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Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business

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30 review for Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    NOTE: This review/interview originally appeared as a posting on my professional blog, "The Nonprofit Consultant Blog." The audience on that blog is others working in the nonprofit sector. One of my pet peeves has always been when well-meaning, but somewhat clueless outsiders tell us in the nonprofit sector that we need to be "more businesslike." Yes, there's much that each sector can learn from the best examples in other sectors of the economy, but I've always believed that the corporate sector s NOTE: This review/interview originally appeared as a posting on my professional blog, "The Nonprofit Consultant Blog." The audience on that blog is others working in the nonprofit sector. One of my pet peeves has always been when well-meaning, but somewhat clueless outsiders tell us in the nonprofit sector that we need to be "more businesslike." Yes, there's much that each sector can learn from the best examples in other sectors of the economy, but I've always believed that the corporate sector should be learning from us when it comes to efficiency and getting the most out of limited resources. Now, to our rescue, has come Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something and founder of Dress for Success. Nancy has just published Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business , with eleven practical lessons for business leaders on how the not-for-profit sector manages to leverage the power of Zilch into mission success, by doing more with our brands, our external people, our customers, our boards, our staff, our finances, and our stories (and all with no budget). After reading this great book this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with Nancy by phone this morning. Her lessons and leadership are great examples, not just for business leaders, but also for our peers in the nonprofit world. Ken Goldstein: First off, thank you! It's about time somebody stood up for our sector and told the simple truth that our managers know how to do more with nothing than most corporate managers can do with million dollar budgets. So, I hope the folks in the marble-lined corporate boardrooms listen. But my readers are all in the nonprofit sector. What lesson or takeaway do you want them to get from your book? Nancy Lublin: It applies quite well to small not-for-profit start-ups and entrepreneurial organizations, because they've got less to begin with. The good news is that there's many ways to leverage. The book is about leveraging everything. Like external people. Who delivers your mail? Who are your neighbors? Do you know if everybody you come into contact with is marketing for you? Are they communicating your mission to the people they meet, or are they saying you don't know what's going on in your office? Is your purpose clear enough that they can help with word of mouth marketing and spread the word to the people in their circles? Many in our sector are saying, "We've already gotten by on Zilch, now we have less than Zero." In the current economic crisis, is there any additional advice you have for nonprofits, or is it "do more of what we've always done"? I think they've been doing this really well for along time, my one piece of advice for nonprofits is to remain focused on your purpose, don't flirt outside your space. People say, "I'll fund you to do this other thing," and it's easy to get tempted, but it ultimately leads to disaster. It's called following the money and it's not a good idea. Your advice on partnerships, to choose partners that fit your brand, is great. A lot of smaller nonprofits are under pressure these days to enter into mergers and alliances based on dollar considerations only. How much consideration should branding receive in merger talks? I'm a big fan of M&A activity, and would like to see more of it happen. There is a lot of duplication in the not-for-profit sector. What I'd like to see is that it's the strongest, not necessarily the biggest, that survives. Often it's the shiniest star that survives, and that's not necessarily the best. There are lots of organizations that are beloved that are actually lousy. I think that what needs to happen in the nonprofit space is what happens in the venture capital space, they look at an entire sector see what works best before picking a winner to invest in. I keep encouraging funders and organizations to look at an entire space before making a decision. I can't tell you how many times I've had to grit my teeth and not lash out at those who think they're helpful by telling us to "be more businesslike" - How do you handle that? We've heard that so long, and there are some things they're right about... Some things... But there's ways they can be more like more nonprofits, and not by being soft and cuddly, but by adopting some of our business practices. Like incentivizing employees without throwing ridiculous paychecks at them. When you talk about "doing more with external people" and turning every contact into "brand ambassadors" what are some of the creative ways you've seen small, grassroots nonprofits do this? I think the most important thing to start with is a clear, focused purpose. Are you saying you're going to end all homelessness? You're not going to do it. Pick something you can achieve, like reducing homelessness by 20% in a specific area: something achievable and measurable. Something people can say "I want to be a part of this," and get on board. This is the first thing. Simplifying your organization to make it easier for people to get on board. You have a great story in the book with the lesson of not confusing business with friendship, where a donor was basically paying you to be her buddy and listen to her problems. This can often be a very fine line to walk. Do you see it being crossed by many fundraisers? Apparently there was a study that the Chronicle of Philanthropy put out a month ago about sexual harassment of fundraisers; it's apparently pretty common. So what can nonprofit managers and fundraisers do, other than just be aware of the problem? Taking meetings in an office is a good place to start. We've always assumed that you've got to "establish the relationship" with a lunch or dinner, but it's easier to say "no" to a friend. In an office, they may say "yes" just to get you out of the office. In the chapter on "doing more with your staff" you're very clear about hiring people who are passionate for the cause and that job interviews should include personal questions to determine that. Personally, I love interviews like that, but I find more and more organizations that have been scared by lawyers into only asking standard, dry, job-duty-and-skill related questions. What reassurance can we give nonprofits that asking about hobbies is legal? Obviously, you want to check with your HR and legal department, but everything [a potential new hire:] puts out publicly is fair game, so I check their facebook and twitter feeds. You're hiring a complete person, not a robot. I wouldn't hire somebody with less than 500 facebook friends. I want their networks. If you're hiring somebody who won't pull in all those people, hire somebody else who will. We've gone a bit overboard with lawyers telling us how our businesses should be run. And that's spoken as somebody who's been to law school. Should all nonprofits be using social media (twitter, blogging, facebook, etc.)? Absolutely, everybody, yes, yeah! When I teach grant writing and fund development, I always try to emphasize how important storytelling is - that numbers served or in need can help build a case, but that it's putting faces on those numbers that gets signatures on checks. Your chapter on "doing more with your story" really shows the power of that. What's your favorite story from a small, community nonprofit? I think at Dress for Success my story of my great-grandfather [leaving me the money that started the organization:] really resonated with people. It was really hopeful, it was about making a success in a new place, and it really related to the mission of welfare to work. And I hadn't planned on it, it happened organically. How can my readers help spread your message? One thing you can do to do learn how to do more with less is to buy a copy [of Zilch :] for yourself, and buy one for a friend. The fact that every chapter ends with practical questions really helps. It's just a real smart, savvy business book. Yes, each chapter ends with eleven self-evaluation questions, and there are eleven chapters. What's up with you and eleven? The end of each chapter has eleven practical questions that should really make you think about your own work place and help you evaluate how you can do more with it. The reason it's eleven is to go one further, because we at not-for-profits always have to go above and beyond. That, and I'm obsessed with Spinal Tap.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amy Christine Lesher

