5 Intriguing Association Leaders: Jim Gibbons

By: Summer Faust

Many association professionals are going above and beyond in their work, but here are five leaders who are setting the bar with innovative initiatives and goals that will better their organizations and their communities.

Read all five profiles in "5 Intriguing Associations Leaders":

The Service Provider

Jim Gibbons, 47
President and CEO, Goodwill Industries International, Rockville, Maryland
Worked in associations for 13 years.

You probably know about Goodwill from personal experience: Combing through the racks for a Halloween costume or dropping off last winter's wardrobe. But Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says that despite its widespread familiarity, many people are unaware of the breadth of programs that Goodwill provides to underprivileged people throughout the country, such as training for careers in financial services, computer programming, and technology.

Gibbons is no stranger to serving individuals who face workforce challenges. Gibbons, who is blind, spent 10 years as CEO of National Industries for the Blind. During his time there, employment for people who are blind increased each year. At Goodwill, Gibbons has encouraged expanded messaging and initiatives, such as the recently launched Donate Movement, a corporate-responsibility platform that encourages donations and provides website users with an online calculator that translates donations made to hours of career counseling.

"The Donate Movement is envisioned to help Goodwill grow its mission and keep up with the increased demand for services by securing more donated goods," says Gibbons. "My vision is that the 'D' icon will become the universally recognized symbol for donating and that more people will come to know Goodwill's values and mission—sustainability, social impact, and innovation."

Gibbons says communication is important to him as a leader and pens blog posts for online outlets like The Huffington Post to gain visibility for Goodwill's services. "When leading and serving a network of members, ensuring that I'm listening, that I'm empathetic to member needs, and that I'm setting a course for the industry that the members are inspired to follow is key," Gibbons says. "Without constant, consistent, and effective communication, we lessen our ability to capture the synergy and power of the entire network and thereby lessen our ability to serve more people."

Associations Now: You've spent much of your career advocating for workforce development opportunities for others. What motivates you, and how do you overcome your own obstacles to help others do the same?

Jim Gibbons: When you look at an organization like Goodwill, there is a role of both leadership and service, and my job is really one of leadership when it comes to growth, mission services, and the Goodwill name and brand. It's one of service when it comes to putting tools and resources in the hands of our network of Goodwills so that they can be more effective in the hands of their community.

Goodwill's growth is imperative for the success in the community. When you are dealing with globalization, a more competitive environment, and tougher economic times, Goodwill's relevance is greater. Goodwills stand ready to ensure that, in the 21st century, people with disabilities, people with a lack of education, or people who are facing significant challenges aren't left behind. My goal is to take our initiatives to another level to impact both people in local communities and the planet.

Goodwill consistently introduces new initiatives—upscale boutiques in New York City, online shopping, and now the Donate Movement—to encourage donations, shoppers, and assist disadvantaged workers. Why is innovation and creativity important for you and your organization?

We evolve the brand and lead the charge with our creativity. We are able to grow our mission by reaching different demographics. Work is a part of our identity and part of our dignity. We can only demonstrate the value of the impact we are having on the people we are serving through creative and strategic initiatives.

Why is it important to you to speak out about what your organization is doing in your own blog posts and interviews?

I think it is the job of a leader to be transparent and speak on behalf of the organization, but when you consider Goodwill, our mission and the people we serve, playing the spokesperson role is just plain fun, and I'm honored to do it.

Online Extra: Extended Interview With Jim Gibbons

Before working in associations, I'd thought I'd be… I'd always wanted to be the CEO of an exciting social enterprise, and Goodwill gives me the opportunity to oversee a caring community enterprise made of membership organizations. It allows me the opportunity to leverage my leadership and association management and networking skills to provide training and employment opportunities for people to achieve economic stability and build strong families and vibrant communities.

One of the biggest issues that my organization is facing right now is … Virtually everyone knows who Goodwill is and the good work we do. However, many people aren't fully aware of the breadth of programs and services Goodwills provide throughout North America. For example, Goodwill trains people for careers in fields such as financial services, computer programming, manufacturing, and emerging industries, including technology and health care. Goodwill also provides support services, such as transportation, childcare or financial literacy courses. In addition, Goodwill has a partnership with Dell, known as Reconnect, which is a free drop-off program for consumers who want to responsibly recycle any brand of unwanted computer equipment. Not only does the partnership divert used computers from area landfills and preserve our environment, but it also translates into jobs and training opportunities for people in your local community. By repairing and rebuilding computers, Goodwill program participants learn to be computer technicians, and our recycling programs create new work opportunities.

I'm most proud of …The people we serve and their constant demonstration of the human potential. Take Richard Lopez, our Achiever of the Year, for example. Richard and his wife were both addicted to drugs and alcohol. Richard knew he needed to make a change, but keeping a job was his biggest challenge — in fact, he worked 16 different jobs in four years before he approached the Commercial Services Division at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas (Austin). After only four months as a mailroom clerk, he was promoted, and soon served as a mentor for new employees. After several years of hard work, he was promoted again to become the Goodwill's contracts supervisor in charge of managing two state contracts.

Richard, who has worked at Goodwill for 12 years, believes that his family members would have had different lives if he had not found Goodwill.

But this is only one example of the many success stories that take place everywhere with Goodwill. You can read other success stories through the MyStory feature on our website.

The best piece of advice I ever received was … At an early stage in my career, I was encouraged to seek out a good mentor and take advantage of mentoring opportunities where I could grow and enrich my skills.

My best advice to give is … Keep hope alive, develop skills, and never give up. This is the piece of advice I often give to the people we serve when I conduct site visits to local Goodwills.

Summer Faust is project editor at ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Read all five profiles in "5 Intriguing Associations Leaders":