Nancy Lublin, at the time an unmotivated law student, was in an elevator one dreary day when she decided to allot the $5,000 inheritance she just received to start a nonprofit that empowers women by providing them with professional training and attire.
Naturally, her next step was to consult nuns for advice and promptly invest the money in a CD, disallowing her to withdraw any of the funds for one year. OK, so she still had some learning to do, but I think she’d be the first to celebrate the bold process of creating and growing. Years later, Dress for Success–not to mention Nancy Lublin herself–is a huge success. This story and others are shared in her book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.
Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org and rock star nonprofit thought leader, is visionary for writing a book instructing private sector companies to adopt nonprofit best practices to better their businesses, in contrast to the hundreds of books written from the opposite slant.
The book is tightly wound into 11 chapters, each chapter title beginning “Do More With” including the provocative Do More with Less Cash to Throw at People, a structure which emphasizes the for-profit advice strategy rather than the excellent anecdotes of innovation and success peppered throughout.
I admit I’m not convinced that all of the advice is practical for or relevant to private companies. It would take a superhuman supervisor to motivate the average corporate employee to work the long hours and invest the blood, sweat and tears nonprofit employees invest, a passion for which nonprofit (“not-for-profit” Lublin insists–“not-for-profit is not the same as nonprofit”) employees are known. They serve a cause greater than mere profit–something few private companies are able or willing to provide. Lets face it: its hard to be passionate about increasing your sales by 17 percent of widget number 389-B this quarter. Not surprisingly, Lublin’s segments about corporate social responsibility and its utility are spot on.
As I suggested, the radiance of Lublin’s book is her collection of colorful, stimulating stories of nonprofits excelling, many of the stories her own successes and a number from well-known nonprofits such as Teach for America. (“Do More With Your Story” is also a chapter.)
For instance, take the story of the recent hire, a dedicated and passionate young man who was unable to thrive in two positions at DoSomething.org. Lublin was smart enough to stick with it, ultimately creating a tech position for him. He poured over manuals, teaching himself the trade from the ground up. Ultimately, DoSomething.org won several awards for his work. Who doesn’t dream of working for someone with such leadership, savvy and values? It is this profile of leadership that offers much to private companies and, really, every employee and citizen striving for more impact.
Another of my favorite stories is Lublin’s bold leadership as recently-appointed CEO of DoSomething, which, at the time, was on the decline. A private company stepped in to save the day, offering $600,000 with strings attached that Lublin knew would subtly advance the organization’s drift. She declined the offer with no other prospects on the horizon. The board chair responded, “Did I make a mistake in hiring you?” DoSomething.org has flourished and it is obvious that gutsy move–and the direction Lublin then took with the organization–was the right choice.
Of course, Lublin offers succinct and fresh nonprofit best practices, from concretizing your “ask” to increase likelihood of giving to utilizing millennials in the work place. (I appreciate Lublin’s decidedly positive conclusion about millenialls in the work place: “When success is defined for them in advance, they go after the goal like tigers.”)
Lublin’s example of creativity, boldness and innovation–and this visionary idea for a book–is a credit to the nonprofit sector and a valuable offering to the private sector and driven employees everywhere.
Did you read Zilch? What stories of nonprofit success and innovation stood out to you? If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to my RSS feed and find me on Twitter!