15 Books that Could Change Your Life — What’s Yours?

When I recently asked nonprofit experts in a range of fields—from fundraising to advocacy—to share the one book that has most influenced their professional lives, I had no idea what I’d hear back. So I was thrilled to hear so many passionate stories about books that have made a huge difference in these folks’ lives.

I’m sure that you, like me, are reading all the time–blogs, Facebook, e-newsletters and yes, books. But what I heard from my colleagues (and know myself) is that reading a book is something different. That the fact of immersing oneself in a work that is longer, richer and frequently read in a distinct format (be that hard copy or an e-reader) is a unique experience. That this immersion outside the day to day is highly engaging, energizing and refreshing on both creative and intellectual fronts.

With that possibility in mind, consider these top picks for your reading list (Amazon links). They could change your life:

Improving the Way You Work

1) Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon Mackenzie. Orbiting inspired Tobi Johnson to find a working environment where she can make an impact and change the world in a concrete way, and guides Jeff Brooks in solving conundrums and dealing with the frustrations he faces daily in his fundraising work.


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


3) Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin. Godin’s assertion that lasting and substantive change can be best effected by a tribe: a group of people connected to each other, to a leader and to an idea motivates fundraiser John Lepp to do the two things he feared the most—lead and challenge the status quo.


4) Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, is a great aid in developing your vision and increasing your confidence, says communicator Denise Gravelines.



Understanding and Engaging Your Audiences

5) How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie—the classic primer to understanding, and using your understanding of, human psychology—is fundraiser Pamela Grow’s core guide to more effective relationships, and fundraising.



6) Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, steers web designers (and other communicators) to understand their audience’s point of view and user experience, and then to design websites to that experience, making it as easy as possible for users to do what your organization wants them to do. Online communicators Kira Marchenese and Eve Simon have both integrated Krug’s guidance in their website and social media work.


7) Influence, by Robert Cialdini, is the classic primer on the art of persuasion, says Katya Andresen, author of Robin Hood Marketing. It’s one of the five books Katya recommends as core guides to understanding people, which she calls the “first step to lasting social change.”



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) Strategic Marketing for NonProfit Organizations, by Alan Andreasen and Philip Kotler, opened Joanne Fritz’ (nonprofit blogger for About.com) 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) Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, is nonprofit social media superstar Beth Kanter’s pick for a game-changing guide to do using content to advance your mission without exhausting your team.




11) Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler, radically changed my perspective on marketing from serving a support function to an interconnected system of actions—from research to measurement—embedded in every program from the earliest planning on.


Building Movements and Communities

12) Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, by Peter Block, shaped fundraiser Gayle Gifford’s perspective on her relationship to the organizations she works with, and community or organization-building overall: leadership as stewardship.



13) Building Communities from the Inside Out, by John Kretzman and John McKnight, strongly influenced Jen Austin’s community-building outlook and consulting 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

14) Relationship Fundraising, by Ken Burnett, showed Fundraising Detective Craig Linton what a fulfilling, stimulating and enjoyable career fundraising could be (and still is).




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




Most Reading is Good Reading, and Good Reading is the Key to Good Writing

Grant writer Jake Seliger’s recommendation goes way beyond one book. Jake sees good writing as strongly linked to reading as the source of ideas, rhythms, structure and vocabulary. He relies on reading to hone his grant writing skills on an ongoing basis.