The best books about nonprofits

Many authors have picked their favorite books about nonprofits and why they recommend each book.

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Scaling Leadership

By Robert J. Anderson, William A. Adams,

Book cover of Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes That Matter Most

This book posits that the most important function of an organizational leader is to create other leaders throughout the organization. That’s right…not problem-solving, not clever strategy, not vision but leadership development. That’s because those other aspects are “table stakes” for the game of leadership in today’s complex business world. What I like about this book is that it is based on a huge pool of data about what makes leaders effective in the 21st-century and many of the insights are drawn from leaders themselves….from the feedback they give when they evaluate other leaders using the Leadership Circle Profile 360° assessment. It’s a nice marriage of relatable info “from the horse’s mouth” and decades of leadership theory borne out by insights from the assessment of hundreds of thousands of leaders. If you want to very specifically know what it takes to be a 21st-century leader, this book is a…


Who am I?

For over a decade I helped people develop their skills and expand their leaderful-ness in Agile Coaching and I kept hearing the same blocker: “This is great and all, but my leaders don’t get it. They are the impediment.” After working with many thousands of Agilists I decided to go into the “belly of the beast” and personally coach leadership teams. What I found were not beasts or even garden variety egomaniacs. Instead, I found well-meaning people who are genuinely confounded by the complexity of today’s business landscape and who struggle with performance-killing team dynamics. Good news: the human technology to “solve” these issues is widely available. We know how.


I narrated...

Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

By Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, Travis Marsh

Book cover of Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

What is the book about?

Despite the advent of disruptive technologies that have upended the business landscape, the structure of most companies remains largely unchanged, with traditional top-down leadership still the norm. Couldn’t there be a better way to organize work that reflects our modern world - one with nimble, invested leaders rather than disengaged, disinterested employees? The answer is yes!

In Lead Together, authors Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, and Travis Marsh offer founders, CEOs, and other leaders a radical new way of working and scaling a business. The audiobook is narrated by Lyssa Adkins, an internationally recognized thought leader in Agile, a coach and guide to leadership teams, and a leader herself.

Power Plays

By Robert D. Mayer,

Book cover of Power Plays

Early in my career, I came into conflict with a prickly character who was known to bully his adversaries. Colleagues had told me tales of angry rants and threatened lawsuits, and eventually, there came a time when I found myself in the crosshairs. I was young, inexperienced, and scared, and I was dealing with an older person who had plenty of tricks. So I started casting around for resources that would help me up my negotiation game. I stumbled onto Power Plays, by Robert Mayer, a famous LA-based lawyer who had represented and negotiated for clients ranging from famous actors, to major corporations, to foreign governments. It changed my life.


Who am I?

I’ve been a community leader in the arts for more than twenty-five years. In raising millions of dollars, advocating for arts in our schools and communities, and teaching arts administration at the university level, I’ve had countless opportunities to witness the energy in people’s hearts that turns into action, growth, and success. What I’ve learned is that success in this arena involves things you can’t see or measure, like kindness, gratitude, and wonder. When we harness those elements of Essence, however, we can change the world.


I wrote...

Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time

By Matthew Hinsley,

Book cover of Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time

What is my book about?

Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time is both an inspiring and practical guide for anyone who values the role of art in their community. Written by Dr. Matthew Hinsley, a successful arts administrator who managed the growth of an arts nonprofit from its infancy to become the largest of its kind in America, Creativity to Community is an approachable yet detailed guide that addresses the most important issues facing community arts organization leaders.

Girls Write Now Unmuted

By Girls Write Now, Molly MacDermot (editor),

Book cover of Girls Write Now Unmuted: The 2021 Anthology

This annual anthology, published by the nonprofit organization Girls Write Now, showcases the voices of young women writers from a diverse range of backgrounds. These anthologies are a treasure trove of fiction, poetry, essays, and drama by emerging writers. Pick up the latest copy to get a glimpse at the future of literature.


Who am I?

As an author, editor, and woman of color, I celebrate stories that reflect a diversity of voices. Good storytelling allows us to catch a glimpse into lives that may be similar or different from ours, that champion what makes us unique while reminding us that we are not alone.  


I wrote...

Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World

By Darien Gee (editor), Carla Crujido (editor),

Book cover of Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World

What is my book about?

Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World is a collection of micro essays by established and emerging women of color writers inspired by Lucille Clifton’s luminous poem, "won’t you celebrate with me". These true stories, all of them 300 words or less, speak to otherness, familial relationships, impossible beauty standards, ancestral heritage, coming of age, and owning one’s place in the world. 

