I WAS AMONG those who purged possessions during the pandemic. As I waited in line at the Burien Goodwill, I wondered which of my donations would sell and which might end up in the dump, burdening the nonprofit.

That’s what I wanted to find out when I started working on this story. But Goodwill won’t tell you. Donations are their lifeblood, and they are loath to create any hesitation or uncertainty that might reduce the amount of stuff they receive.

Behind the scenes of Goodwill, the first name in secondhand stores

But here are a few things I learned, along with some common misconceptions about Goodwill — and a shout-out to billionaire MacKenzie Scott.

Donation tips
● Don’t donate crap. You know what it is — the couch the cat peed on, the busted Ikea bed frame, threadbare socks, the contents of your junk drawer. Anything you donate needs to be reusable.
● Broken furniture is particularly problematic because it costs a lot to send to the landfill. Hazardous waste — solvents, pesticides, oil-based paints — is a huge pain, too.
● One rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d pay for it. If not, it probably won’t sell at Goodwill.
● But it’s complicated. Reading Adam Minter’s book “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale” — which I highly recommend — I learned about ingenious people around the world who repurpose wealthy countries’ castoffs. Entrepreneurs in Pakistan, for example, refurbish and relabel worn Levi’s and sell them to dollar stores — including in Canada.
● Bottom line: Believe Goodwill when they say they are better than almost anyone at finding the optimum market for your unused stuff.

● I thought Goodwill’s mission was to provide jobs at its stores for people facing barriers to employment, but that’s not the case. Evergreen Goodwill provides education and job training for about 10,000 people a year, and helps find jobs for about 1,500. But only about 10% of students go to work for the nonprofit.
● Goodwill doesn’t fix broken stuff. When the charity was founded, it employed people to repair furniture and remake clothing, but that hasn’t made economic sense for a long time.


MacKenzie Scott
The billionaire author (and Jeff Bezos’ ex) stunned Goodwill Industries International last year with a $20 million donation — the largest in the charity’s history. She also gave whopping amounts to 45 Goodwill affiliates.

Columbia Willamette, based in Portland, got $15 million. Inland Northwest, based in Spokane, got $10 million.

No one knows the criteria her team used, but many of the affiliates are in economically depressed areas. Evergreen — in Scott’s backyard — got nothing.

Though it must have been disappointing, local staff are far too gracious to say so. As the leader of Scott’s “neighborhood” Goodwill, Evergreen CEO Daryl Campbell wrote a letter on behalf of the entire network thanking her for her “extraordinary acknowledgment of the work that Goodwill is doing.”