    For the last few years I've read a few books about business, both nonprofit and for profit and while there were some good points in this book I found myself disagreeing with a lot of her thoughts. First: there was the passion aspect for nonprofit employees: because we work so hard we are at risk of burn - out. I have worked in an office where three people were given RXs for Valium. To suggest that if an employee doesn't show up for a meeting about a new project which could mean no vacation time t For the last few years I've read a few books about business, both nonprofit and for profit and while there were some good points in this book I found myself disagreeing with a lot of her thoughts. First: there was the passion aspect for nonprofit employees: because we work so hard we are at risk of burn - out. I have worked in an office where three people were given RXs for Valium. To suggest that if an employee doesn't show up for a meeting about a new project which could mean no vacation time that's not a reason to fire an employee. It could mean that an employee is trying to practice self - care not stacking on work. There is passion in the workplace and then there is collapsing because you can't say no. Second: there was the story about Yahoo allowing six coders to work at a nonprofit rebuilding their website. The claim was that Yahoo did this for no other reason than to make the coders happy by challenging themselves in a new way. Anyone working in nonprofits understands the various ways a company can donate and receive tax credit. There are two ways Yahoo could have profited from this agreement: either as an in-kind donation or as a restricted donation. Plus, the fact that I know it was Yahoo means they are getting word - of - mouth from this agreement. Third: there should be term limits for founders so employees can look forward to one day taking over the organization. For some time employees have looked at any job as basically temporary. Gen Xers haven't looked at getting a job with an employer and retiring from them. We get a job, learn what we can and if we get bored we find another challenge. If I found and build my organization or business why should there be term limits on how long I lead my organization? That part really angered me. Again, there are good pieces of advice for businesses looking to run leaner, but I've read better books on both nonprofit and for profit business.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Podryadchikov

