Volunteer-Based Financial Literacy Program Empowers Goodwill® Employees

Family puts money into piggy bankA couple years ago, Goodwill Industries International instituted a program to help low-income individuals gain financial stability thanks to a grant from the Charles Schwab Foundation. In 2010, as part of this Schwab grant, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana (Indianapolis) partnered with the Indianapolis Charles Schwab office to pilot the volunteer-based financial education program, Good Assets.

Local Charles Schwab employees, as well as Goodwill® staff, teach financial education in a group setting. They also serve as financial coaches, meeting one-on-one with participants to advise on financial needs and goals. A financial coach’s roles include facilitating realistic goals, enhancing accountability and providing opportunities for practice so that participants can ultimately develop their own financial goals.

Participants attend three financial education modules based on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Money Smart curriculum that focus on understanding installment loans; instituting financial recovery plans; and understanding how to obtain credit. Upon completion, participants are eligible for one-on-one or group coaching where they can work to identify and meet financial goals such as paying down debt, improving credit scores and establishing budgets.

One volunteer is Ann Dickinson, an Indianapolis-based associate portfolio consultant for the Southeast Region Schwab Private Client Investment Advisory, Inc.

Dickinson is now in her third year as a one-on-one Good Assets coach. When she began meeting with her mentee, Cindy, they met weekly to discuss budgets, savings, financial goals and more, moving to less frequent meetings as the mentee became more comfortable with budgeting.

“Cindy has grown more confident in herself from when I first met with her,” Dickinson said. “She wants to be a resource for other people so we decided to co-facilitate a Money Smart module.”

Dickinson also said that when it comes to the volunteer process with fellow employees, “We now have a better understanding of how Goodwill Industries works and the education and benefits they provide for their employees. I have found that we are all trying to work and have a successful and fun life, so [this volunteer model is] beneficial to both parties. You go into it thinking you’ll help someone, but you come out of it saying we helped each other. That’s the most rewarding thing; I think I got as much out of this as they did.”

Saundra Jones, an Indianapolis Good Assets program coordinator who has worked in many facets of Goodwill for 15 years, said this has been one of the most impactful programs she has seen. While a paycheck is great, she said actually giving employees the tools to help them create assets delivers the most benefits.

“That’s when the actual shift happens; when you can give individuals some tools that actually change their lives,” Jones said. “That’s been my joy in doing the program.”

Some employees, for example, enter the program without knowing how to use a bank account. Through this program, they walk away knowing how to do this and much more. To this end, the Indianapolis Goodwill has also partnered with PNC Bank and Fifth Third Bank. Also, for participants who are able to save $250 over a period of time, they receive a $250 match and other incentives along the way.

Tina Nelson, Good Assets administrator, currently coaches two friends who requested joint mentoring. Nelson helps them learn about banking, enroll in the company retirement plan, and sign up for health benefits.

“My coaching experience has been as educational for me as it has been for the gals I’ve been coaching. It’s a very personal thing, being part of the change process and helping them steady themselves through a very anxious time,” Nelson said.

One of the two friends Nelson coaches, Lisa Payson, said completing the curriculum made her more aware of her spending habits.

“After the classes were over, Tina offered to go over anything that I had questions on and offered to advise me on my finances,” she said.

Going through the class with her friend means the women hold each other accountable for what they do. “I have slipped several times, but as Tina always says: ‘This is a work in progress.’ I try my hardest to get back on track to my long term goal of financial stability,” Payson said.

The first two-year phase of the grant helped 456 Goodwill retail employees. The grant’s second phase, which will last through September 2014, focuses on three populations: Goodwill retail employees, high school students preparing for college, and Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) participants. In the first quarter of 2013, 75 additional people had already enrolled in the program.