James M. McClelland

"It’s the economy, stupid" was the mantra of the early 1990s, as the economy labored through a recession. A bad economy means fewer jobs, particularly for those on the low end of the skills set.

The economy turned upward by mid-decade, but it also ushered in the era of welfare reform, which many viewed simply as a way to slash the welfare roles. And, even in good times, it’s tough to get a job without the training.

In Indianapolis, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana took a specific interest in welfare recipients and now more than 3,500 people find work annually through programs run under the organization’s umbrella.

The organization also provides assistance for the programs of other organizations in the region. Among those is an agency that finds jobs for people who are HIV-positive or have progressed into AIDS, explained James M. McClelland, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. Goodwill had initiated that program.

McClelland also is looking outside Indiana, working with Goodwills around the country and organizations abroad to help nonprofits work better together for the good of the people their organizations serve.

Many nonprofits talk about collaboration, but McClelland walks the walk and for that, he is the recipient of the 5th annual NPT Executive of the Year award.

These are just a few of the innovations McClelland has led at Goodwill that have impacted the community and may well move the nonprofit sector’s service community forward.

Goodwill programs

McClelland said Goodwill received state grant money to start a six-month welfare-to-work pilot program in 1990, which has spawned numerous programs covering a variety of populations over the years. "It (the program) confirmed that our approaches could be successful with that population," he said.

McClelland is considered a true team player and embodies the concept "there is no I in team." He usually begins each sentence with "We" and being the head of the team has always challenged him to improve the organization’s mission.

People who know him say that he thrives on challenges and has the pulse of the business sector. In fact, he said that he reads mostly business-related materials in his spare time.

He’s not only an innovator locally. He has developed a reputation internationally for non-stop ideas, which may be fueled by his passion for Black Thunder coffee — straight, no cream or sugar.

Total revenues of the organization have skyrocketed from $2.7 million to $40 million since McClelland’s been in charge. And, Goodwill of Central Indiana has certainly turned the heads of many in the sector during the past few years with its aggressive workplace service programs.

But, according to McClelland, the organization’s board of directors is mainly responsible for giving him and his staff the leeway of setting up a variety of programs.

"We have a very good understanding of what each other’s role is, and they don’t get in and try to do my job. They allow me to take risks (and) allow me to try lots of new ways of going about our business and accomplishing our mission," McClelland explained. "And they don’t slap my hand when something doesn’t work … That’s terribly important."

Program partnerships

McClelland believes there is real value in Goodwill’s large network of employers that work with some economies of scale in various services. "So let’s find a way to marry our resources with theirs," he said.

Goodwill has set up a joint project during the past four years called Career Corner with the John E. Boner Community Center, on the near eastside of the city and part of the Community Centers of Indianapolis.

Career Corner provides social services to area residents who are starting on the "self sufficiency" track.

Also located at The Career Corner site is the Specialized Homeless Employment and Training Initiative, which brings homeless individuals at shelters and transitional sites to the neighborhood center where they can access services and programs. Career Corner placed 312 people in the Indianapolis workforce in 1999, and 187 through September of this year.

The Success Now program, a three-way collaborative effort of Goodwill, Northwest High School, and The Indianapolis Zoo, assists around 12 Northwest students each semester who are at risk of not being prepared for the job market or furthering their education upon graduation. Since its inception in 1993, 130 students have been served by the program, according to Goodwill.

The HIV work placement program initiated by Goodwill in June, 1997 has placed 204 people in jobs. The program was moved to the Damien Center in downtown in January of this year. Goodwill remains linked with the center by referring residents to it.

McClelland views Goodwill as a community resource with some capabilities, but not the capabilities to do everything. Therefore, Goodwill has and must find partnerships with other organizations that posses added capabilities.

McClelland, a fifth-generation Floridian who originally wanted no part of the Midwest when first asked to train in Goodwill’s executive training program in the early 1970s, has settled in quite nicely in Indianapolis. He and his wife of 20 years, Jane, have raised two children in the area, which he boasts has the greatest NBA arena in the league in Conseco Field House, home of the Indiana Pacers.

McClelland wanted desperately to be an engineer and earned a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering Degree from Georgia Tech in 1966. But, he said that he never was satisfied in any of his endeavors initially following college. So, after volunteering as a van driver, transporting disabled children for the church he was attending in Washington, D.C., he knew he wanted to be involved in servicing people, but while also getting paid.

Shaking things up

McClelland said the organization practices what he refers to as creative destruction. "We actually stop some of the (programs) that we started. Let’s say we started up something. There was an opportunity. It served a purpose for a while, but it ran its course. Okay let’s quit doing that and deploy those resources somewhere else," he said.

Service organizations have over the years built a reputation of being passive in their pursuits of people who look for work, according to McClelland. Bucking that inclination has been something he has attempted to do. "We put some people on staff to go out and seek people who could benefit from our services — people who were not working but who could work, and who had an interest in seeing if they could get a job," he said.

Gene Tempel, executive director, Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, Indianapolis and Goodwill Foundation Board member said McClelland’s foresight has resulted in the organization’s success.

"He seems to have a great way of scanning the horizon and seeing what’s just beyond it for his piece of the nonprofit sector," Tempel said.

McClelland said the numerous alliances his Goodwill has developed and participated in over the years have certainly been a factor in the overall success, which ranks third of the 181 Goodwills nationally.

And that success can be found in the Goodwill Foundation, which was established in 1971 and serves as a source of seed money for organizational programs. Valued at $120,000 when McClelland became president — today it’s worth approximately $18 million.


Goodwill faces competition within the community on the retail side from the for-profit thrift store operators. Some organizations that have been in competition with Goodwill in the past have now successfully allied themselves with the organization, McClelland said.

There is some turf-related competition among other community employment agencies but he believes Goodwill has developed a very good working relationship with those organizations over the years.

"We’re not the only game in town," he acknowledged. "We just try and do the best job we can at what we do, and if there is somebody that is better at something than we are, then we’re probably quite happy to let them do that piece of it."

Competition is something the sector as a whole faces and McClelland said, "there’s great value in competition, and competition has made our organization better."

With that, McClelland said the entire sector could use more consolidation because it’s too fragmented. "I know that competition has made us better. I would not want to be the only organization. Knowing that there is somebody out there, or that somebody might be coming in just keeps us sharper and maybe we’re a little paranoid," he said. "Andy Grove, who was the CEO of Intel, wrote a book a few years ago called, Only the Paranoid Survive… Well I think there is a lot of merit to that."

Retail expansion

If you have retail shops, you need inventory. You can’t always rely in the kindness of strangers to donate unwanted items to stock shelves.

To fix that, McClelland, along with the heads of Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey and the Southeast Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago area, established a separate limited liability organization called Goodwill Services International. (See related story on page 6.) The new entity will be involved in purchasing damaged or returned clothing from for-profit retailers and marking it up for resell.

"If you go into any retail store — let’s say they have damaged goods that they have to take off the shelf or returned goods — they have to do something with it," McClelland explained.

McClelland has been called a visionary by most of the people with whom he comes into contact. Fred Grandy, president and CEO, Goodwill Industries International, Inc. in Bethesda, Md. said, "Jim McClelland holds a position of unique respect within the Goodwill network. He is year in and year out one of the organization’s best managers and esteemed leaders. Even though he frequently tells his colleagues things they don’t want to hear he still enjoys ‘E.F. Hutton’ status within Goodwill… When he talks people listen."


NPT staff writer Jeff Berger also contributed to this story