15 Books that Could Change Your (Professional) Life – What Book Changed Yours?

When I asked nonprofit bloggers—and other members of the Getting Attention community—to share the single book that has most influenced their professional lives, I had no idea what I’d hear back.

So many of you shared compelling titles and the stories behind them. Thank you

Meanwhile, I’m sharing 15 books recommended by nonprofit bloggers and submitted to this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival, the inspiration for my query. Consider these top picks for your summer reading list:

Improving the Way You Work
1) Jeff Brooks and Tobi Johnson are both fans of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon Mackenzie. Orbiting inspired Tobi to find an environment where she could make an impact and change the world in a concrete way, and guides Jeff in solving conundrums and dealing with the frustrations he faces in his fundraising work.

2) Low-risk actions–taken to discover, develop, and test an idea–are the path Kivi Leroux Miller has always taken in her professional life. When she found Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, by Peter Sims, she found validation for her approach and inspiration to continue “finding problems and solving them as you go.”

3) Seth Godin’s Tribes is John Lepp’s book of choice because it motivated him to do the two things he feared the most—lead and challenge the status quo.

4) Denise Graveline recommends Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, for developing your vision and increasing your confidence.

Understanding and Respecting Your Audiences
5) Fundraiser Pamela Grow roots great fundraising in understanding the psychology of people and how we interact and respond to one another. She recommends How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, as a classic primer to understanding, and using your understanding of, human psychology.

6) Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, was recommended by two bloggers: Kira Marchenese and Beaconfire’s Eve Simon. Krug’s book shaped Kira’s audience-centered perspective on online communications—you have to understand what they experience, and make it as easy as possible—and Eve’s guiding paradigm for website design, keeping sites simple and effective so they work for their users.

7) Not one but five “one books” are recommended by Katya Andresen as guides to understanding people (which is “the first step to lasting social change,” says Katya. Influence, by Robert Cialdini, is the classic primer to understanding how we work.

The One Book Every Nonprofit Marketer Should Read
8) Robin Hood Marketing, by Katya Andresen, helped Zan McColloch-Lussier understand how his nonprofit could make the leap from doing a fine job at communicating to effectively engaging its audiences and inspiring action for its mission.

9) Joanne Fritz cites Strategic Marketing for NonProfit Organizations, by Philip Kotler, as the book that opened her eyes to the critical role marketing has for nonprofits. “I learned that marketing did not equal ‘selling’ but, as Kotler explains, ‘Marketing and selling are almost opposites. Hard sell marketing is a contradiction…Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. Marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value. It is the art of helping your customers become better off. The marketer’s watchwords are quality, service, and value,’” she writes.

10) Beth Kanter sees content creation as a core role for nonprofit professionals and recommends Ann Handley’s Content Rules as the game-changing guide to do using content to advance your mission without exhausting your team.

11) My life-changing read was Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management which changed my perspective on marketing from serving a support function to an interconnected system of actions—from research to measurement—that should be embedded in every program from the earliest planning on.

Building Movements and Communities
12) Gayle Gifford credits Peter Block’s Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest for her current perspective on her relationship to the organizations she works with, and community or organization-building overall.

13) Building Communities from the Inside Out, by John Kretzman and John McKnight, helped shape Jen Austin’s community-building outlook and practice. The core take away is that everyone in society has something to contribute and that by recognizing and tapping into the unique skills of individuals, and working collectively, we can progress in ways rarely imagined.

Career Changers – These titles literally led these bloggers into new careers
14) Fundraising Detective Craig Linton credits Relationship Fundraising, by Ken Burnett, for showing him what a fulfilling, stimulating and enjoyable career fundraising could be (and still is).

15) Reading How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, by Bev Browning, steered Betsy Baker in the right direction at a tough time.

Most Reading is Good Reading, and Good Reading is the Key to Good Writing
Finally, blogger and grantwriter Jake Seliger sees good writing and linked to reading as the source of ideas, rhythms, structure and vocabulary. He relies on reading to hone his grantwriting skills on an ongoing basis.

Thanks too to the bloggers who submitted the other great posts to the Carnival that couldn’t be included here. Unfortunately, Carnival posts are limited in how many posts are covered. Your posts are a great contribution to the community and will be featured in our forthcoming report.

P.S. How do you handle objections? Blogger, Jason Dick is hosting the next Nonprofit Blog Carnival on this key topic. Please submit your post!

Nancy Schwartz on May 31, 2011 in Professional Development | 11 comments
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  • jacquelyn kittredge

    Great list!
    I would also add Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What by Srikumar Rao http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Work-Resilient-Motivated-Successful/dp/0071664327/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1306873026&sr=8-1
    He includes clear descriptions and parables about changing your perspective, serving others, enjoying the process rather than the focusing on an attained goal, living in the present moment, avoiding good/bad labels. Life-changing.

  • Billy Delaney

    The book that changed my life, thus anything professional, social, spiritual, personal is The Bible.
    I know that it contents are as on time, relevant and necessary as anything being put out there on the market.
    I have read some of the books on this list already too.

  • I would add What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath. Great list!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Thanks for sharing these titles, Jenn. How did each change your professional life?

  • The book which changed both my personal as well as my professional life was “The Mature Mind” by Harry A. Overstreet…

    Like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance”, I’ve never tired of reading and contemplating that book.

    (Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” is somewhat of a modernized version of “The Mature Mind”… I didn’t recognize that I’d been looking for an updated version of The Mature Mind until Dan Pink sent me a copy of his book about 5 years ago.)

    If we are permitted to extend to philosophical/spiritual scripture, as one person did above, I’d have to include the following, in order: 1.) The Bible, 2.) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 3.) Emerson’s Essays, 4.) The Gita, and 5.) The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi, in that order…

    Wonderful article and wonderful question, by the way…

    Keep STRONG!
    +Vincent Wright

  • Kevin Martone

    I’ll say A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. I’ve only read this in the past year, so I’m still working on having it change my work and professional growth. The biggest impact? Simply seeing how the way I was educated, the goals that I set were for an outdated economy. But the book is positive, too, showing you how you can shift and teach yourself how to succeed in today’s (and tomorrow’s?) economy. It even has great exercises to help you harness the new skills needed today.


  • Nancy,

    Great list! I’m also a big fan of Don’t Make Me Think! by Steve Krug. It’s such a delightful and practical read. Another oldie but goodie is The Mercilessly Brief Guide to Raising Tens (if Not Tens of Thousands of Dollars) with Email by Madeline Stanionis. It’s still a very relevant primer on online fundraising!


  • Mine is:The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, philanthropist and long-time fundraising professional. Here’s a little snippet of it: http://lorijacobwith.com/2011/05/the-soul-of-money/

    It’s a great read for anyone in the social profit sector or just in life. Takes the scarcity thinking out of the forefront of daily thinking.

  • Jonathon

    Definitely Relationship Fundraising, and more recently Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers. Brilliant read about how to ensure your ideas get traction. 

  • Hardy

    Great list. Thanks for putting together and sharing!

  • Veny

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