The Power of Nonprofit Books: Best Books for Starting a Nonprofit

The Power of Nonprofit Books: Best Books for Starting a Nonprofit

Starting a nonprofit organization is a noble endeavor, driven by a passion to make a positive impact in your community or the world at large. While the journey to creating and sustaining a nonprofit can be both rewarding and challenging, there's a valuable resource that can be your guiding light – books. In this article, we'll explore the pivotal role that books play in the success of nonprofit starters and provide you with a curated list of the top 10 books that every aspiring nonprofit leader should consider.

Books have long been regarded as a source of knowledge, inspiration, and guidance. They offer insights, strategies, and real-world examples that can help you navigate the complex terrain of nonprofit management, fundraising, donor relations, and more. These literary companions not only provide valuable advice but also serve as mentors and companions on your journey.

Whether you're an aspiring nonprofit founder, a seasoned professional looking to enhance your skills, or someone with a burning desire to make a difference, the knowledge contained within the pages of these books can empower you to create a successful and impactful nonprofit organization. In the following sections, we will delve into the role of books in nonprofit success, highlight the top 10 books, and address common questions that may arise on your nonprofit journey. So, let's embark on this literary adventure together and unlock the wisdom that these books hold for you.

The Role of Books in Nonprofit Success

Books serve as indispensable guides on the path to nonprofit success, offering a roadmap that aspiring and seasoned nonprofit leaders alike can benefit from. In the world of nonprofits, knowledge truly is power, and the wisdom found within the pages of these literary companions can be your greatest asset.

Great books on nonprofit management, fundraising, and leadership are like trusted mentors, imparting their insights and expertise to help you navigate the intricate landscape of nonprofit organizations. They are not just books; they are beacons of knowledge that illuminate the way forward.

When you embark on the journey to form a nonprofit or take the helm of an existing one, the value of these resources becomes evident. They provide a treasure trove of ideas, strategies, and best practices accumulated by experts who have been in the trenches of the nonprofit world.

These best nonprofit books are like a secret weapon in your arsenal, offering you the tools to create and manage successful nonprofit organizations that truly make a difference in the world. They shed light on the nuances of nonprofit fundraising, the art of effective leadership, and the dynamics of nonprofit organizations' work in the social sphere.

In a world where the challenges faced by nonprofits are constantly evolving, staying informed is key. These books are not just bestsellers; they are agents of change, empowering you to adapt, innovate, and lead with confidence. So, don't just read them; absorb their wisdom, and let them inspire your journey to create a more impactful nonprofit organization.

Top 10 Books for Creating a Successful Nonprofit

"The Art of Startup Fundraising" by Alejandro Cremades

Picture this: the world of startup funding is like a river, always flowing and changing its course. And in this ever-evolving landscape, "The Art of Startup Fundraising" by Alejandro Cremades is your trusty guidebook, helping you navigate the twists and turns of securing funds for your startup.

One big shift you'll notice is that startup money has found a new home online. Traditional advice just won't cut it anymore, and this book steps in to bridge the gap, showing you the ropes of the digital finance world.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Online Fundraising 101: Yep, startup money has gone digital, and this book explains how it all works.
  2. Rolling with the Changes: The financial world is changing faster than ever, and this book helps you keep up with the latest rules.
  3. Understanding the New Rules: The JOBS Act is in town, and it's changing the fundraising game. Get the lowdown on how it affects your startup.
  4. Funding at Every Stage: Whether you're just starting out or hitting the growth phase, this book has your back with fundraising tips.
  5. Nail That Pitch: Learn the art of crafting a pitch that grabs investors' attention and leaves a lasting impression.
  6. Spotting the Right Investors: Find out how to spot the investors who are the perfect fit for your startup.
  7. Avoiding Common Pitfalls: Don't fall into the same traps others do. This book dishes out advice on what not to do.

