Non profit Organization Books: Enhancing Knowledge and Impact Through Nonprofit Reading

Non profit Organization Books: Enhancing Knowledge and Impact Through Nonprofit Reading

Trying to change the world for the better is a difficult task. Among them are several challenges facing non-profit organizations. The main struggle nonprofits face is the fight for financial backing to fulfill their mission. They also have to struggle with spreading the word about what they do, juggling donor and shareholder expectations, and many more.

Learning is key in such a challenging environment. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or a seasoned fundraiser, all nonprofit professionals need to hear new perspectives and learn new skills. Being a resilient non-profit professional is part of knowing the right resources to turn to. We've come up with a detailed reading list consisting of 21 nonprofit organization books. The following readings will broaden your perspective by making you consider new approaches, rethink your assumptions, and act on your best ideas to build a lasting and successful nonprofit organization.

Nonprofit Organization Essential Reads for Every Nonprofit Leader 

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is a British/American author, motivational speaker, and marketing consultant. He provides a rather unique and original point of view on business and leadership, attracting followers from all over the world for his ideas.

In the Start with Why, Sinek considers that companies place their "why" at the front of all communications and strategy. He believes that it's not the "what" or the "how" that inspires, keeps the talent, grows the sales, or attracts top board prospects.

Most organizations, or people even, think, act, or communicate from the WHAT to the WHY. In other words, from the outside in, they go from the tangible to the intangible. He suggests that successful organizations manage to put their communication right and, in the process, communicate from the inside out.

If you have already seen his TED talk, the book can become a little repetitive. However, it contains invaluable insights for the nonprofit world and, more particularly, tips on how to communicate "what it is that the world outside does for the nonprofit world." Start with Why definitely stands among our top books for nonprofit founders and leaders.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Chip Heath is a professor of strategy and organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurs.

Switch discusses how hard it is to conduct changes in our companies, career, and life; why is it so hard, and what to do to go over opposition. Switch identifies key factors in effecting lasting changes for individuals and organizations.

He addresses three components of change: the rational side (the Rider), the rational side (the Rider), the emotional side (the Elephant), and the situational world (the Path). The Heath brothers zero in on how to make each one of these three components a great deal better with simple ways and real-life advice. Switch is particularly helpful when thinking about how to implement change in your nonprofit.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Whether at nonprofit staff meetings or any other workforce location, time management appears to be the topic of discussion most common to any work environment, including a nonprofit. There's always something new in the latest time management trend of task-tracking phone apps, or bullet journaling, and beyond.

One of such time-saving tendencies is made to a "GTD" system, inspired by David Allen—the guru of personal productivity. As Allen outlines in this book, five steps will literally clear your mind and put you in a position of excelling at whatever comes your way: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage.

Allen said it in a TedTalk on his book and productivity: "Getting Things Done" is not really a matter of getting things done but a matter of "being appropriately engaged with what's going on." Using the GTD system, you'll let go of stress and generally reframe the problem you experience with productivity as a problem of "psychic bandwidth," not necessarily from poor time management.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

Teamwork is supposed to maximize efficiency and produce a better result through collaboration, but it can easily be derailed by clashing personalities or unclear goals. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable depicts this on a fictionalized team.

This book authored by highly sought-after speaker and founder of The Table Group, Patrick Lencioni, presents five common problems suffered by faltering teams and ways to get your staff on track.

Answering questions for The Growth Faculty, Lencioni says teams have to "know each other and be comfortable being real with each other. That's the foundation of true performance-based teamwork." When a leader is willing to be vulnerable and keep his or her team members focused on the success of the company as a whole, not their own individual stake, Navigates Lack of Trust, Avoidance of Accountability, and other pitfalls.

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofit by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant

Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant wrote a guide that could help non-profit organizations increase their positive social impact. This book challenges our measures of organizational success.

The study authors sought to find out and learn the common qualities of non-profits, particularly two things: did the organization achieve significant and lasting results at the national or international level and did the organization have an impact on an entire system or field?

Through the analysis of 12 non-profit organizations, which are socially influential to a very large extent, Crutchfield and McLeod Grant listed six practices that are applied by such organizations in changing society and the world.

A great read for anyone in the non-profit sector, from the professional to the donor to the volunteer, who desires to bring about a positive change for their organization and ultimately the world. This book shows how the six practices are illustrated with real stories of organizations like Feeding America and Habitat for Humanity. Forces of Good delivers an enlightening vision of why, through working with for-profits and not against them, building a nonprofit network toward the common good is necessary.

Financial Management and Fundraising Books for Nonprofit Organizations

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz is an American entrepreneur and author, best known for her humanitarian consulting work for UNICEF and for founding Acumen, a nonprofit venture fund that brings a new approach to solving the toughest problems of poverty. 

