Do More With Less, But Do Something

When Nancy Lublin speaks, you feel obliged to take action. No surprise there: Lublin is the founder of not one, but two major not-for-profit organizations. The first, Dress for Success, she started with a meager $5,000 in seed money. Her current venture, DoSomething.org helps young people around the country link up with volunteer opportunities in their communities. Lublin hasn’t succeeded by being laid-back. Nor does she let lack of funding – or technological limitations or, seriously, anything – stand in her way. In a roundtable forum at THINK 11, Lublin urged the audience to stop making excuses, start making connections and be bold about telling the credit union story. As attendees expressed their reservations about reaching out to young people via social media, Lublin exhorted them to get going. “You’re hiding your light under a bushel,” she said, “and I don’t know why.” Lubin may not “get” being tentative, but she does know a thing or two about providing rich experiences while running a lean operation. When we caught up with her before THINK 11, she spoke to us from the back of a cab while traveling to work. No time like the present to do it all. THINK: You started Dress for Success with $5,000. How? LUBLIN: I was a miserable law student. I came home one day in February and in the mailbox was a check from the estate of my great grandfather. As I got into the elevator, I got the idea for Dress for Success. I didn’t write a business plan. I didn’t call the wealthy parents of my friends. I just got to work right away, which is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone with a dream: Stop talking about it and start doing it. THINK: What motivated you? LUBLIN: It’s significant that I was in law school and miserable, because good things grow in the dirt. When you’re in a miserable situation like that, you’ll work very hard to get out of it. THINK: You’ve written a new book, “Zilch,” which is about sharing the lessons you’ve learned growing two successful not-for-profits. Are not-for-profits really models of success? LUBLIN: We know how to stretch a dollar. We know how to stretch people. We can get 90 minutes out of an hour. People are “McGyvering” solutions in really smart ways. THINK: You had to do some “McGyvering” yourself when you took the reins of DoSomething.org. How did you manage to turn things around – both in terms of honing the mission and operationally? LUBLIN: We had to get down to a single focus. THINK: That focus was strictly teens. LUBLIN: Right. We looked at the obstacles that prevented them from getting involved, and we addressed each one. THINK: You’ve also done an amazing job of getting down to eye level with teens and understanding their interests and needs. LUBIN: Yeah, I really think it’s important to get to know and love your target market. You can’t work with teens and not love them. I have a Hello Kitty bicycle I ride to work a lot. I live the brand. THINK: What can credit unions learn from your experience? LUBLIN: I’m a die-hard not-for-profit person who believes the private sector can do wonderful things. But if you have shareholders and have to turn a profit, then you have to meet that responsibility. There is no “double bottom line.” For years, my money was in a credit union because that’s where my values lie. That’s the message for credit unions: Don’t be afraid of being a not-for-profit. You don’t really want to be another Chase, do you? Hear the interview with Lublin in its entirety here.