In a nutshell, "The Art of Startup Fundraising" isn't just a how-to book; it's your go-to companion for understanding and thriving in today's ever-changing world of startup finance. So, whether you're launching your startup or considering an investment, this book has your back with insights and guidance that speak your language.

"Nonprofit Management 101" by Darian Rodriguez Heyman

Imagine having a comprehensive guidebook that not only introduces you to the world of nonprofit management but also helps seasoned leaders connect all the dots. Well, "Nonprofit Management 101" by Darian Rodriguez Heyman is precisely that essential resource you need in your nonprofit journey.

Overview: This updated edition of the book is like your GPS for navigating the nonprofit sector. It's designed for both newcomers and seasoned pros, offering a quick yet thorough overview of everything that matters. It's the go-to manual for anyone seeking to make a meaningful impact and understand how all the pieces of nonprofit management fit together.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Mastering Fundraising: From individual donors to corporate sponsorships and grants, this book provides insights into successful fundraising strategies.
  2. Embracing the Digital Era: Discover how nonprofits can leverage online fundraising, social networking, and technology to enhance their reach and effectiveness.
  3. Building Your Brand: Explore the worlds of marketing, public relations, and event management, and learn how to create a compelling nonprofit brand.
  4. Engaging Your Team: Dive into the art of board and volunteer engagement, finding ways to inspire and mobilize your team.
  5. Human Resources Insights: Get tips on managing your nonprofit's human resources and charting a career path in the sector.
  6. Advocacy and Impact: Understand the ins and outs of lobbying, advocacy, legal compliance, and financial management.
  7. Strategic Leadership: Learn from seasoned leaders about strategic planning and effective leadership practices.

This book isn't just essential reading; it's your compass in the dynamic world of nonprofit management. Whether you're new to the nonprofit sector or a seasoned pro, "Nonprofit Management 101" equips you with practical insights and strategies to elevate your organization's impact. It's your all-in-one guide to staying current in the nonprofit field.

"The Little Book of Gold" by Erik Hanberg

When it comes to fundraising, size doesn't matter; impact does. "The Little Book of Gold" by Erik Hanberg is the ultimate companion for small nonprofits, offering a practical, step-by-step guide to unlocking their fundraising potential. This book has been a game-changer for countless small organizations across the country, helping them navigate the complex world of fundraising successfully.

Overview: "The Little Book of Gold" is a treasure trove of insights and strategies tailored specifically for small and very small nonprofits, regardless of their budget size. Whether you're a new Executive Director, a proactive board chair, or a key staff member responsible for fundraising, this guide equips you with the fundamentals of sustainable and professional fundraising.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Board Giving Mastery: Learn the art of approaching your Board of Directors about contributions and how to "ask without asking." Navigate different types of board members, from reluctant givers to dedicated supporters, and establish monthly giving programs within your board.
  2. Expanding Beyond the Board: Discover effective ways to solicit donations beyond your board, including approaches that don't come across as desperate. Build a strong base of monthly donors, encourage small, regular contributions, and establish online giving options while ensuring donors feel appreciated.
  3. Fundraising Event Efficiency: Streamline your fundraising events to maximize returns and avoid time-consuming, low-yield efforts. Uncover lucrative event ideas that might be off the beaten path.
  4. Navigating the Grants Landscape: Master the art of identifying new grant opportunities and making a compelling case for your nonprofit. Gain insights into how to establish strong relationships with granting organizations.
  5. Thinking Big and Bigger: Build donor relationships over time, create effective donor levels, and consider the potential of capital campaigns and planned giving.

This book isn't just a guide; it's a lifeline for small nonprofits. "The Little Book of Gold" empowers organizations with limited resources to make a significant impact through effective fundraising. With its practical advice and actionable tips, it has earned its place as a must-read resource for nonprofit professionals, ensuring that size is never a barrier to achieving a mission's goals.