Novogratz authored New York Times bestseller The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World in 2009. The book uses her personal journey from becoming an international banker to becoming a social entrepreneur and founder of Acumen.

Novogratz drew inspiration to write The Blue Sweater from an incident in Rwanda, where a boy turned up wearing a sweater that she had donated to Goodwill 11 years before, with her name still on the tag inside. In the end, the book is more autobiographical than practical, but it's an inspiring, raw read for anyone who has been considering getting into advocacy, development, or social work.

The Blue Sweater is like a how-not-to guide for global aid. What's uniquely beautiful about this book is that the lessons do not come from a place of having it all figured out, but instead emanate from very deep humility. Its highest aspirations do not only touch upon serving fellow man but hope to inspire the total abolition of poverty from the world.

Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising by Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton

Whether considering or engaged in a peer-to-peer program, Dollar Dash is one of those must-reads for avoiding major missteps and understanding why successful programs work. Dollar Dash is a powerful applied tool, diving into the psychology of P2P fundraising and factors that drive donors and volunteers—with plenty of case studies.

Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton bring out helpful tips and advice to the reader on how to receive, keep, and maximize support from both donors and volunteers to achieve their goals. This book is storytelling of some of the most prosperous history peer-to-peer fundraisers, including Relay for Life and the March of Dimes, to help you find ways your organization can improve peer-to-peer fundraising.

Too many of the books dealing with raising funds tell us "how" to complete some action. Dollar Dash doesn't just tell you "how" but also, importantly to any serious fundraiser, it tells you "why" certain things are done in some manner or how they are working. And they back it up with social science and case studies.

Whether you are in for P2P or not, this book is relevant, valuable, and will aid you from the onset on the importance of how to identify and act with volunteers in the two types of relationships:

  • Social Relationships
  • Market Relationships

Probably what could be deemed the "make or break" insight in peer-to-peer fundraising (we believe all fundraising too) is understanding the kind of relationship you are offering or reinforcing.

The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations by David Grant

David Grant's very practical book offers not-for-profits (which he refers to convincingly as "social profits") a way to set goals that are as practical for their usefulness as they are both ambitious and achievable, along with a way to measure their success. In other words, this is a must-read for organizations that want to focus their mission clearly, plan how best to fulfill it, and measure their success practically and productively.

From his experience as president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, to the original Mountain School of Milton Academy that he and his wife founded, Grant gathers what makes institutions come alive and work well. His prescriptions for the sharpness of function and ethos of any organization are so clearly written that they cannot help but enlighten and inspire.

Standing up for the elusive quality assessment in the world of social profit, David Grant points out the importance of an internally and collaboratively designed rubric to gauge, on an ongoing and sustainable basis, the effectiveness of an organization. Grant walks the reader through thought processes and examples, and even actual workshop questions to be sure that their mission-driven organization is really "measuring what matters." The use of qualitative analysis is looked upon as a soft science, and thus bottom tier in the world of science.

But, as Grant points out, it is not that it has a use, but rather that it can and will make a profound difference in your organization and development. This will put everyone within the social sector in a better position to have a clear view of what they work toward and how well they can work toward common goals at all levels through this analysis. In addition, Grant's book is not only limited to the social profit sector but also serves as an important spend that consists of rubrics and self-evaluation for any organization in any sector to grow and expand in a more bountiful way.

Guides on Starting and Developing a Nonprofit Organization

The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun

Adam Braun is an American entrepreneur, bestselling author, and philanthropist. Adam was educated at Brown University and has traveled to more than 50 countries. He went on asking children from around the world what each of them would want most in the world. A young boy wanted a pencil when he begged on the streets from Adam.

Adam gave the boy his own pencil. But, for some reason, the story gave inspiration to Braun and finally nudged him toward getting his own organization running: Pencils of Promise.

He started the organization with just $25 and has since built more than 200 schools around the world.

Each chapter of The Promise of a Pencil- one of the best nonprofit books, it is argued- breaks down one clear step every single person can take to turn their biggest ambitions into reality, even with as little as $25.

Braun has received some criticism for calling himself ‘an ordinary person’, having had a very privileged upbringing. It does offer lessons that, however, may be used for inspiration by all. Adam himself does show that he's aware of his background, expressing several times how grateful he is. It's a moving book for all of you aspiring nonprofit leaders out there who need some inspiration. 

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup prefaces that too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. Then they would spend months, if not years, perfecting that product without ever showing that product to the prospective customer. A fundamental part of the Lean Startup methodology is the "build-measure-learn" feedback loop. The loop is based on the idea of building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and testing it as soon as possible.

All of this could be immensely transformational to the nonprofit sector: by allowing it not to pour more money than necessary into the first and often also faulty attempts to solve the problems, it gives a huge opportunity to scale up both impact and efficiencies in the social sector. The nonprofit Lean Startup challenges the nonprofit sector to get smarter and nimbler in program design, strategy, and implementation.

