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What Charities Can Teach Corporations
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Business Insights for Women
PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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Author Nancy Lublin explores the idea that for-profit businesses can learn from charitable organizations that run on shoestring budgets.

Much has been written and debated in recent years about what not-for-profit organizations can learn from their for-profit counterparts. But what lessons can corporations learn from charities?

Plenty, according to Nancy Lublin, the founder of Dress for Success and CEO of Do Something. In her book, Zilch, Lublin writes that charitable organizations have spent years learning how to thrive on limited resources to motivate staff, gain the knowledge and products they need to operate and market themselves effectively. In today's economic environment, business leaders are - or should be - taking notice of their success.

Zilch is more than a collection of money-saving tips. It is a clarion call to organizations of all sizes to solve problems by unleashing the potential of people, relationships and community to work harder, innovate more and achieve goals. Lublin sees a lack of resources not as an impediment to success, but a path toward it.

Central to the book's theme is the creation of what Lublin calls "a big, lofty purpose - big, not necessarily cause-y." While not-for-profits can motivate volunteers, donors and the community at large by making them part of a cause such as building homes for the homeless, stopping the spread of disease or educating underprivileged children, for-profit businesses can instill pride similarly with a clear-cut mission, even if it's manufacturing the best widget possible. From this standpoint, Lublin's argument radiates logically outward:

  • Create a brand that is simple, unique and consistent - one that is relevant to your audience, internally as well as externally.
  • Use this brand to create a story about your company in which employees, vendors and customers can take pride, motivating them to go the extra mile and become ambassadors for the company.
  • Treat employees and customers as people first, looking beyond the bottom line to instill diehard loyalty.
  • Think beyond money when asking for something from investors, board members and others who can help you build your business. Make a human connection.

These ideas might seem conceptual and touchy-feely, but Lublin keeps them grounded with hands-on examples and specific ideas to try out. Each chapter is an exhortation to do more: "Do More With Your Brand," "Do More for Your Customers," "Do More With Your Finances." Each concludes with 11 questions to guide the reader.

Why 11? Because "ten is never enough," Lublin explains. "In the not-for-profit world, we start with zero and deliver an 11." And isn't that what your organization should be doing?


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