"Forces for Good" by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant

What sets the great nonprofits apart from the rest? "Forces for Good" by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant seeks to answer this question by delving into the extraordinary practices of 12 nonprofits that have made a lasting impact on the world. In this updated edition, the authors revisit their groundbreaking research, shining a light on the key principles that continue to drive change in the nonprofit sector.

Overview: The book's foundation lies in rigorous research methodology, drawing inspiration from successful for-profit organizations like those celebrated in "Built to Last." The authors dissect the practices of organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Heritage Foundation, distilling six counterintuitive strategies that propel these nonprofits to create significant social change.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Revisiting the Six Practices: The updated edition explores these practices in the context of today's nonprofit landscape, offering valuable insights for organizations striving to make a difference.
  2. Adapting to Change: A new chapter focuses on applying these practices to small, local nonprofits, demonstrating that these principles are scalable and relevant for organizations of all sizes.
  3. Tracking Progress: Get updates on the 12 organizations featured in the original book, including their journeys, lessons learned, and growth trajectories.

This book isn't just for nonprofit professionals; it's a guide for anyone passionate about driving meaningful social change. Whether you manage a nonprofit, contribute as a donor, or volunteer your time, "Forces for Good" equips you with a roadmap based on the success stories of remarkable organizations. It's a testament to the enduring power of counterintuitive practices that can transform nonprofits into true forces for good in our world.

"The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine

In an increasingly interconnected world, nonprofits are discovering a transformative way of operating: becoming networked nonprofits, utilizing the power of social technologies to amplify their impact and drive positive change. "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine is a groundbreaking book that unveils this innovative approach, offering insights and strategies for nonprofits to thrive in our interconnected society.

Overview: "The Networked Nonprofit" introduces readers to a new paradigm where nonprofit organizations leverage social technologies and connections to enhance their effectiveness in serving society and the planet. It's a call to action for nonprofits to embrace the digital age and utilize the vast network of connected individuals for the greater good.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Unlocking Innovation: Learn how nonprofits can harness the flexibility and creativity that the internet offers, empowering them to explore new ways of achieving their missions.
  2. Collaborative Power: Discover how nonprofits can work in partnership with the billions of connected citizens online, creating a collaborative ecosystem to tackle societal challenges.
  3. Historical Context: Gain a deeper understanding of the historical context and contemporary challenges that are pushing nonprofit leaders towards networked approaches.
  4. Practical Steps: The book offers actionable steps for nonprofits to exploit the potential of social media and operate more effectively in a networked world.
  5. Real-world Applications: Explore real-world applications of technology and social networks to extend the reach and impact of nonprofit missions.

This book is a must-read for nonprofit leaders and individuals passionate about driving change. Whether you're looking to transform your nonprofit organization from the inside out or seeking to harness the power of social networks, "The Networked Nonprofit" provides a roadmap and valuable insights to help you make a meaningful impact in our interconnected world. It's a call to action to embrace the digital revolution and leverage its potential for the greater good.

"Start with Why" by Simon Sinek

"Start with Why" isn't just a book; it's a life-changing movement ignited by Simon Sinek's quest to inspire individuals and organizations to find their purpose. This bestselling masterpiece has touched millions, making it a catalyst for transformation at work and beyond.

Overview: In 2009, Simon Sinek embarked on a mission to help people discover their source of inspiration at work and, in turn, inspire their colleagues and customers. His journey led to the creation of a movement centered around the idea presented in "Start with Why." Sinek challenges us to explore a fundamental question: What sets some individuals and organizations apart, making them more innovative, influential, and profitable? Why do they command unwavering loyalty from customers and employees? And why can so few replicate their success consistently?

Key Takeaways:

  1. The Power of 'Why': The heart of Sinek's message lies in understanding the profound impact of starting with 'Why.' Visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers grasped this concept, recognizing that people don't fully embrace a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand its 'Why.'
  2. The Golden Circle: Sinek introduces 'The Golden Circle,' a revolutionary framework that unites the way influential leaders think, act, and communicate. It's a blueprint for building organizations, leading movements, and inspiring individuals. And it all begins with 'Why.'
  3. Inspiration through Purpose: By starting with 'Why,' individuals and organizations can tap into a wellspring of inspiration. This not only fuels innovation but also fosters deep loyalty among both customers and employees.

