14 Nonprofit Books Recommended by Top Industry Experts

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By Hannah Durbin
Published July 13, 2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes

At Classy, one of our core values is to always be learning. Even seasoned fundraisers and nonprofit professionals need to learn new skills and hear new perspectives, and that’s where our reading list comes in.

At the 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, our annual nonprofit conference, over 7,000 people from across the world came together to learn how to advance their mission within the social sector. These industry experts, thought leaders, and changemakers shared a plethora of resources that have been influential in their careers, so we rounded up their top recommendations in an easy-to-digest list to inspire your next read.

The following books ask you to rethink your assumptions, consider new approaches, and act on your best ideas. Dive in today.

14 Must-Read Books for Nonprofits

1. Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

Can money buy happiness? According to Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, it can—if you follow the five core principles of smart spending.

These two professors tapped into their cutting-edge research in behavioral science to help individuals establish financial security, create happier work environments, provide better products and user experiences for customers, and more. While people typically seek advice on how to earn, save, and invest their money, this book will help you discover how to spend money to boost your happiness.

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

The revenue generated from peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns is typically greater than crowdfunding or ticketed events, but that amount could reach even higher levels if nonprofits better understood why people give.

The fundamentals of human behavior have a large effect on an organization’s ability to fundraise, so this book breaks down the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising and the fuel that drives donor and volunteer behavior. Learn how to acquire, retain, and maximize the support of your community by applying key behavioral findings to your nonprofit team.

3. From the Ground Up: Digital Fundraising for Nonprofits by Brock Warner, CFRE

Technology and digital trends move quickly, but there are a few fundamentals that every nonprofit needs to know. Whether you’re just getting started in your fundraising career or are looking to level up your nonprofit’s digital program, this easy-to-use handbook is a good resource to have.

Learn how to build, design, and innovate upon an effective digital fundraising program with this book, which includes everything from email marketing best practices to digital advertising strategies, to systems to future-proof your fundraising.

4. Managing a Nonprofit Organization: Updated Twenty-First Century Edition by Thomas Wolf

This go-to guide has been a resource for nonprofit administrators since 1984, and the newly revised edition continues to support those in leadership roles by addressing the challenges our world is facing today and how nonprofits can learn to adapt and grow despite it all.

Technological innovation, political shifts, and economic fluctuations have tested the social sector’s ability to cope with change, but Dr. Wolf’s suggestions will help your nonprofit manage these transitions to become a highly successful leader and continue driving your organization’s mission forward.

5. Responsive Fundraising: The Donor-Centric Framework Helping Today’s Leading Nonprofits Grow Giving by Gabe Cooper

Learn how to leverage the Responsive Fundraising Framework, an ever-evolving cycle where fundraisers listen, connect, and suggest giving options to each individual donor based on what they care about most, to engage your donors in a more impactful way.

This book will reveal what the data tells us about modern donors and their giving habits, as well as a step-by-step playbook of actions you can take right now to improve your current fundraising tactics.

6. Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results by Alison Green and Jerry Hauser

This book focuses on getting results by teaching new and experienced nonprofit leaders the fundamental skills of effective management. In opposition to other management books in the nonprofit world, the thought behind this guide is that getting results must always remain as the number one priority for those in administrative roles.

With topics including how to set clear goals and hold people accountable to them, create a results-oriented culture, and hire, develop, and retain a strong staff, this book can help you elevate your management skills and reach your goals.

7. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown

Change is constant. Rather than fearing the inevitable, this book will teach you how to feel, map, assess, and learn from the continual state of flux we experience everyday. Defined as a “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help” exploration, Adrienne Maree Brown will help you better understand the ever-mutating patterns emerging around you.

8. The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

This book is not just a discussion of how to empower vulnerable communities to become financially self-sufficient. It is also a poignant memoir from the author, who left a job in credit analysis at Chase Manhattan Bank to pursue humanitarian work. Jacqueline Novogratz has worked as a consultant for UNICEF and started the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital fund that invests in ideas and companies leading the way in the struggle against poverty. The Blue Sweater uses stories and characters from her travels to show the need for a new approach to abolishing poverty.

9. The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, and Randi Zuckerberg

“URGENT! Read this book. Take notes. Take action. If you work for a nonprofit, you don’t have to do every single thing these seasoned authors have to share, but you certainly have to know what you’re missing.” —Seth Godin

Penned by two successful bloggers and the former director of market development of Facebook, this book is a guide for nonprofits looking to incorporate social media into their strategies.

The authors trace the evolution of nonprofit communications and debunk the social media myths that are holding organizations back. Using real-world examples, The Networked Nonprofit shows how nonprofits can succeed in the ever-changing world of social media.

10. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

The title of this book sums it up pretty well. The author and his research team identified a diverse group of companies that made the jump from average to outstanding. Furthermore, Collins was interested in companies who showed sustained growth for at least 15 years after the leap. The team found that the companies shared seven characteristics, often relating to the motivation and discipline of its employees.

This book doesn’t promise quick earth-shattering breakthroughs, but rather lays out the long-term, under-the-radar efforts that can help build a strong and successful organization.

11. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Written as a business fable, this book identifies the insecurities and flaws that can spell disaster not only for the corporate world, but for all kinds of teams. Patrick Lencioni teaches through the story of a fictional Silicon Valley company where interpersonal problems between executives threaten the entire business.

But don’t worry about having to read between the lines for real leadership advice. At the end Lencioni goes more in depth on the five dysfunctions holding your team back and how to fix them.

12. Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up For Itself and Really Change the World by Dan Pallotta

Dan Pallotta is a titan of the charity event industry, creating campaigns such as the AIDS Rides and 3 Day Walk for Breast Cancer. But he says that the public perception of charities and how they should be run is keeping nonprofits from solving large-scale problems like hunger and poverty.

In Charity Case, Pallotta explains what actions the nonprofit sector must take to change the conversation, including legal steps against defamation and ending the cycle that keeps organizations small and cash-strapped.

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

Have you ever wondered what makes high-impact organizations so outstanding? The authors of this book didn’t just wonder, they spent years studying 12 powerhouse nonprofits to figure out just what they were doing right. And the answers may surprise you. They identified six practices that can be used by nonprofits of any size.

Read this book if you want to know why you need to work with for-profits instead of against them and why you need to cultivate a nonprofit network toward the common good. The six practices are explained through real stories from organizations like Feeding America and Habitat for Humanity.

For more insight on how to elevate your nonprofit’s impact, register for the 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions for free access to session recordings with some of the world’s leading organizations.

14. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

“Anyone interested in influencing others—to buy, to vote, to learn, to diet, to give to charity or to start a revolution—can learn from this book.” – Washington Post

People have been communicating through stories for centuries, yet it remains a critical tool to spark interest and mobilize action to this day.

This book by the Heath brothers teaches you how to make your ideas and stories unforgettable. Drawing on urban legends, personal stories, and advertisements, they identify the qualities that make some ideas stick. Use the advice in this book to make sure your cause and ideas grab people’s attention and never let go.

Reading books as a team can be a great way to grow together and get buy-in for trying new tactics or launching a new initiative. For additional resources on how to advance your nonprofit’s mission and elevate your impact, check out our new learning platform of on-demand courses covering nonprofit best practices for all, as well as how you can optimize Classy to advance your nonprofit’s mission. Visit Classy Academy today.

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