Nancy Lublin: Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business - Author interview

CEO and "Chief Old Person" of DoSomething.org, and experienced non-profit organization leader Nancy Lublin, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her very timely and practical book Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.

Nancy Lublin turns the previously accepted idea that the corporate for profit model was the ideal to emulate for every organization, including not-for-profits. Instead, it's time for businesses to learn a few proven concepts and techniques from the non-profit sector.

Thanks to Nancy Lublin for her time, and for her very thoughtful and informative responses. They are greatly appreciated.

What was the background to writing this book Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business?

Nancy Lublin: I was sitting in a conference room of a ginormous Fortune 100 company, listening to them complain about their "slashed" marketing budget. They were used to having lots of money, lots of time, lots of hands on deck--and they were now going to have to learn how to do more, with less. Not-for-profits have always had to stretch a dollar, stretch people, stretch time. So I decided to compile these best practices in a (sassy) business book.

What lessons do non-profit organizations, accustomed to operating on tight budgets, have for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established companies?

Nancy Lublin: It’s a counter-intuitive argument--business advice form not-for-profits--but we're actually quite good at brand management, recruitment & retention, and even fiscal integrity.

Nancy Lublin (photo left)

Non-profit organizations are experienced in attracting volunteers. Are there lessons to share with for-profit companies on retaining employees without paying more money?

Nancy Lublin: People rarely stay or leave jobs just for the money--and even if they do, they don't perform well or contribute to a happy workplace. You want people who love your workplace. This starts in the recruiting process--is "passion" a key criteria for employment? It should be! Then you need to make the job itself fulfilling. Are you giving your people enough responsibility that they feel a sense of importance? Do they know how they fit into the larger goal(s) of the company? Are your company goals measurable and clear? Do your employees have job titles they are proud of? Notice that none of these questions or suggestions were about being cause-y. Purpose in the workplace is different from "cause."

Non-profits are experienced in bartering services for other goods and services. Can companies learn to barter to better leverage their own resources?

Nancy Lublin: Absolutely. Do you have extra space or extra product or employees with expertise that other needs? Think about trading with a neighbor, a vendor, etc.

Is it possible to use the non-profit model to create new products and services, and to strengthen brands, without expensive market research?

Nancy Lublin: Your best market research isn't a fancy study from McKinsey, it’s the juicy stuff living in your employees heads. Think about internal crowd-sourcing for innovation. For example, looking for a tagline for a new product? Considering asking your employees for suggestions. They know the product. They know your target market. They live this stuff every day! Asking them will make them feel respected--plus, it’s fun to think about things outside the scope of your job, helping your colleagues.

Can marketing be done at little or no cost effectively and is there a role for social media in the Zilch model?

Nancy Lublin: Social media presents really interesting opportunities for companies to leverage the power of zero. How many employees do you have? And how many Facebook friends do they have, combined? What if your employees leveraged their status updates to help launch a new product? It can be that simple.

Are there real world examples of companies who are adopting the techniques of non-profits to their own businesses?

Nancy Lublin: Well, Pfizer just bought 360 copies of Zilch. Citigroup just took 150 copies and had me speak there. I think the new economic realities are forcing companies to think about doing more with less.

How can an entrepreneur learn how to apply non-profit guerrilla tactics to their companies?

Nancy Lublin: Volunteer for a not for profit. Get on the board of a not-for-profit. Go work for a not-for-profit.

What is next for Nancy Lublin?

Nancy Lublin: Lunch.


My book review of Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business by Nancy Lublin.

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