"Start with Why" isn't just a prescription for success; it's an invitation to embark on a journey of discovery. Whether you're a leader seeking to make a profound impact or an individual striving to find your own 'Why,' this book provides a roadmap for harnessing the power of purpose. It challenges us all to look beyond 'What' we do and 'How' we do it and encourages us to explore the 'Why' that drives our actions and endeavors.

"The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman

Navigating the complex world of nonprofit leadership can be challenging, with the constant pressure to do more with less often leading to burnout. "The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman offers a refreshing perspective, presenting strategies for leaders to optimize organizational performance while prioritizing the well-being of their teams.

Overview: This book takes a holistic approach to nonprofit leadership, serving as a practical handbook for leaders seeking to enhance their organization's achievements without compromising employee health and happiness. It urges leaders to assess their existing structures, identify pain points, and address issues affecting all aspects of operations and organizational culture. The authors emphasize the importance of creating a healthier work-life balance and fostering a positive culture within nonprofit organizations.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Balancing Well-being and Performance: "The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit" challenges the prevailing notion that nonprofits should prioritize performance at the expense of employee well-being. It advocates for a balanced approach that considers both quantitative results and the overall health of the organization.
  2. Cultural Transformation: The book guides leaders in revamping their organizations from the ground up, focusing on cultural considerations as the cornerstone of strategy. By addressing cultural and behavioral pain points, leaders can create a positive cultural change with lasting impact.
  3. Sustainable Change: Leaders will find guidance on establishing systems and processes that facilitate sustainable change, promoting better results while allowing employees to maintain a healthier work-life balance.

Nonprofits are fueled by passion, but this passion can wane when pressure and overwork become the norm. "The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit" serves as a blueprint for organizations seeking to thrive by redefining their culture, addressing employee well-being, and achieving sustainable change. It underscores the importance of nurturing a positive and supportive work environment to optimize the performance of nonprofit organizations.

"Donor-Centered Fundraising" by Penelope Burk

In the second edition of "Donor-Centered Fundraising," Penelope Burk, a respected author, researcher, and fundraising expert, unveils a groundbreaking methodology that challenges conventional fundraising practices. This updated and expanded edition offers strategies that not only increase donor loyalty but also significantly raise funds for nonprofit organizations.

Overview: "Donor-Centered Fundraising" is the result of decades of research and tens of thousands of donor interactions. Burk's methodology provides a fresh perspective on fundraising, emphasizing the importance of preserving donor loyalty. The book candidly examines why donors disengage and offers a roadmap for maintaining their ongoing support.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Redefining Fundraising: The book challenges traditional approaches to donor communication and recognition, shedding light on why these practices often fall short of donors' expectations.
  2. Donor Desires: Through statistical evidence and clear language, Burk identifies what donors truly desire from the nonprofits they support, highlighting the gaps between donor expectations and nonprofit practices.
  3. Fundraising for Today: Burk's methodology offers a step-by-step guide for transforming any nonprofit into a donor-centered organization. It demonstrates how outdated fundraising approaches fail to tap into the full potential of donors' generosity.
  4. Real-World Insights: The book is enriched with real-life anecdotes from donors and fundraisers, offering eye-opening, humorous, and poignant perspectives on the donor-fundraiser relationship.

"Donor-Centered Fundraising" is an invaluable resource for fundraisers, executive directors, board members, donor relations professionals, and anyone involved in nonprofit fundraising. It serves as a compass for organizations seeking to adapt to the changing landscape of donor expectations and maximize their fundraising potential. This book is a must-read for those committed to advancing the mission of not-for-profits through donor-centered strategies.

