“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” – Harry Truman
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
― Mortimer J. Adler
Is reading part of your job description?
For most of you, the answer is probably no, and that’s a shame. I firmly believe that voracious readers make better leaders. That’s especially true in the nonprofit sector, where exposure to a diverse range of ideas and perspectives can transform missions and drive social change.
Since it’s not realistic for many of us to dedicate a significant portion of our workdays to reading (ah, what a dream!), we have to be selective about the books we spend our time with. I always center my selections around recommendations from colleagues and clients, and in that spirit, our team at Prosper Strategies has rounded up a list of our favorite books for nonprofit innovators for you to peruse. Enjoy, and don’t forget to share what you’re reading in the comments!
Important note: if you choose to buy any of these books, we suggest finding a small, local and/or independent bookstore to support with your purchase. If you need a suggestion, we love Semicolon Books, a Black and women-owned bookstore in Chicago. We have not included any affiliate links nor will Prosper earn commissions of any kind from your purchase.
The best books for nonprofit leaders
This title is a call to free charity from its ideological and economic constraints. It is a call to arms, inviting us to think beyond nonprofit ideology and bring economic freedom to the causes we love.
Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod
What makes great nonprofits great? Authors Crutchfield and McLeod Grant searched for the answer over several years, employing a rigorous research methodology derived from books on for-profits like Built to Last. They studied 12 nonprofits that have achieved extraordinary levels of impact—from Habitat for Humanity to the Heritage Foundation–and distilled six counterintuitive practices that these organizations use to change the world. This book has lessons for all readers interested in creating significant social change, including nonprofit managers, donors and volunteers.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of Black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a Black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Building upon the concepts introduced in Good to Great, Jim Collins answers the most commonly asked questions raised by his readers in the social sectors. Using information gathered from interviews with over 100 social sector leaders, Jim Collins shows that his “Level 5 Leader” and other good-to-great principles can help social sector organizations make the leap to greatness.
Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
Drawing on his extensive background as a lawyer and the head of a large New York social service agency, management guru Charles A. Archer has created a completely fresh blueprint for building office teamwork and camaraderie. Used by companies in the United States and abroad, his comprehensive program, Everybody Paddles, is a management model focused on reaching strategic alignment and accelerating change through respect and collaboration.
The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World by David La Piana
The world changes continuously and rapidly. It’s foolhardy to believe that strategies should not do so as well. Nonprofit leaders already know this, but traditional strategic planning has locked them into a process that’s divorced from today’s reality. That’s why plans sit on the shelf and why smart executives are always seeking workarounds in between planning periods. The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution offers a nimble and powerful alternative. In this groundbreaking book, strategy expert David La Piana introduces “Real-Time Strategic Planning,” a fluid, organic process that engages staff and board in a program of systematic readiness and continuous responsiveness. With it, your nonprofit will be able to identify, understand, and act on challenges and opportunities as they arise.
Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, anti-racist educator Robin DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what can be done to engage more constructively.
Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy–and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?
In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation—that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments—that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.
Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritize these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?
Nonprofits leaders are optimistic by nature. They believe with time, energy, smarts, strategy and sheer will, they can change the world. But as staff or board leader, you know nonprofits present unique challenges. Too many cooks, not enough money, an abundance of passion. It’s enough to make you feel overwhelmed and alone. The people you help need you to be successful. But there are so many obstacles: a micromanaging board that doesn’t understand its true role; insufficient fundraising and donors who make unreasonable demands; unclear and inconsistent messaging and marketing; a leader who’s a star in her sector but a difficult boss… And yet, many nonprofits do thrive. Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership will show you how to do just that.
The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit presents realistic strategies for leaders looking to optimize organizational achievement while avoiding the common nonprofit burnout. With a uniquely holistic approach to nonprofit leadership strategy, this book functions as a handbook to help leaders examine their existing organization, identify trouble spots, and resolve issues with attention to all aspects of operations and culture. The expert author team walks you through the process of building a happier, healthier organization from the ground up, with a balanced approach that considers more than just quantitative results. Employee wellbeing takes a front seat next to organizational performance, with clear guidance on establishing optimal systems and processes that bring about better results while allowing a healthier work-life balance. By improving attitudes and personal habits at all levels, you’ll implement a positive cultural change with sustainable impact.
Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results by Alison Green and Jerry Hauser
A nonprofit manager’s fundamental job is to get results, sustained over time, rather than boost morale or promote staff development. This is a shift from the tenor of many management books, particularly in the nonprofit world. Managing to Change the World is designed to teach new and experienced nonprofit managers the fundamental skills of effective management, including: managing specific tasks and broader responsibilities; setting clear goals and holding people accountable to them; creating a results-oriented culture; hiring, developing, and retaining a staff of superstars.
Nonprofit sustainability lies at the intersection of exceptional impact and financial viability. The Sustainability Mindset offers nonprofit professionals and board members a step-by-step guide to move your organization towards this intersection. The matrix map is an accessible framework that combines financial and programmatic goals into an integrated strategy. In this next-step resource, the authors detail a rigorous process to develop a meaningful matrix map and engage leadership in setting an organization’s strategy.
