How To Make Your Business Successful For FREE: Lessons From Nonprofits

Your company is slashing its budget and reducing staff. Nonetheless, you want to enhance your brand and motivate your employees. Look no further than the nonprofit sector for solutions. And, best of all, Nancy Lublin has pulled all the best answers together in "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business." Lublin is the CEO of DO Something and the founder of Dress for Success.

I've lived at the intersection of for-profits and nonprofits for 20 years, training and placing corporate executives on nonprofit boards, and consulting in both sectors. It's usually obvious to business people that they have a great deal to offer to nonprofits. But, once they serve on nonprofit boards, business people are often surprised to discover how much they can learn and bring back to their companies.

For one thing, corporate executives are often struck by how driven nonprofit people are, regardless of salaries that pale compared to for-profits. Show me the founder of a nonprofit and her staff, and I'll show you a team that is unstoppable. So one of my favorite lessons is Lublin's recommendation to imbue the people at your company with a sense of purpose. She recommends that you help people at your company to feel that "What I do matters to the world." She adds, "Give your product a purpose."

Think about how the employees of BP feel: Ashamed? Angry? Defensive? On the other hand, if BP had had a plan that was respectful of the environment and oriented to risk-management, conservation, preservation, and transparency, this would have been a company that its employees and investors could be proud of.

Think about companies that do create a greater sense of purpose for their employees, customers, and investors. Western Union, for example. Their agents are in 370,000 locations worldwide to facilitate money transfers for people who want to send money back home to their families--often to very remote and underserved regions. On top of that, the foundation helps support education and economic opportunities for people who migrate to unfamiliar communities to build new lives.

A few of Lublin's lessons seem simple but they are ones where many nonprofits excel, and many of these steps are FREE:

  1. Say thank you. People like to be noticed and appreciated. Thank you is a motivator.
  2. Consider everyone a potential ambassador, including alumni from your firm. This is something that McKinsey does well.
  3. Grant all-access passes. (I still remember the Hershey's chocolate-making tours when I was a child. In those days, we even saw the real vats of chocolate!)
  4. Do more with your story, including your genesis story and your postgenesis story. Create a culture of storytelling. (Gatorade, for example)
  5. Behave as if you lived in a glass house. Lublin reminds readers that "transparency is vital to the nonprofit sector, because nonprofits depend on the public's trust (and investments) in order to survive."

Lublin talks about partnerships with nonprofits, local relationships, volunteering, and much more. The book is filled with practical advice for businesses and yes, much of it can be applied for FREE. 

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