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Every employee brings their personal experiences and beliefs to their role within a nonprofit organization.

That surely would be relevant for nonprofit leadership—armed, as leaders usually are, by lots of training and knowledge from which they draw in directing others. But perception is not always reality, as Ashley Goodall found in his role as Senior Vice President of Methods and Intelligence at Cisco.

Nine Lies About Work is a detailed research of the "truths" that we tend to have about work, authored by the executive leadership expert and author Ashley Goodall, in collaboration with Marcus Buckingham, the leading researcher of the people and performance at the ADP Research Institute.

Some of the identified lies in the book, like "people need feedback," are actually embedded in work cultures across the world. Perhaps that is the very reason holding the nonprofit leader back from creating an innovative, employee-powered work environment.

Goodall told Forbes in an interview, "The lies emerge from a desire for conformity, and conformity is attractive; hence the lies persist. But in conformity, we lose the very thing we all want—the sparks of human distinctiveness that lead to great and productive work, and that make work more than just work." If your interest is in maximizing productivity and job satisfaction for yourself and your nonprofit team, confronting these nine lies is ground zero for that success.

Marketing and Community Engagement Books for Nonprofit Organizations

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine

Beth Kanter is one of the most respected experts in the world of nonprofits, writing prolifically online for years about the way nonprofits and technology merge to function in the 21st century. Allison Fine is the author of many award-winning books, a co-editor, and blogs about the intersection of social media and social change.

The Networked Nonprofit provides practical and strategic guidelines for any nonprofit set to take its activities higher through the integration of social media. The book teems with real-life examples and success stories from the field, which can be easily implemented. The content is structured as a how-to manual but not in a preachy way.

Being a successful nonprofit today requires capitalizing on the possibilities that new social media technologies offer. While The Networked Nonprofit is sure to be most useful for those nonprofit organizations just getting started in their use of social media for catalyzing social change, the book's strength lies in providing a clear framework for thinking about how social media is used by nonprofits.

Innovative at the time of its writing in 2010, it can be considered a little archaic now with social media being more integrated into our professional and personal lives; however, it still remains one of the most useful nonprofit books.


Magnetic Nonprofit: Attract and Retain Donors, Volunteers, and Staff by Jeremy Reis

If you want to bolster your organizational buy-in and then continue keeping those donors or staff for relationship building, then Magnetic Nonprofit: Attract and Retain Donors, Volunteers, and Staff is your map. Written by Jeremy Reis, Senior Director of Marketing for Food for the Hungry, this book is sure to help you attract the people your organization most needs and give them reasons to stick.

Reis outlines six attributes exhibited by leading and largest successful nonprofit organizations around the world: attributes such as Thankful, Transparency, Timeliness, and others. This book is full of practical applications for these attributes and is one of the best-selling books for management of non-profit organizations.

It is recommended by many famous personalities, some of them being Mike King, President and CEO of Youthfront. As King states in Magnetic Nonprofit, "may be the best book I've come across on how to attract donors, and on the even more difficult mission of retaining donors."

From the Ground Up: Digital Fundraising for Nonprofits by Brock Warner, CRFE

Digital fundraising has played very large roles in the nonprofit world, more so now after the pandemic and physical distancing restrictions. Warner provides an overview through a design thinking lens of digital fundraising platforms, tools, and tactics.

The book looks at how you can lay out an expansive digital fundraising program that fully takes advantage of technological changes. Warner also features some useful guidelines along your digital journey, including email marketing, websites that improve conversion rate, digital advertising, and social media strategies, among others.

Whether you're new to digital fundraising or a seasoned fundraiser keen to brush up your skills, this is a must-have guide for bringing your charity's digital programs up to speed.

Advanced Topics for Nonprofit Organizations 

Philanthropy Revolution by Lisa Z. Greer and Larissa Kostoff

From the perspective of a donor who is also a businesswoman, Geer shares her thoughts of the dos and don'ts in forming an effective partnership between the funder and the not-for-profit.

Philanthropy Revolution cuts through the fog to provide a clear sense and detailed insight into the manifold complexities of what donors need before they give in a no-nonsense approach. We find that interesting as fundraisers will understand much better why some fundraising events or events for causes work and some don't.

It's a breath of fresh air to read- it motivates the reader to think anew about the present-day philanthropic mechanism through personal stories and the trends of philanthropy that Geer offers. We also loved the chapter where Geer relates how it feels to have a fundraiser make a million-dollar donation- a rare and emotional feeling!

Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World

Dan Pallotta is an American entrepreneur, author, and humanitarian activist. Dan has, in just the past five years, delivered more than 275 talks on philanthropy and innovation in 34 states and eight countries. Dan's first bestseller, Uncharitable, looked deep into the changes in the nonprofit sector. Charity Case takes the next big step by speaking to the ways through which we can begin changing the status quo.