    In a recent post, Seth Godin, a master of marketing, recommended a book by Nancy Lublin "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business". In the book, Lublin unfolds the power that zero has by sharing eleven lessons from the non-profit world. Anyone discouraged by a lack of resources or not knowing where to start will find fresh ideas on how to do more with nothing. In the first chapter, the author rightfully draws on the fact that most people look for something more than simply monetary compensation. For In a recent post, Seth Godin, a master of marketing, recommended a book by Nancy Lublin "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business". In the book, Lublin unfolds the power that zero has by sharing eleven lessons from the non-profit world. Anyone discouraged by a lack of resources or not knowing where to start will find fresh ideas on how to do more with nothing. In the first chapter, the author rightfully draws on the fact that most people look for something more than simply monetary compensation. For example, the chapter on bartering helps to reconsider non-monetary exchanges, which can contribute much more than any monetary value. Reading the book can enhance any for-profit organization and equip any non-for-profit one. Moreover, anyone who has to raise funds can experience a worldview change by following Lublin's advice.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul LaFontaine

    Non-profits have a "zero amount" baseline for their approach to problem-solving that is inherent in how they are structured. This leads to a leadership approach that for-profit businesses could use in their own well-funded world. I hated, and loved this book in parts. The writing was quite difficult for me. The Silicon Valley fangirl references detracted from the message. And many of the points were oversimplified. The almost taunting way the author presents the "you aren't so good for-profit co Non-profits have a "zero amount" baseline for their approach to problem-solving that is inherent in how they are structured. This leads to a leadership approach that for-profit businesses could use in their own well-funded world. I hated, and loved this book in parts. The writing was quite difficult for me. The Silicon Valley fangirl references detracted from the message. And many of the points were oversimplified. The almost taunting way the author presents the "you aren't so good for-profit companies" was distracting. That said, there were some good ideas that were applicable and useful. Cautiously recommend.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeana

    Nancy Lublin came to speak at our org almost a year ago, and I found her inspiring, personable, funny, gutsy and incredibly smart. Her personality leaps off the page, which made this book a really fun read. The only thing is, she looks at a few really awesome not-for-profits (including the one i work for!) and makes quite sweeping generalizations about how it is in the not-for-profit world. There are a lot of innovative and awesome nonprofits out there, but they definitely do not outnumber the a Nancy Lublin came to speak at our org almost a year ago, and I found her inspiring, personable, funny, gutsy and incredibly smart. Her personality leaps off the page, which made this book a really fun read. The only thing is, she looks at a few really awesome not-for-profits (including the one i work for!) and makes quite sweeping generalizations about how it is in the not-for-profit world. There are a lot of innovative and awesome nonprofits out there, but they definitely do not outnumber the amount of nonprofit organizations that follow archaic procedures and are crippled by bureaucracy. I'm sure there are a lot of for-profits like that too, but then again there are also very forward thinking, innovative for-profits where employees aren't compensated like crazy but are inspired to work for loftier goals and are treated like human beings. I found it pretty gutsy for her to say that for-profits need to start learning from not-for-profits, when actually it's more like huge corporations could learn a thing or two from these new, innovative organizations that approach business using new methods, new technologies and new philosophies. I do agree with the things she suggests, like forming creative partnerships, "bartering," valuing your customers and employees and aligning people to your mission (no matter whether your mission is humanitarian or your mission is some sort of product.) I just don't know if the way the book was framed was the right way to do it. In any case, it was a fun, easy read and it's got me thinking about my work too.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karina