The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications

By Jeff Brooks,

Book cover of The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications

If there’s anyone who cares about effective graphic design, it’s direct-mail experts and fundraisers like Brooks. Brooks devotes about one-quarter of his book to the “design of fundraising”—how to use graphics to improve response rates. If folks can’t read your pitch because of poor design, all the words you write won’t make a difference. “It doesn’t matter how great a piece looks if it’s hard to read,” he says. He deflates designs that make the designer feel good, but make the reader toss the communication because it’s just too much work to figure out.


Who am I?

My first career was as a reporter on daily newspapers. As I got promoted to editing and eventually webmaster jobs, I needed to learn about design. Newspapers had been trying to figure out which designs attract the most readers for a century. The Poynter Institute, founded in 1975, began doing quantitative research as part of its journalism education mission. Seven years later, Gannett, a large newspaper publisher, introduced USA Today, based on the latest graphic and readability research. About the same time, Edward Tufte wrote his seminal book on graphic design (See recommendation #1). With the arrival of the web, companies like Google and Microsoft took the research to new levels. For example, Microsoft used readability research to create Verdana, a font designed to be legible with then-low resolution screens. Of course, the advertising and direct-mail industries had been conducting design research for decades to enhance sales. In short, you can’t pretend to be a competent designer, webmaster, or editor in this day and age without understanding quantitative readability research.


I wrote...

After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence

By Don Glickstein,

Book cover of After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence

What is my book about?

The American Revolution was the United States’ first world war. It involved not just American rebels and England, but France, Holland, Spain, the Indian Kingdom of Mysore, Native American nations, and enslaved people. It was fought from the Arctic to South America, from South Africa to the Mediterranean. The war’s last battle was fought in India, where a Muslim co-belligerent of the American rebels battled the British. After Yorktown tells the story of the people and the war that continued long after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

Reinventing Organizations

By Frederic Laloux,

Book cover of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

Frederic Laloux is a Belgian management consultant, coach, and organizational theorist. In this book, he argues that every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness, it has created a new way to structure and run its organizations. He then argues that a new shift in consciousness and organizational innovation is currently underway. These new organizations are collaborative, decentralized, and adaptive, and operate on trust rather than fear. Packed with examples of such organizations the book shows how their founders are questioning many tenets of 20th-century management to come up with entirely new organizational forms and approaches. Even though they operate in different industries and geographies and do not know of each other's experiments, the structures and practices these organizations have developed are remarkably similar. This book was a major source of inspiration for me in my own thinking about how governments can reinvent themselves to be more…


Who am I?

A professor of business at the University of Cambridge, I've spent over two decades studying innovation. I've been particularly interested in “frugal innovation”: how small teams now use ubiquitous tools and technologies to achieve what only large corporations or governments could a decade ago. I've written two books about this phenomenon: Jugaad Innovation and Frugal Innovation about the private sector. Whenever I gave talks about them, there was always the question: What does this mean for governments? I began to study how the state could use new technologies and ways of organizing to deliver services to its citizens better, faster and cheaper, and how governments should regulate and cultivate such tools used by the private sector.


I wrote...

How Should a Government Be?: The New Levers of State Power

By Jaideep Prabhu,

Book cover of How Should a Government Be?: The New Levers of State Power

What is my book about?

For over a century, the most divisive question in political thought has been about the size of the state. This dilemma might have made sense in earlier decades. Now, with a world transformed by Covid-19 and a revolution unfolding in the technologies of organization, a great upheaval is also coming in the essential business of government.

In How Should a Government Be? The New Levers of State Power I examine: how governments around the world are using technology and organization to transform how they deliver for their citizens; the challenges and opportunities that these new technologies and forms of organization pose; and how all this is even more imperative in a post-Covid-19 world of mass support schemes and unprecedented levels of surveillance.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram

By Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson,

Book cover of The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types

I was thirty years old before I began to realize that people are wildly different. I don’t mean different culturally or linguistically, I don’t mean different in terms of interests or preferences. I mean different in terms of core motivations. Personality is a profound part of every human. It’s a critical thing to understand if we are going to occupy the personal or professional space of anyone else for any reason. There is no better book than Riso/Hudson’s masterful book on enneagram.


Who am I?

