading and reflection. Every day, I try to take a moment to be prayerful and recognize a higher order of things. A staple for me is the Lord’s Prayer. Having our daily bread and the right nourishment to help me to better the parts of the world that I touch is empowering to me. Starting my days off in this manner centers me, and it’s calming and energizing at the same time. Every night, I try to read something new, whether it’s a spy thriller, a presidential biography, or something in the realm of business, management or economics. I’ve found that it’s important to clear my head and glean new perspectives. Finally, focused reflection at the end of every day helps me to thoughtfully consider what I have accomplished, how I might have done things differently, and how I can ready myself for the upcoming days.
What do you see as the future of nonprofits?
I think nonprofit organizations will have to continue to be innovative and creative when it comes to measuring social impact. Like many nonprofit organizations, Goodwill has dedicated a lot of time to understanding the best way to communicate to donors and consumers how goods donated translates into social impact in their communities. In 2010, Goodwill launched the “Donate Movement” to encourage conscious donating by letting donors know about the power of their donated goods. This year we are piloting new measures to help us understand the impact of our work on the individuals and families we serve. I think having data to support social impact work will only become more critical for nonprofits in the future.
What is your best nonprofit leadership or strategy tip for businesses?
I think the best tip I could give to nonprofit organizations and businesses is to foster employee engagement and invest in the development of their leaders. One way we do this at Goodwill is to embrace a leadership-at-all-levels philosophy. In this thinking, we bring traditionally separated leadership and management training together and implement them at all levels of the organization. One element of this is community building. Community building includes activities that create a shared identity for the organization and increase the feeling of belonging among employees. Goodwill has seen many successes and innovations as a result of embracing a leadership at all levels philosophy across the Goodwill network.