Charity Case laid out a number of ways in which charities can hold themselves accountable, suggesting many steps of immediate action, all of which are steps to re-educate them on what effective non-profits are. Dan Pallotta is a speaker you may not agree with word for word, but his book "Uncharitable," aimed at non-profits, will make you change your mind.

The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy with Anne Chow

If the workplace can really and truly be able to foster an environment of belonging and diversity, it will succeed. However, creating this environment is very tough, mostly because of the many unconscious biases we have.

As FranklinCovey's global leader for unconscious bias and author of The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias, Pamela Fuller, shares three ways to approach these internal beliefs we may not recognize we hold: with empathy, curiosity, and courage.

Commenting on her book, Fuller says, "We sort people. That’s what our brain does, and then we move on. And that is exacerbated with the pace at which we are all operating today." Fuller and co-authors provide exercises and other tools that help the reader retrain his or her brain by dealing with unconscious bias at work and within oneself.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant

Professor of the Wharton School and author Adam Grant wants the leaders of the future to be more like scientists. In his bestseller "Think Again," Grant leverages real-life evidence and academic study to make a case for "confident humility," something he advises in leadership.

It is not always about setting up ourselves as pillars of knowledge where one has to learn; it has to come through the way of working: developing curiosity and flexibility in their approach. When leaders can question their ideas and lean into the discomfort of not knowing, they are able to accept positive changes to push the organization forward.

In an interview with Thought Economics, Grant describes how a self-help approach carries much more effectiveness for bringing about change in people than "ramming your reasons for change down their throat."

Innovative Fundraising and Philanthropy Trend Reads for Nonprofit Organizations

Leading from Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Ki Seidle

Social and political movements in recent years have only served to amplify this call for more moral and ethical practices from businesses and non-profits around the world. In her book Leading from Within, Gretchen Ki Steidle urges leaders to lead from within, being self-aware of how they can help shape a more just future.

Founded in 2004, Global Grassroots emerged from the work of Steve Steidle in support of leadership initiatives for women from countries in Africa who had experienced conflict and genocide. In a podcast with the University of Virginia, Steidle explains her work, "I wanted to be very sure that if I was going to be training a next generation of change leaders, that they would be going about their change much more mindfully and that it would be change that would be sustainable because they'd be able to take care of themselves and be able to sustain their work."

Leading from Within details five ways of leading great social change while simultaneously ensuring that those in the social justice practice maintain a high standard of care in their ethics. 

Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising by Rob Cummings

“Winning” is a book that draws on the author's 42 years of fundraising experience and combines them with five truths designed to give insights, reminders, and encouragement to those who are out in the trenches of fundraising. A contrast to most fundraising books—this book isn't filled with charts and data but with stories that paint the pictures of moments and strategies most fundraisers miss or often overlook.

Especially when fundraising, the key to success is in the story because you have to clearly convey the messages and be in touch with the audience. The way Cummings tells and writes the stories is just awesome. 

The way he outlines the inspiring stories of front-line fundraising helps shape your storytelling skills, while his winsome prose keeps it from ever feeling dry or academic. 

This book should be on the bookshelves of new nonprofit board members and leaders, and even more so on those of a CEO or volunteer within the world of nonprofits.


Robots Make Bad Fundraisers by Steven Shattuck

What can we say? Robots Make Bad Fundraisers is a wonderful book. Shattuck analyzes the tangled links between technology and the relationship of donors: how they have to be complementary to set up a more human-centered approach to fundraising. 

This book will guide you to know when to use digital automation, with practical tips for savvy strategies, and when not to. The real-life experiences Shattuck illustrates in this book are just what we love reading- very relevant and very fast-paced. 

If you are thinking about upgrading your fundraising and donors' management through technology, then this book is a must-read. Shattuck offers a starting point for using digital technologies to build a more human experience.

Additional Resources

Our blog offers quite a bit of information for nonprofits concerning how to start a nonprofit, the best way to raise money at fundraising events, legal compliance, and more. If you want to read more on nonprofit organization books, we suggest starting with The Power of Nonprofit Books: Best Books for Starting a Nonprofit.

Sign up for a free demo and see if Paybee has everything you need in a nonprofit fundraising platform. We offer mock live auction experiences to give our users a feel for what will be experienced by their donations and their supporters. It would also give you a chance to ask questions directly from our team of experts related to our fundraising software to help you decide whether Paybee is a good match for your organization.

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Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova

Born and raised in South Africa, Anastasia-Alexandra is a Bulgarian writer and fighter. When she isn't writing, she's busy training or competing in Judo for South Africa. She's passionate about Judo where she is a 2nd Dan, other martial arts and fitness overall. Her dream is to qualify for the Olympic Games in Judo, and she's doing her best to turn that dream into reality.

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