    Nancy Lublin's book is one of the best business books I've read in a while. Not only was it very readable (and even funny at moments), but you learn so much: it's practically a mini-MBA in itself! The premise of the book is that Nancy realized that for-profit companies could learn a thing or two from not-for-profits who have figured out a way to make do with "zilch" budget, resources, etc, yet able to motivate staff, innovate, achieve goals, and really make a difference despite these inherent lim Nancy Lublin's book is one of the best business books I've read in a while. Not only was it very readable (and even funny at moments), but you learn so much: it's practically a mini-MBA in itself! The premise of the book is that Nancy realized that for-profit companies could learn a thing or two from not-for-profits who have figured out a way to make do with "zilch" budget, resources, etc, yet able to motivate staff, innovate, achieve goals, and really make a difference despite these inherent limitations. Nancy likes the number 11 (apparently she and her team aim for 110%, which this correlates with), so she touches on 11 key areas, each of them ending off with 11 questions to help for-profits learn how to apply these. Although all the sections were super-informative and practical, I really enjoyed the ones on staff, storytelling, and finance, to just name three. The last one touched on how you can use creative bartering of inventory, services, and even staff when budgets are tight, something, as Nancy points out, for-profits probably have never thought of. I highly recommend this book for anyone who needs to succeed in business, whether it's a for-profit or not-for-profit since Nancy and the other not-for-profit CEOs she interviewed will show you how.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tie Kim

    Fascinating short read on lessons any organization from any industry can learn from the practices of a not-for-profit. I first heard about it as it was referenced in an July 2010 article in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/16588412). I particularly enjoyed reading, Chapter 10: "Do More By Bartering With Zero". The author concludes the chapter by stating that you should get creative and use all of your resources available, including knowledge you possess that you're especially good at Fascinating short read on lessons any organization from any industry can learn from the practices of a not-for-profit. I first heard about it as it was referenced in an July 2010 article in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/16588412). I particularly enjoyed reading, Chapter 10: "Do More By Bartering With Zero". The author concludes the chapter by stating that you should get creative and use all of your resources available, including knowledge you possess that you're especially good at or have in abundance (could be both tangible physical goods - e.g. inventory - or intangible, such as a service). How you answer this question is what you have available to barter. She makes a final point that you should consider what you could get in exchange for this book, in fact. I would say, keep this book on your book shelf because you may reference it multiple times!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nikita T. Mitchell

    This was a good read for me as it provided insight into the thoughts and actions of a leader of a nonprofit organization. However I struggled while reading it because her audience is the "unnamed ginormous company" yet she offers advice that isn't so much from the nonprofit sector but from well-run organizations in general. She made sweeping generalizations about the operations of nonprofits and corporations just to make her points. It's a reflection of the point made in the Good to Great monoli This was a good read for me as it provided insight into the thoughts and actions of a leader of a nonprofit organization. However I struggled while reading it because her audience is the "unnamed ginormous company" yet she offers advice that isn't so much from the nonprofit sector but from well-run organizations in general. She made sweeping generalizations about the operations of nonprofits and corporations just to make her points. It's a reflection of the point made in the Good to Great monolith: that good practices are good practices, no matter the sector.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    My boss wrote this, I have to say nice things about it. Which, luckily, isn't hard. It's breezily-written, funny, and smart. I don't know that I agree with every word in it, I'm not even sure I agree with her fundamental *premise* -- I'd like to see her definitions laid out more clearly, because it feels as though she elides "not-for-profit" with "startup" and equates size and office/corporate culture more than I think is warranted -- but I definitely like what Nancy has to say about valuing you My boss wrote this, I have to say nice things about it. Which, luckily, isn't hard. It's breezily-written, funny, and smart. I don't know that I agree with every word in it, I'm not even sure I agree with her fundamental *premise* -- I'd like to see her definitions laid out more clearly, because it feels as though she elides "not-for-profit" with "startup" and equates size and office/corporate culture more than I think is warranted -- but I definitely like what Nancy has to say about valuing your staff, how they are your most potent asset.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Of similar books I've recently read, I enjoyed Zilch by Nancy Lublin. As I'm not in the business sector, I didn't find many ideas applicable to my life, but thought her overall premise of considering how the corporate world might learn from non-profit was an interesting concept, as it seems most think the opposite is true (i.e. that non-profit should model after corporate). Seems a good read for any entrepreneur.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Will DeKrey

