3 concepts every business can learn and use – for free

What we have to offer can be boiled down to one concept: the power of zero. We get more done with less of just about everything, from our people to our workplaces to our vendors. Zilch is what drives us to be more innovative, more passionate, more creative. So stop whining about your budget cuts and start asking yourself what you’d do if you had zilch. You’ll be surprised just how powerful that is.

After years of being told to emulate the corporate world, not-for-profit CEOs like Nancy Lublin now find the shoe on the other foot. Tough times have forced businesses to slash their headcount, marketing budgets and other resources. Managers at small start-ups and Fortune 100 companies alike are now expected to do more with less – but how?

No one is more qualified to answer that question than the leaders who always thrive on a shoestring. In her book Zilch, Nancy brings us three concepts that every business can learn from.


How to raise money when you have nothing to offer in return.

One of the masters of the ask is Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO for Women for Women International. Her cause is compelling because she is one of few on the ground in many war-torn countries. She tells a good tale about the organization leveraging the Women for Women genesis. Most importantly, she is specific. Salbi doesn’t ask you to help women everywhere. On WomenForWomen.org, there is a link that says, “Make a donation to help women survivors of war.” You can make a donation to sponsor “your new sister” for $27 a month. You can pick a region from the drop-down menu.

Specificity brings a sales pitch into the realm of the concrete and possible. One great example from the private sector; the Special K diet. If Kellogg just said, “Special K is good for you,” who would buy it? Instead, it offers the Special K Challenge, a detailed plan for weight loss that has driven significant sales for the brand.


Need brand ambassadors? Get them with your gratitude.

Huge corporations often pay their brand ambassadors thousands of dollars, and if that person is a movie star or top athlete, it could run into the millions. That is great if you have the budget, but what if you don’t? Charles Best, the founder of Donors.org, is adamant about expressing kindness and active gratitude to those that support his cause. The DonorsChoose website is a clearing house for underfunded schools and teachers with needs. Featured projects have a specific ask. A simple example was a teacher requesting books, including the R.L. Stines Goosebumps series.

Best and his staff don’t let donors slip into cyberspace after they click to give. He ensures the connection stays alive; students and teachers communicate with donors. First it’s an appreciative message – maybe hand-made cards. But then, the donor receives a follow-up explaining the gift’s outcome.


Experience isn’t everything and it can’t replace heart.

This was my favorite story in the book. Nancy talks about a young guy named George whom she interviewed for a non-profit. He came with no experience, but he demonstrated a keen appreciation of the organization’s purpose, brand and target market. In addition, he was a runner and she liked runners because they’ll go towards a goal for ridiculous amounts of time with no promise of glory.

He ultimately worked his way up to Chief Technology Officer. This required reading everything he could find in print or online to learn things like MySQL and HTML. He was always the first to volunteer for brainstorming and troubleshooting. He performed just like a long-distance runner.


Nancy’s energy and experience come through in her book as she provides great lessons for business and life to be more effective. Did you read it? What do you think?

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picture by Katrina Snaps

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