10/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Goodwill, Good Clothes, And A Great Business Model

In order to succeed, non-profits must be as innovative, contemporary, and relevant as their for-profit business counterparts. And many non-profits are starting to get it right. For example, PeTA"s advertising series featuring a bevy of nudie celebs like Pam Anderson and Eva Mendes touting the importance of fur-free animal rights, indicates that some do-gooders are getting the message: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In the case of Goodwill, the honey is attracting more than just flies thanks to a Good business model and Good marketing.

In this green blogger's pursuit for the best online and in-store thrift fashion, I keep digitally stumbling upon a site called the DC Goodwill Fashion Blog. These are the fashion musings of the DC Goodwill Fashionista, or DCGF, who seems to perpetually mock me as she combs Goodwill daily finding fashion treasures that I never will (the key to thrift shopping is diligence, patience, and frequent shopping.) Frustrated by my thrift nemesis, I decided to meet the DCGF, whose name and face is never revealed in the blog.

The DCGF, or "everywoman," thrift shopper ("you too can find a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress for $8.99 at one of our stores") met me in an enormous Goodwill van at the Rhode Island Street metro stop, and was to my competitive chagrin, the most enthusiastic and kind woman you would ever want to meet. Not as prepared as I was to beast it out in a thrift shopping joust, the DCGF instead waxed passionately about Goodwill of Greater Washington DC's 600 employees, many of whom are contract cleaning workers, and the differences between the various regional Goodwill organizations across the country. Goodwill is run like a franchise with each organization autonomously led by a CEO and executive leadership that use their own methods to best serve the local community. For instance, Goodwill of Detroit has no retail stores and in Indianapolis, the Goodwill organization runs four area Charter schools.

According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, thrift or "resale" is one of the fastest growing retail segments with an overall 5% growth per year, as opposed to a 3.5% growth rate for the entire retail sales market. The DC Goodwill is no exception with steady sales growth thanks to the Goodwill Ebay site, the online store, a new online bookstore run by Amazon, and a collaboration with Dell offering recycled and refurbished computers at a fraction of the price. In fact, DC Goodwill retail sales are up 5% in the last year, says VP of Marketing and Communications, Brendan Hurley.

Perhaps more ingenious than the retail options, is the publicity being drummed up by the DC Goodwill Fashion Blog, the only of its kind, which has been featured on National Public Radio and in the Washington Post, just to name a few. DC has gained so much positive press that other Goodwills are now sending personnel to investigate and learn the trick to success from the DCGF. But what is her trick? "Have fun with it, and don't mention Goodwill. It's about the Goodwill mission for sure, but even more importantly it's about the fabulous fashion and exciting finds at Goodwill stores."

And the brilliant PR/marketing doesn't end with the blog. DC Goodwill is holding its 4th annual fashion show Thursday, September 18th at the French Embassy in DC featuring a thrift runway show and silent auction. "This one will probably go for $500-- JFK's Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz's wife sewed while her husband was in office? Look at the detail that she did by hand."

The think globally, act locally method of franchising, has proven to be a success for Goodwill. So much so that although both organizations work towards a common goal, i.e. helping people, Goodwill is succeeding in making money and garnering attention, where the centrally run Salvation Army, is not. Donations to the Salvation Army are down 20% this year.

Never underestimate the power of a smart business model and a kick-a** thrift fashionista to energize a non-profit organization.