Archive for January, 2011

Purpose trumps cash

The founder of Dress for Success and CEO of, Nancy Lubin, was astounded by a meeting she attended in the corporate world where the staff was demoralized and debilitated by the news that their advertising budget for a promotional campaign was slashed to a mere $2 million dollars.

It was in this moment that Lubin realized the nonprofit sector has for decades honed the practice of getting the job done for next to nothing. After Lubin compared her epiphany with fellow nonprofit leaders, she realized there were many colleagues in the sector who could share their advice on doing more with less—in Lubin’s words: “the power of zero.” Lubin argues that “zilch is what drives us to be more innovative, more passionate, more creative.”

In other words, zilch is the mother of invention. Her belief is that this way of doing business should be followed by the corporate and nonprofit sectors alike. In her book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, Lubin discusses eleven ways in which she and fellow nonprofit leaders have done more with less.

Here’s a look at number one:

Do more with less cash to throw at people. According to Lubin, salary doesn’t guarantee great performance or a fantastic work ethic. In fact, one of the toughest jobs to land even if you’re an Ivy League graduate is a position with Teach for America. The pay is miserably low, yet the job is so coveted that in 2009 the organization accepted fewer than 10 percent of applicants. In other cases, such as nonprofits like Wikipedia, they depend successfully on a gigantic volunteer labor force.

    Be part of a bigger purpose. While altruism attracts employees, a bigger purpose will keep them. Are YOU proud of what you make or do? Does it make you feel like an industry leader?

    Include every level of the company in the pursuit of your purpose. A strong sense of purpose reminds employees of their long-term impact, inspiring them to remain part of it. When people feel they work with you rather than for you, they will find their work more meaningful.

    Create a physical work environment that stimulates your people. Have new hires initially sit in the bull pen so they can learn by proximity. Lubin advocates for fewer closed-door meetings, fewer for-your-eyes-only memos and fewer executive retreats.

    Offer skill development. Lubin likes to bring in thought leaders to spend unstructured one-on-one time with an employee who can benefit from their experience. Ask yourself what your employees are learning right now and what is new to them.

    Remember that accomplishing goals feels pricelessly good. Instead of handing down the quarterly goals, try asking the staff to create them. Do your employees know how their goals fit into the overall goal? Ask yourself if the organization’s goals are well defined or loosely defined.

    Learn more by following our blog and Twitter this month about Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business. You can also subscribe to the Page to Practice service to stay informed about great books that help you work smarter and faster.

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    Get big on bartering

    While Zilch author, Nancy Lubin admits early on that nonprofits are far from perfect, there is value for leaders of all kinds in looking at the cost-saving best practices in nonprofit management. Unlike big business, Lubin claims that nonprofits know how to grow through alliances versus acquisition; position passionate people to blaze their own trails, rather than promote solely on experience; and create brands through simple, consistent and relevant strategies, versus spending voluminous budgets on research and focus groups.

    Lubin interviewed dozens of successful nonprofit leaders and drew eleven common themes from those organizations that you can model in your own organizations. Some of the interviewees include Charles Best from Donors Choose, Wendy Kopp from Teach for America, Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia, Greg Baldwin from VolunteerMatch, John Lilly from Mozilla, Zainab Salbi from Women for Women International. One of her themes is big on bartering. Here’s more from Lubin:

    Do more by bartering with zero. According to Lubin, bartering is about maximizing the human capability for flexibility, creativity and trust. Consequently, it involves more communication than a linear transaction. However, it strengthens relationships between people, organizations and brands. Surpluses, for example, are perfect bartering material. Bartering can provide a competitive edge as well as deepen the relationships organizations have become very dependent upon over the years. The exchanges don’t have to start big—office supplies or software advice can be the beginning and move on toward trading promotion on websites and so on. Bartering doesn’t have to be an even exchange of similar services either, but it does require that each party clearly define partnership, what will be exchanged and how.

    First, ask for the impossible., for example, couldn’t afford to pay the large expense of recoding their website, so CEO Charles Best called Yahoo! and asked them if they could donate some engineers. Yahoo! agreed, sending six engineers who took a six-month sabbatical to reconfigure the site. In exchange, Yahoo! was able to give their engineers a much needed boost of inspiration and a project that would build teamwork and fulfillment among the visiting programmers.

    Beyond products and services: think of your people as resources to barter. Barter your technology guru for their donor services expert. You can also trade products for people’s time or services for consulting work. Consider loaning an expert on your staff to leverage a peer organization’s expert in a different area so both of you can gather some specific training your team might temporarily be lacking. Do you have extra space? Is there a season when someone on staff is idle? Visit barter exchanges like ITEX and

    Nonprofits who have experienced long-term success with bartering follow these six “rules”:

    Identify your core competencies (human or material).
    Identify your core incompetencies (products, services or knowledge).
    Search for matches. (Start by looking in your office complex or neighborhood.

    Formalize the barter arrangement. (Spell out and agree to terms.)
    Monitor progress. (Appoint someone to manage expectations.)
    Make adjustments. (Grow the partnership if it makes sense or end amicably when the need is fulfilled.)

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