Wednesday, February 28, 2024



Nonprofit social enterprises should partner to amplify impact

Nicole, a Career Wardrobe intern. March 12, 2018 Category: FeaturedLongMethod


This is a guest post by Career Wardrobe Executive Director Sheri Cole.
In our 23 years of empowering people to work, Career Wardrobe has grown from a simple closet to a social enterprise focused on education, empowerment and skill-building for women and men in the five-county Philadelphia region.

In 2008, partly as a response to the recession, we opened The Wardrobe Resale, where we provide professional clothing to clients in transition as well as a resale store open to the public to help fund our services.

The goal was to both earn income to support our programs, making us less reliant on unstable donations during an economic downturn, and extend a low-cost option for professional clothing to women who were not eligible for our services through referral partnerships with government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

While we have been able to expand our services to meet the demands of our community, it’s our partnerships with likeminded nonprofits that have allowed us to offer more robust opportunities for our clients.

At each stage of our growth, we have examined not only what Career Wardrobe does best, but what the organization needs to be to meet the needs of the community. When pursuing the question of how we can use our functioning retail store as a way to provide customer service training and work experience, we looked to our partners to see who had an expertise in training, case management and job development.

That question led us to our partner Fishtown-based social services nonprofit Lutheran Settlement House (LSH), which brought an impressive track record in each of those to partner with our expertise in retail operations and job readiness skills development.

Career Wardrobe interns. (Courtesy image)

Together we launched Wardrobe Careers, a customer service internship program. LSH has responsibility for recruiting students to complete their Customer Service Training Program, which results in completion of the National Retail Federation certification. Career Wardrobe has responsibility for providing on-site supervision and job readiness training through paid work experience internships at The Wardrobe Resale.

From our Partners

In this program, each group of paid interns works 20 hours per week for 12 weeks at the store, building their skills in customer service, merchandising, dressing clients and working the sales floor. Through the program we are able to offer a space for individuals to learn and practice customer services skills to gain a leg up in employment while getting paid for it.

These interns gain skills in client engagement, sales technology, merchandising and inventory management in a supportive learning environment. LSH and Career Wardrobe share the joint goal of providing opportunities for job training and skill development for people with more limited work experience, and customer service skills provide the perfect transferable skills and a strong foundation to launch into other careers.

In fact, one intern secured a new job before she even completed the internship. We also hired two of the interns for permanent employment at the boutique.

Melissa entered the Lutheran Settlement House program through its adult education program working toward her GED when she signed up for the customer service training program. She is now a sales associate at The Wardrobe Resale and credits the program with helping her start a career path, not just find any job.

During the program, she said, “I learned not only how to do a job, but also about my strengths and weaknesses, and what I can do to improve. They took the time to help me as an individual grow, gain confidence and become prepared to succeed in a job — a job that I want.”

Additional partnerships of note include our work with the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services (RISE), the city’s first-stop reentry agency working with the formerly incarcerated community. Because the majority of its clients are men, RISE needed a space for its female-identifying clients to have a more welcoming and female-centered space to learn in. Our partnership allows RISE participants to take advantage of educational workshops and dressing services outside of the male-dominated reentry space.

Our partnerships have stretched outside the box to include donation pickups from Wash Cycle Laundry and sharing excess clothing donations with organizations like Cradles to Crayons, Our Closet, and prom gown collection events.

We have found that cross-promotional partnerships are an effective way to pool resources, expand reach and create a greater impact as a social enterprise. With so many robust and effective nonprofits serving the Greater Philadelphia area, collaboration can be the key to success.


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