The best books for nonprofit marketers and communicators
The Brand Idea: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity by Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel
Offering a new framework for nonprofit brand management, this book presents the Brand IDEA (Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity). The framework eschews traditional, outdated brand tenets of control and competition largely adopted from the private sector, in favor of a strategic approach centered on the mission and based on a participatory process, shared values, and the development of key partnerships. The results are nonprofit brands that create organizational cohesion and generate trust in order to build capacity and drive social impact. The book explores in detail how nonprofit organizations worldwide are developing and implementing new ways of thinking about and managing their organizational brands.
The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter (Contributor), Allison Fine
This groundbreaking book shows nonprofits a new way of operating in our increasingly connected world: a networked approach enabled by social technologies, where connections are leveraged to increase impact in effective ways that drive change for the betterment of our society and planet.
Donald Miller’s StoryBrand process is a proven solution to the struggle business leaders face when talking about their businesses. This revolutionary method for connecting with customers provides readers with the ultimate competitive advantage, revealing the secret for helping their customers understand the compelling benefits of using their products, ideas, or services. Building a StoryBrand does this by teaching readers the seven universal story points all humans respond to; the real reason customers make purchases; how to simplify a brand message so people understand it; and how to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures, and social media. Whether you are the marketing director of a multi-billion dollar company, the owner of a small business, a politician running for office, or the lead singer of a rock band, Building a StoryBrand will forever transform the way you talk about who you are, what you do, and the unique value you bring to your customers.
Based on more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit communications and 15,000+ hours spent utilizing social and mobile media, Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits is a comprehensive 256-page hardcover book packed with more than 100 best practices covering Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0 nonprofit communications and fundraising. From building your e-newsletter list to finding your “Twitter voice” to launching a mobile website and texting campaign on a small budget, this guide presents a step-by-step strategic plan for launching and maintaining successful social media and mobile marketing campaigns.
Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications by Sarah Durham
In the current economic climate, nonprofits need to focus on ways to stand out from the crowd, win charitable dollars, and survive the downturn. Effective, mission-focused communications can help organizations build strong identities, heightened reputations, and increased fundraising capability. Brandraising outlines a mission-driven approach to communications and marketing, specifically designed to boost fundraising efforts. This book provides tools and guidance for nonprofits seeking to transform their communications and marketing through smart positioning, branding, campaigns, and materials that leverage solid strategy and great creativity, with a unique focus on the intersection of communications and fundraising.
The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause by Kivi Leroux Miller
This down-to-earth book shows how to hack through the bewildering jungle of marketing options and miles-long to-do lists to clear a marketing path that’s right for your organization, no matter how understaffed or underfunded. You’ll see how to shape a marketing program that starts from where you are now and grows with your organization, using smart and savvy communications techniques, both offline and online. Combining big-picture management and strategic decision-making with reader-friendly tips for implementing a marketing program day in and day out, this book provides a simple yet powerful framework for building support for your organization’s mission and programs.
With millions of nonprofits and hundreds of new ones being created every week, how do you get your message in front of the people that matter? In “Who’s Telling YOUR Story?” you’ll find simple, powerful techniques to help you structure, codify, and share your story in a way that they’ll be passed on to others!
The best books for nonprofit fundraisers
The Zen of Fundraising: 89 Timeless Ideas to Strengthen and Develop Your Donor Relationships by Ken Burnett
If all that has ever been said and written about the art and science of fundraising could be distilled down to just what really matters–what fundraisers everywhere need to know–there would be only a small number of true gems deserving of the description, “nuggets of information.” Leading international fundraiser Ken Burnett, author of the classic Relationship Fundraising, has identified and defined 89 such nuggets which he presents here as The Zen of Fundraising, a fun read, one-of-a-kind look into what makes donors tick and-more importantly-what makes them give.
Oftentimes, people charged with the task of writing grant proposals have little or no training in the process, and many actually feel intimidated by the act of writing. In Storytelling for Grantseekers, consultant and trainer Cheryl A. Clarke helps fundraisers overcome these hurdles by presenting an organic approach to proposal writing. Grantseekers who have used this unique process discover that telling the organization’s story in narrative form (complete with settings, characters, antagonists, and resolutions), can help them connect with grantmakers and ultimately have greater success with funders.
Based on more than 20 years of experience and 25,000+ hours spent utilizing mobile and social media, Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide is a comprehensive 256-page book packed with more than 500 best practices. Written on the premise that all communications and fundraising are now mobile and social, Mobile for Good provides step-by-step how-tos and best practices for: writing and implementing a fundraising and content strategy, launching a mobile-compatible website and email communications, crowdfunding and social fundraising campaigns, and more.
The Ultimate Fundraising Case Study: 12 Swipe-Ready, Real World Lessons Even the Smallest Nonprofits Can Use To Raise Big Money by Dan Magill
The Ultimate Fundraising Case Study is a raw, unfiltered, hold-nothing-back look into the grind of a real fundraising campaign. It makes no pie-in-the-sky promises about guaranteed fundraising success. Instead of fluff, you’ll get 12 super-practical fundraising takeaways you can start using immediately.
Fired-Up Fundraising is honest, realistic, practical, and inspiring. It transforms the whole concept of fundraising from obligation and drudgery into passion and fun. Every CEO, development
Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times: What Good Causes Need to Know to Survive and Thrive by Kim Klein
This book is an extraordinary combination of philosophy and how to, all aimed at helping nonprofits build a movement for social justice. Kim distills three decades of fundraising and organizing experience into a book that will be helpful for novice and veteran alike.