What Book Has Changed Your (Professional) Life?

I’m hosting the May Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and on May 31 my blog post will feature links and summaries to the best of. Here’s the theme, and how you can submit your post. I’m also interested in hearing responses from the Getting Attention community; please share your recommendation here.


A few weeks ago, long-time colleague Steve Damiano, Director of Professional Development at New York City’s Support Center for Nonprofit Management, asked me to recommend a few marketing books for his nephew, soon to graduate with a marketing degree. Four titles quickly came to mind, a flow that made me realize that this is an ideal topic for the May Nonprofit Blog Carnival.

And now, I’d like to develop my reading list from your recommendations (other bloggers and the Getting Attention community).

What single book (not blog, not conversation, not Facebook page) has changed your life as a nonprofit staffer, consultant or vendor? Plus the why and how. Submit your one book today, while it’s on your mind.

  • For bloggers, please post your response by May 27 then enter your submission in one of two ways.
    • Fill out the carnival form here
    • Email the link to your post to nonprofitcarnival (at) gmail.com
  • For others, share your response here.

The book doesn’t have to be directly about your work but should have generated new ideas, understanding and/or excitement on the topic for you. One book only.


My “changed my life” book is a classic textbook – Marketing Management (partner link) by Philip Kotler. The text is traditional in its overview approach to the topic and its dense layout – pretty much like the textbooks you’ve known. But it opened up a new world for me, and I live in that world now. NOTE: I’m pointing you to the inexpensive 12th edition, two editions ago, because that will serve your purposes. Turn to this guide for core principles, not updates on innovations and new tools best sourced online.

Kotler’s guide introduced me to all facets of marketing and, most importantly, to the idea that when they are integrated, the product is far more than the sum of the individual components—a holistic marketing system.

But the most critical concept I learned is the difference between marketing and communications:

  • Marketing incorporates all steps of the process from research (from your situation analysis to communications audit and focus group), to planning, building leadership support, executing the strategies (communications), measuring progress versus defined benchmarks and revising the plan to reflect what you have learned from previous efforts.
  • Marketing includes communications, but communications doesn’t include marketing.

This definition provides me with a clear, accessible framework for what to do when, how and why. And the imperative to take a few steps back and see marketing as a large, interconnected system, rather than a series of communications.

Kotler’s text is definitely worth an initial read, and is a great resource to keep around for ongoing reference. Get it today – for marketers, it’ll reshape your outlook and refresh your execution; for other nonprofit staffers, it’ll give you the insight you need to put marketing to work most effectively for your fundraising campaign, programs or other initiative; and to work most productively with your marketer colleagues.


What single book (not blog, not conversation, not Facebook page – as if) has changed your life as a nonprofit staffer, consultant or vendor?
Plus the why and how. Submit your one book now, while it’s top of mind.

  • For bloggers, please post your response by May 27 then enter your submission in one of two ways.
    • Fill out the carnival form here
    • You can email a link to the post to nonprofitcarnival (at) gmail.com
  • For others, share your one book here.

I’ll post on bloggers’ “one book” on May 31, and incorporate those recommendations with those from the Getting Attention community in a future article! Thank you.

NOTE: I read Marketing Management only because it was assigned reading for the core marketing course in my MBA program. The back story – I fell into marketing, as most of us do, rather than having planned for this career but, several years in, wanted to get the firm grounding that I knew would enable me to make the right marketing decisions, generate the buy-in I’d need to execute them and more. I embarked on an MBA (at night, five long years!) and this course was one of several that grew my perspective and skill set.

P.S. So many of you have told me my recent e-book is your “one book” that I want to mention it here.
Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s marketing impact with the 2011 Guide to Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom.

Nancy Schwartz on April 28, 2011 in Professional Development | 60 comments

  • Tim Bete

    Influence: Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini is one of the best books I’ve read. The research findings were often surprising and the application suggestions Cialdini provides allow you to implement the research into your own fundraising work.

  • P Harris

    Linchpin by Seth Godin. He confirmed all that I felt and wanted to believe about being a leader. I love the lizzard brain and shipping. It is great to get release from following someone elses rules and being the cog in the wheel.

  • Mine is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. I submitted it for the blog carnival. Did you get it? Thanks for doing this. Great topic!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Hi Amy,

    I didn’t get your submission but want to make sure we do.
    Two ways to submit:

    Fill out the carnival form here
    You can email a link to the post to nonprofitcarnival (at) gmail.com

  • The Count of Monte Cristo. Impressive long range planning, indefatigable resistance to all obstacles, insatiable desire to learn and improve self, learning to see the stories within stories, and finding out that all plans melt in the face of true love.

  • Jeff Hofaker

    It is always good to know what books are out there that can add significant insight to your professional life, which always starts with a professional’s personal life. I would have to say the book that has had the most influence on me professionally has been ‘the BIBLE’. Besides the important moral aspects, there is so much great information on how to: communicate, mediate, how to be a strong leader, planning and other tools. Another book that was given to me — which I read every year for inspiration is ‘the Traveler’s Gift’. This is a must read for everyone!

  • Kelly Cummings

    Crucial Conversations by Kerry Paterson/Grenny/McMillan/Switzler

  • Actually, it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The entire discussion of quality and Pirsig’s efforts to define/describe it made me rethink the way people see products, ideas, objects, etc. The whole idea that “quality” is undefinable and the it can only be intellectually described in the form of analogy changed the way I thought of communications and, in particular, public relations and marketing.

    If it is my job to describe and communicate the inherent quality of a product or an idea, how can I do that if quality itself is undefinable? It forced me to move beyond traditional marketing/PR thinking and into the mode of communicating messages based more on the listeners/readers perception so that the analogies I use can be as effective as possible.

  • “Your Brain at Work” by David Rock

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Collen, how did Rock’s book rock your professional world? Sorry about the pun; couldn’t resist!

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