Edgar Helms let his heart lead him – first to journalism, where he co-owned a newspaper. Then to philosophy…earning a degree from Cornell. Then came religion – and a degree in theology from Boston University.
He became the minister of Morgan Memorial Methodist Church in Boston – and that’s where he was inspired to become an entrepreneur. The inspiration? Poverty. Helms was overwhelmed with requests for help from the poor.
So much so that in 1902 he took a burlap bag into the wealthiest neighborhoods, asking for items he could repair or give away. Soon he enlisted his congregation’s help in collecting used household goods and clothing. But he took that a step further with an innovative idea:
Helms felt that people didn’t want charity, just a chance to work and provide for themselves. Or as he put it, “a chance, not charity … a hand up, not a hand out.”
So coupled with collecting items from the well-to-do. Helms and his associates hired people in need to repair the goods. And sell them at low prices with the proceeds coming back to pay for the whole enterprise.
In 1915 they called that enterprise Goodwill Industries. Soon he began franchising that concept to churches and philanthropic organizations around the country
While Goodwill organizations are non-profit – they ARE businesses – with 2,600 retail stores around the country. And the business is BIG – with combined sales of more than $4.4 Billion a year.
Eighty four percent of that money goes back to pay for job training, education, employment placement services and other community-based programs … for people with disabilities, education issues and other employment challenges.
And the programs seem to work. Goodwill claims in one recent year it employed or trained more than 4 million people — and placed 170,000 people in jobs such as banking, IT and health care, where they earned $2.9 billion in salaries and wages.
Goodwill also provides contract workers for document management, assembly, custodial work, grounds keeping and more. And offers English language training, education and child care services.
And all of that funded by Goodwill stores and websites – some of which put items up for auction in a venue similar to E-Bay
Edgar Helms exemplifies an axiom featured on our website: Think unique. He built a self-sustaining, non-profit business, funded by sales from its own retail networks. And he franchised that concept nationwide.