    Smart, poignant overview of practices of strong nonprofits. I felt Lublin over exaggerated the good practices of nonprofits -- i.e., when she says "businesses could learn x from nonprofits" she really means "businesses could learn x from the top 0.001% of nonprofits." At the end of the day, though, Lublin offers great takeaways for organizations of all shapes, sizes and sectors.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    CEO and "Chief Old Person" at DoSomething.org Nancy Lublin offers 11 major themes for success in business, for profit or not. Zilch is "not a spiritual tome about finding yourself or generating good karma -- I want you to read with a highlighter in hand, not a candle." Lublin is clear, concise, smart, direct, insightful, and funny. Really. This is one book I'll be referencing again and again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan Smith

    This book was excellent! Chalked full of incredible contrarian ideas on how all businesses can be leaner and more profitable by thinking like a non-profit. Great read for all business leader! Great review by Inc. about this book which I fully agree: http://www.inc.com/articles/2010/07/b...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ramona

    I can't give this book a rating because I didn't finish it. I thought it would offer management insight for nonprofit and business leaders, but it became clear early on that it's really geared toward corporate execs. The advice was too basic/fluffy for anyone who's been in the nonprofit trenches for a while. I like the premise, though, and hope it's useful for corporate leaders.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    Definitely one of the more interesting business books I've read. I've never worked at a non-profit, so it was eye opening -- and inspiring -- to read Lublin's insights and suggestions. Lots to take away from this one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joel Nathanael

    Too often businesses are trapped believing that money is always required to solve their problems. This book is a reminder of all the low-money solutions that scrappy non-profits have learned by necessity.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lana

    I am always interested in finding ways to help nonprofit organizations achieve their missions more effectively. The new catch phrase in all organizations is "do more with less"...nonprofits have always had to do this and this book is filled with some great ideas from the frontlines!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charles Cohen

    An easy, pithy read. I appreciate Lublin's informality, and the way she chose to use questions instead of directives as a way to get readers thinking. While there wasn't any one part that really jumped out as particularly useful, the book will be one I will reach for again and again.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yasheve

    Good read. It felt a little strained as if the author was offered a book deal to write about non-profits. Afterwards, the publishers thought that the audience might be too small, so they told her to come up with a way to reach a larger audience.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    A lot of good, common sense information.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ed Rubio

    Interesting read. It would be fantastic if corporate executives mandated that all their under lings read this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Colter

    Business owners can learn a lot from the BEST of the non-profit world

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Surprisingly well-written book on growing a non-profit without bags of money. Most chapters can also be useful to for-profit business, but a little reading between the lines is sometimes required.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eliot Burdett

    Great read for boot strappers and those who lead not for profits. Insight on management, marketing, delivering exceptional service, hiring and getting things done.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Geary

    I stopped reading about halfway through after I got the point. The information is good but I think it could have been conveyed in a little bit more interesting way and in fewer pages.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    "If I walked around your offices, probably 50% would have Good to Great on their shelves. It's not working...I humbly offer my book to help you think in new ways."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Hollister

    recommended by Seth Godin. A must read for those who work with children, non profits, for profit, business who have boards, people who market products, all graduates from college.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Really enjoyed this book and the ideas listed are great reminders for non-profits and also really creative ideas for "corporate america". Would also classify as an "easy read".

  29. 4 out of 5

    Keri

    I liked this book. Nancy Lublin has a great sense of humor and is very innovative, which made this book more pleasure than work. I recommend this book to entrepreneurs.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Obiora Okwudili

    More a tale of own business experiences...rather than a concise plan of action for others

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