I’ve been a community leader in the arts for more than twenty-five years. In raising millions of dollars, advocating for arts in our schools and communities, and teaching arts administration at the university level, I’ve had countless opportunities to witness the energy in people’s hearts that turns into action, growth, and success. What I’ve learned is that success in this arena involves things you can’t see or measure, like kindness, gratitude, and wonder. When we harness those elements of Essence, however, we can change the world.


I wrote...

Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time

By Matthew Hinsley,

Book cover of Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time

What is my book about?

Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time is both an inspiring and practical guide for anyone who values the role of art in their community. Written by Dr. Matthew Hinsley, a successful arts administrator who managed the growth of an arts nonprofit from its infancy to become the largest of its kind in America, Creativity to Community is an approachable yet detailed guide that addresses the most important issues facing community arts organization leaders.

The Urban Garden

By Jeremy N. Smith,

Book cover of The Urban Garden: How One Community Turned Idle Land into a Garden City and How You Can, Too

This gorgeous and touching book shows the many ways community gardens are more than a name—they build community. In a time when it’s so easy to feel helpless, here are ordinary people taking small steps with a big impact. I particularly loved the use of community garden time as alternative sentencing for teen offenders, and how the kids turned around and used their skills to help homebound seniors. 


Who am I?

All my writing starts with the question, How did we get here? As the granddaughter of a grocer and the daughter of a food editor, I grew up wondering about the quest for new and better foods—especially when other people began saying “new” and “better” were contradictions. Which is better, native or imported? Heirloom or hybrid? Our roses today are patented, and our food supplies are dominated by multi-national seed companies, but not very long ago, the new sciences of evolution and genetics promised an end to scarcity and monotony. If we explore the sources of our gardens, we can understand our world. That‘s what I tried to do in The Garden of Invention, and that’s why I recommend these books.  


I wrote...

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

By Jane S. Smith,

Book cover of The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

What is my book about?

A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet, idolized as a great inventor on a par with his friends Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. From his earliest discovery, the Burbank potato (still the world’s most widely grown variety), to astonishing novelties like the white blackberry, Burbank was regarded as a plant wizard who could transform ordinary plants until they were tastier, hardier, more beautiful, more bountiful, or simply stranger than ever before. The Garden of Invention revisits the years when the public clamored for new farm and garden varieties, a time when Burbank’s experimental acres transformed the business of agriculture and helped make California into the cornucopia of the world.  

Disruption

By Rachel Zadok (editor), Karina M. Szczurek (editor), Jason Mykl Snyman (editor)

Book cover of Disruption: New Short Fiction from Africa

This is a wonderful and diverse cross-section of stories from a variety of African countries representing a thematic focus on a world facing Disruption, whether via climate change, global pandemics, or a plethora of crises, that challenges us all with the necessity to find ways to join with each other if we are to survive. Stand-out stories for me were Zambian author Mbozi Haimbe's "Shelter" (shortlisted for a NOMMO Award this year—best in African Speculative Fiction 2022) and Kenyan Idza Luhumyo’s "Five Years Next Sunday," winner of the 2022 Caine Prize for African Writing. I loved the vibrancy and range of these stories, all bristling with energy and providing novel ways of seeing and learning to confront our global challenges.  


Who am I?

Growing up in Zambia and then South Africa, I was immersed in the natural landscapes and the fantastic variety of African plants and wildlife. However, I increasingly became aware of many other human injustices happening around me—e.g., human to human: the extreme racism of white supremacy (apartheid). Additionally, human to other animals: the ivory and wildlife ‘trade,’ resulting in what has been called The Sixth Extinction (of plants and other animals.) Alongside this destruction of life is the critical climate crisis and the financial appropriation of vital resources for profit—none more vital than water, for water is life. These books emphasise the ethical sanctity of all living beings!


I wrote...

Water Must Fall

By Nick Wood,

Book cover of Water Must Fall

What is my book about?

On a near future, drying and dying Earth—who gets to both drink and live? Follow the precarious journeys of three ‘ordinary’ people as they cross Southern Africa and the arid American west, looking for firm footholds, from which to fight the multi-national water corporations, that have privatized and taken over the world’s dwindling water supplies. Hope eventually comes, from learning to stand together, but are they willing to pay the heavy price, to find ways to ensure that (for all), water must fall?

“This is the story of people struggling with a climate situation that is out of their control. It’s a situation that soon may become universal, so there’s an extra edge to this novel that makes it especially compelling.” Kim Stanley Robinson.

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