"The Generosity Network" by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker

"The Generosity Network" is your indispensable guide to the art of mobilizing resources for any noble cause. In this enlightening book, philanthropist Jeff Walker and fundraising expert Jennifer McCrea present a fresh perspective that transforms the challenges of nonprofit management and development into fulfilling and even enjoyable endeavors.

Overview: Walker and McCrea challenge conventional fundraising methods that focus solely on monetary goals and scripted techniques. Instead, they advocate for a people-centric, curiosity-driven approach that fosters genuine connections and discoveries. Through captivating personal stories, innovative suggestions, and inspiring examples, the authors reveal how nonprofit leaders can cultivate a community of engaged partners who are eager to contribute not only financially but also with their time, talents, networks, creativity, and public support.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Human-Centered Approach: "The Generosity Network" advocates for a shift from traditional money-centered strategies to person-to-person connections. It demonstrates that fostering meaningful relationships is the key to success in nonprofit management and fundraising.
  2. Tapping into Abundance: The book highlights the wealth of social capital available within communities and networks. It encourages readers to uncover and harness this often-overlooked resource.
  3. Practical Guidance: This book is a practical and thought-provoking resource designed to empower nonprofit leaders, managers, donors, board members, and supporters. It offers new approaches that can enhance the effectiveness and satisfaction of their work.
  4. Universal Application: Whether you are involved in a global nonprofit or a local community organization, "The Generosity Network" provides valuable insights that can improve your fundraising and management efforts.

"The Generosity Network" serves as a motivating and practical handbook for those dedicated to making a positive impact on the world. It inspires nonprofit professionals, donors, and supporters to embrace a more human-centric approach to philanthropy and resource mobilization, leading to greater success and fulfillment in their endeavors.

"The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need" by Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox

"The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need" is the ultimate guide to the art of grant-seeking, authored by two seasoned experts who have successfully secured millions of dollars in government and foundation grants. Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox provide a comprehensive, step-by-step manual tailored to government, nonprofit, and individual grant seekers. Their wealth of experience in grant writing and professional development makes this book an invaluable resource for anyone aiming to secure funding.

Overview: This fifth edition of the book offers essential insights into the ever-evolving landscape of grantsmanship in today's economic and social climate. Karsh and Fox draw from their extensive knowledge to demystify the grant-seeking process, offering invaluable advice gathered from both funders and recipients. The book covers various aspects of grant seeking, providing practical guidance for developing effective proposals, diversifying funding sources, and thinking creatively when grants are scarce.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Adapting to Change: The book acknowledges the dynamic nature of grant-seeking in today's world and provides crucial information on how to navigate it successfully.
  2. Firsthand Perspectives: Readers gain access to in-depth interviews with funders, nonprofit leaders, and policy makers, offering unique insights into the grants process.
  3. Creative Solutions: A new chapter encourages thinking "outside the box" to secure funding when resources are limited.
  4. Practical Application: The book includes hands-on exercises to reinforce learning, ensuring readers can put theory into practice.
  5. Online Resources: Readers benefit from a detailed list of important websites tailored to grant seekers.
  6. Program Development: Strategies for creating and presenting programs that are appealing to grant providers are outlined, increasing the likelihood of successful grant applications.
  7. "The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need" is an indispensable resource for individuals and organizations seeking to master the art of grant seeking. With its comprehensive guidance and real-world insights, it equips readers with the knowledge and tools necessary to secure funding and bring their projects to life.

Why These Books Stand Out

When it comes to starting nonprofits, finding the right guidance can be a game-changer. There's a wealth of knowledge out there, but the best books on this subject share common themes and offer unique insights that set them apart.

Great Insights for Nonprofit Leaders

The first common theme across these best books is their dedication to providing great insights for nonprofit leaders. They recognize that the journey of starting nonprofits is both challenging and rewarding, and they aim to equip readers with the knowledge and tools to navigate this path effectively.

