Kimberly Bowers Rollins speaking at a Goodwill of Greater Washington graduation

Working to help others work

July 12, 2021
Goodwill VP raises funds to support workforce development for people with challenges to employment

At its pre-pandemic peak, Goodwill of Greater Washington employed more than 1,000 team members. When the coronavirus pandemic shut down its retail stores overnight, the nonprofit had to furlough the majority of its staff for three months. But Goodwill of Greater Washington, which provides education and employment training and services to individuals experiencing challenges to employment, never shut down its client outreach. Instead, it ramped it up.

“My job immediately shifted from traditional fundraising to securing emergency funds to keep our doors open,” said Kimberly Bowers Rollins, ’05, Goodwill of Greater Washington vice president of development. “Our fundraising centered on everything COVID exacerbated. 

“We raised dollars to open a virtual career center that provided training and support for the entire community. To assist individuals with their employment searches, we loaned them laptops and partnered with Comcast to offer internet access. We launched an emergency assistance fund that provided grocery cards through a partnership with Safeway, secured transportation to jobs through a partnership with Lyft, and offered support when a loved one died.”

Founded in 1935, Goodwill of Greater Washington takes a social entrepreneurial approach to workforce development, with a focus on racial equity and social sustainability. It employs many of its clients in its own businesses, including its retail stores, custodial services, and pest control and grounds maintenance operations. But the pandemic-necessitated, temporary closure of its retail stores put many of the people the nonprofit serves out of work. 

For this reason, Rollins said she is especially proud of the organization’s decision to cover the full cost of its furloughed team members’ health insurance. 

“At a time when other nonprofits were shuttering their doors, we raised over $200,000 to cover all our employees’ health insurance during the three-month furlough,” the University of Richmond alumna said. “It was unusual for a nonprofit to do this, but it was the right thing to do. We received emails and tearful calls from employees saying, ‘You have no idea what having insurance did for me and my family.’”

Rollins studied political science and leadership studies at Richmond and received a master’s in public administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. A fundraiser for most of her professional career, she has raised money for political campaigns, nonprofits, and higher education institutes—including a stint as a major gift officer at the University of Richmond School of Law.

“I take seriously my role as a connector of people, causes, passions, and resources,” she said. “As the top fundraiser at Goodwill of Greater Washington, I am an extension of leadership’s vision, the external conduit for the mission of the organization. I have an innate sense of responsibility to raise both awareness and funds to create educational and employment opportunities for marginalized BIPOC communities."  

Volunteering years ago at a Richmond-area nonprofit to fulfill the experiential-learning component of one of her Jepson School of Leadership Studies classes helped prepare her to do this, she said.

“At Jepson I learned to think through problems critically and apply a moral lens,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to show up to volunteer. I had to listen deeply to understand the complex issues I encountered in the community.”

She continues doing this today as fundraiser-in-chief, a job she finds very rewarding, she said. She especially loves the graduations that follow Goodwill’s weeks-long employment-training programs. 

“Dressed in their caps and gowns, our graduates smile and cry with their family members,” Rollins said. “Graduation is never the end—it’s the beginning that sets our participants on the path to securing and retaining employment. It’s exciting to know that the fundraising I do supports not only individual participants, but the trajectories of entire families.”