b-side chat: Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something, talks teens, how to think about the web, and Spinal Tap

photo courtesy of fastcompany.com

photo courtesy of fastcompany.com

We caught up with Nancy Lublin, entrepreneur and CEO of Do Something, a brilliant nonprofit aimed at mobilizing teenagers to volunteer. Lublin was straighforward on why Do Something is so popular with young people (they have close to 56,000 fans on Facebook), their approach to fast changing technology (why they don’t have an iPhone app), and her love of Spinal Tap and Air Supply.

What do you think it is about Do Something that motivates young people to get involved?

We stopped shooting for cool, and instead we aimed for authentic. And if we can be really genuine and authentic to a teenager’s experience, which is – they want fun. They don’t want to be told they’re not doing enough.

What is your favorite part of leading the organization?

My favorite part of this organization is that it’s so much fun. I mean we do have foosball in the middle of the office. The other thing is that we act very quickly. We were the first organization to respond to the Chris Brown, Rihanna stuff, and we did it in a really cool way. That incident famously happened in a Lamborghini, and so we sent a couple of kids up to a Lamborghini dealership in Midtown, and we had a person from our staff distract the dealer owner. The kids reenacted, according to the LAPD report, what happened. We put the video online. It’s had over a million views, and we had 58,000 kids email us in six weeks. 3,000 of them told us their own teen dating abuse stories.

How does Do Something deal with changing technology?

[Do Something] has a spine, we’re really very focused on who we are. We don’t just react. Like, for example, I figured out the other day that we don’t have an iPhone app, and that even though it is a shiny new toy, we don’t have an iPhone app because teenagers are not on iPhones… But, so many people have said to us, “Oh yeah, when is your iPhone app coming out? When are you making an iPhone app?” and “Gosh, you’re really behind the curb on that one.” And I’m like “We’ll make an iPhone app when teenagers actually start using them.”

Because teens are so into the Internet, do you think that it’s possible to have an organization without having online tools that are geared toward youth?

I don’t think it’s smart. I mean, sure, it’s possible. But it’s also possible to be like, “I’m gonna invent the wheel.” It’s not a great idea. Or like selling surfboards in Nebraska. Not a great idea. I mean, if you’re only thinking of the Internet as a push tool, and you’re not thinking of it as a pull tool, you should just close shop and go home and knit instead.

How do you think Do Something has changed the way youth are viewing human rights?

Well we have three basic rules: We never require money, we never require an adult and we never require a car. So the challenge when we put an issue out there is: how can teenagers impact something like human rights in China or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia without money, an adult or a car? So the action guide and the things that you’ll find on our website, I hope, are all ways that kids can do something about international human rights. Not buy something, spend something, or ask their mommy or daddy to do it for them.

Is there anything else that you wanted to say about Do Something that is coming up?

We are one of the largest grant makers to young people, so if you’re fifteen years old and have a great idea we might give you money to make it happen. Our whole goal is to have two million kids take action in 2011 and report back to us. Oh, that’s the other thing; you might have noticed that everything on the website is in forms of eleven. Eleven causes, top eleven ways to do this, etc. That’s for two reasons: one is because we just always go a little bit further. The other reason is that I am obsessed with Spinal Tap.

So what do you think that [your grandfather who supported your work] would think about all that you’ve done with Do Something?

I think he’d probably wish that I’d become a lawyer in a corner office somewhere. I think my parents are still waiting, they’re going to wait a long, long time, but they’re still waiting for me to take the Bar exam and become a big attorney and wear Anne Taylor everyday…. And I think they’re gonna keep waiting for a really long time. Look, I think being an entrepreneur has only become cool in like the last ten years. So really, if you could interview my grandparents or my parents they would all say the same thing, that they would just wish me to be normal. I’m sort of on that other path and track and I think that a big chunk of my life has been spent realizing that I’m just not normal and I’m cool with that.

So are you personally into technology?

My CPO, George, really thinks that I’m a luddite, which is really, really funny because to the rest of the world I’m like totally hip and wired. So I guess there is always someone who is more wired than you are. But, yeah, I’m into technology. I’m the one running our Twitter account. That’s me on my Blackberry at all hours of the day.

Tell us something about yourself that we would be surprised to know.

My big toes look like thumbs. I’m allergic to peppers. Really allergic to peppers. Bad allergy. And, I am obsessed with Hello Kitty, I am totally afraid of snakes… and, um, I am a closet fan of Air Supply.

Check out Nancy’s new book, “Doing More with Less: What the Scrappy World of Not For Profits Can Teach Big Business.”

January 21, 2010 by crissy spivey
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