Leadership: A Consistent Thread

One standout theme is the emphasis on leadership. Leadership is the backbone of any successful nonprofit, and these books dive deep into the art of leading with purpose and impact. They stress the importance of not only managing but also inspiring people, whether they are nonprofit employees, volunteers, or donors.

Connecting with People

Another recurring theme is the power of connecting with people. People are at the heart of nonprofit work, and these books recognize that building meaningful relationships is key. They offer practical advice on how to engage with others, mobilize support, and create a community of like-minded individuals who share your passion.

Comprehensive Resources

These books are not just limited to theoretical knowledge. They provide comprehensive resources, offering a valuable nonprofit kit for readers. Whether you're looking for guidance on fundraising, marketing, board engagement, or strategic planning, these books have you covered.

Unique Perspectives and Approaches

While these books share common themes, each one brings a unique perspective and approach to the table. They offer fresh insights, innovative ideas, and real-world examples that cater to the diverse needs and challenges faced by nonprofit starters.

These best books for starting nonprofits are more than just books—they are invaluable companions on your journey. They offer a blend of leadership wisdom, practical resources, and unique perspectives that will empower you to make a meaningful difference in the world. So, don't hesitate to add them to your reading list and unlock the knowledge they hold. Your nonprofit's success story begins with the wisdom you gain from these exceptional books.


Starting a nonprofit can be an exciting yet complex journey. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you navigate this path effectively.

What are the essential skills for starting nonprofits?

Starting nonprofits requires a diverse skill set. Great leadership, communication, and strategic planning skills are essential. You'll need to engage people effectively, manage finances, and understand legal and regulatory aspects. Books on nonprofit leadership and management, like those in our list of best books, can help you develop these skills.

How do I choose the right book for my nonprofit journey?

Choosing the best books for your nonprofit journey depends on your specific needs and goals. Consider your current knowledge level, challenges, and areas where you need guidance. Look for books that align with your objectives, and don't hesitate to read reviews and recommendations to find the best fit.

Are there any great online resources or courses in addition to books?

Yes, in addition to books, there are numerous online resources and courses available. Many nonprofit organizations offer webinars, workshops, and online courses on topics ranging from fundraising to board development. These resources complement the insights you gain from books and provide practical guidance.

How often should I update my knowledge with new books?

The nonprofit landscape evolves continuously, so staying up-to-date is crucial. Aim to read new books and articles regularly to keep your knowledge fresh. Consider setting aside time each quarter to explore the latest publications and trends in the nonprofit sector.

Can I start a charity without any prior experience?

Starting a nonprofit without prior experience is possible but challenging. While experience can be beneficial, it's not a strict requirement. Great determination, a strong vision, and a willingness to learn and adapt are equally important. Books and resources are valuable tools to help you bridge any knowledge gaps and embark on a successful nonprofit journey.

In summary, embarking on the journey of starting nonprofits involves acquiring essential skills, choosing the right resources, staying updated, and having the determination to overcome challenges. By leveraging books, online resources, and your passion for making a difference, you can navigate this path with confidence.


Knowledge is power. Investing time in reading and continuous learning is not just a good practice; it's a great one. By exploring the best books on nonprofit leadership, management, and strategy, you equip yourself with the tools and insights needed to make a real impact.

Remember, starting nonprofits is a journey that requires great leadership and a commitment to excellence. The knowledge gained from these resources will serve as your compass, guiding you through the challenges and triumphs along the way.

As you embark on this path, don't forget that being well-informed in the nonprofit sector yields long-term benefits. Your dedication to learning and growth will not only benefit your organization but also the causes and people you serve.

Ready to take the next step in your nonprofit journey? Join us at PayBee's event page to connect with like-minded individuals, share your insights, and contribute to the greater good. Together, we can achieve greatness in the world of nonprofits.

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Karen Bodkin

Karen Bodkin is a Canadian freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to the PayBee blog. When she's not writing, you can find her exploring the great outdoors. Her portfolio can be found here: https://karenbodkin.contra.com.

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