Alumna of the Month September 2008


Nancy Lublin ’01

CEO, Do Something


The New York not-for-profit Do Something was in dire straits in 2003, when the founder, Melrose Place actor Andrew Shue, called Nancy Lublin ’01 to ask her to take the reins. The organization, which aims to increase volunteerism by teenagers, had laid off all but one of its 22 employees, closed its office and put all its property into storage in Queens. “I knew reviving Do Something would be a challenge,” Ms. Lublin says. “But I loved the name, and I thought the organization’s mission had huge potential.”

Ms. Lublin began her career as a social entrepreneur in 1996. Still a student at NYU School of Law, she used a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather to found Dress for Success, a not-for-profit that provides low-income women with suits for job interviews and career development training. Over the course of just six years, she grew Dress for Success from a one-woman shop based in her apartment to an international organization with chapters in 70 cities in four countries.  Along the way appeared on The Today Show, Oprah and 60 Minutes, and in newspapers and magazines nationwide. She took a sabbatical from the law school after her second year and truly never thought she’d finish. “To be honest, I wasn’t a very happy law student,” she says sheepishly.  “But the law school has this great relationship with Stern, and so I finished my credits there.”

By 2002 Ms. Lublin was ready to move on, both professionally and personally. “Dress for Success didn’t need my vision anymore,” she says. “And running the organization was all-consuming. I knew that if I was ever going to have a life, I needed to give my notice. I left three months later.”

She used her newfound free time to work on writing and consulting—and also to buy furniture and get married, two items she’d neglected during her years focused on Dress for Success. By the time Do Something called, Ms. Lublin was ready to return to the not-for-profit world. As CEO, she started from the ground up: securing new funding, hiring staff, filing overdue financial statements and cleaning up the board governance structure. She also consolidated the organization’s brick-and-mortar-based strategy in favor of a fast-paced online approach— for example, using Web technology to aggregate and promote volunteer opportunities. “The whole point of Do Something is to help kids to do good stuff offline, communications technologies are an effective and efficient way to reach them,” explains Ms. Lublin.

Teens can use Do Something to learn about worthy causes and to connect with other youngsters who are developing volunteer projects. The organization also offers grants to fund youth-driven efforts that create measurable change within their communities. Last year, Do Something gave more than $270,000 directly to kids for projects ranging from safe driving campaigns to healthy eating efforts to a push to make schools more environmentally friendly.

Ms. Lublin pointedly refrains from calling what Do Something promotes “community service.” She explained her point of view in an interview with Philanthropy News Digest: “To us, volunteering is not a chore. It's not something that's just a replacement for juvenile detention. It's action. It's fun.”

Part of the fun includes engaging celebrities, both in a blog called Celebs Gone Good and at events like The Teen Choice Awards, scheduled to air in August on Fox, where Do Something will announce which of its nine young finalists will win $100,000 for his or her cause. The celebrity connection makes particular sense given Do Something’s  celebrity origins. “Frankly, I think [celebrities are] a powerful, cost-effective way to get one’s message out there,” Ms. Lublin told Philanthropy News Digest. “People, young people especially, look up to celebrities. It's a fact, and we'd be foolish to ignore it.”

Ms. Lublin has an intuitive sense of what appeals to young people. For example, Do Something’s website lists her title as “CEO & Chief Old Person,” while her official biography describes her as a “reluctant, Converse-wearing ‘old person.’” (This at the ripe old age of 37.) “When I grow up I’d like to be 12,” she says. “Kids that age are so open and creative, and they really do believe anything’s possible. I think they’re a humongous untapped resource.”

While Ms. Lublin’s position at Do Something is creative and demanding, her schedule is a breeze compared to the all-nighters she pulled back in her Dress for Success days. (In fact, she is also teaching “The Business of Not for Profit Management” at Wagner as an adjunct.) How does she fit it all in? “I actually feel balanced for the first time in my life,” she says, laughing. “Now I go home to my husband and our kids at 5:30. I finally have balance: I love Monday morning, but I also really love Friday afternoon.”

—Michaela Cavallaro