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What's on Your Suggested Nonprofit Leadership Reading List?

What's on Your Suggested Nonprofit Leadership Reading List?

One of the best ways you can grow and improve as a leader is by reading. To guide your journey to stronger management practices, healthier working relationships, and increased productivity, we've put together a list of 10 reads to help you achieve your personal leadership goals.

Leadership and Management

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.
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Recommended by Alli Myatt, Principal and Co-founder, The Equity Practice

Every employee brings their personal experiences and beliefs to their role within an organization. This is undoubtedly true for leaders, who have a wealth of training and knowledge to pull from as they guide others. But perception is not always reality, as Ashley Goodall found in his role as Senior Vice President of Methods and Intelligence at Cisco.

Nine Lies About Work is a joint effort by executive leadership expert and author Ashley Goodall and Marcus Buckingham, co-creator of the StrengthsFinder assessment and Head of People + Performance Research at ADP Research Institute, to challenge "truths" that we believe about the workplace.

Some of the lies identified in the book, such as "people need feedback," are ingrained in work cultures across the world. Still, they could be holding leaders back from creating an innovative, employee-driven work environment.

In an interview with Forbes, Goodall explained that "The lies emerge from a desire for conformity, and conformity is attractive; hence the lies persist. But in conformity, we lose the very thing we all want—the sparks of human distinctiveness that lead to great and productive work, and that make work more than just work." If you're looking to maximize your team's productivity and job satisfaction or yourself, confronting these nine lies is a great place to start.

Impact Opportunity spoke with co-founder of The Equity Practice Alli Myatt, who said Nine Lies About Work has influenced her thoughts around creating and managing positive company culture. You can read that interview in our article The Importance of Creating an Equitable Team Culture and learn more about why she recommends it.

Time Management

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
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Perhaps the most frequently addressed concern in the workplace, time management is a topic that seems to be discussed on repeat in staff meetings. There's always some new trend in time management, from task-tracking phone apps to bullet journaling and beyond.

Many of those time-saving trends can be traced back to the "GTD system" created by David Allen, a personal productivity master and best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

In his book, Allen outlines five steps to take that will clear your mind, allowing you to excel at whatever tasks you need to accomplish - Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. In a TedTalk about his book and productivity, Allen says Getting Things Done is not actually about getting things done but about "being appropriately engaged with what's going on." Following the GTD system will help you let go of stress and reframe the issue of productivity as a problem of "psychic bandwidth" rather than a lack of time management.


Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant
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 Professor of the Wharton School and author Adam Grant wants the leaders of the future to be more like scientists. In his best-selling book Think Again, Grant pulls from real-world examples and academic research to advocate for what he calls "confident humility" in leadership. Instead of setting ourselves up as inflexible pillars of knowledge, which can lead to the stagnation of ideas, we should approach work with curiosity and flexibility. When leaders are able to challenge their ideas and lean into the discomfort of not knowing, positive changes can be embraced to push the organization forward.

In an interview with Thought Economics, Grant says, "This (book's) approach allows the person to look at their own values, share those with you, and then find their own motivations than change. It's a lot more effective than ramming your reasons for change down their throat!"

Fostering Creativity

Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky
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The value of creative staff shouldn't be underestimated — but it can also be difficult to translate creativity into a quantifiable task or product. That's why Adobe's Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President, Creative Cloud, Scott Belsky, wrote Making Ideas Happen.

In an interview published by The SoDA Report 2020, Belsky said that "creativity is the most uniquely human endeavor… Creatives tell us, though, that they spend fully (sic) half their time on essentially non-creative drudgery..." Making Ideas Happen shows team leaders how to focus less on pushing for new ideas and focus more on equipping your organization with the tools to implement creative ideas and solutions. Removing obstacles and barriers to creativity can invigorate your team and lead to real change.

Social Awareness

Leading from Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation (The MIT Press) by Gretchen Ki Steidle
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Recent social and political movements around the globe have brought the moral and ethical practices of businesses and nonprofits into the spotlight. In her book Leading from Within, Gretchen Ki Steidle advocates for leaders to be self-aware of how they can contribute to a more just future.

Steidle founded Global Grassroots in 2004, an organization that supports leadership initiatives for women in African countries that have experienced conflict and genocide. In a podcast with the University of Virginia, Steidle says of her work, "I wanted to ensure that if I were going to be training the next generation of change leaders, that I could be certain that they would go about their change in a way that was more mindful, and that would allow them to be able to take care of themselves and sustain their work." Leading from Within outlines five ways to lead social change while also ensuring those in social justice practice maintain a high ethical standard of care.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity – 3rd Edition by Andrés T. Tapia
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Recommended by Courtney Tungate, Principal and Co-founder, The Equity Practice

While talking about diversity and inclusion has become easier, actually achieving true inclusion is more difficult than ever. In his book, The Inclusion Paradox, Andrés T. Tapia explores the cultural implications of what he dubs "The Obama Era" on personal, group, and institutional relationships. He defines key differences between diversity and inclusion and shares why diversity best practices have delivered on getting those who are different in the door but have failed in terms of inclusion. Achieving both are key to innovation and profitability that benefits institutions and individuals alike.

Andrés Tapia is a Senior Partner and Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategist at Korn Ferry, a leadership and talent search and management firm. He also has served as President of Diversity Best Practices, a preeminent diversity and inclusion thinktank, and consultancy. Prior to Diversity Best Practices, he served as Hewitt's Chief Diversity Officer and Emerging Workforce Solutions Leader for seven years, where he was responsible for leading the company's internal and external diversity vision and strategies.

For more great resources on DEI, please check out this resource list from our friends at The Equity Practice. 

The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High Performing Teams by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy with Anne Chow
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A workplace that can foster a truly welcoming and diverse atmosphere will certainly thrive. But achieving that atmosphere can be more difficult than expected, due in part to the many unconscious biases we hold.

Chief thought leader on unconscious bias for FranklinCovey and author of The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias, Pamela Fuller, says there are three ways to approach these internal beliefs we may not recognize we hold - empathy, curiosity, and courage.

In discussing the book, Fuller says, "We sort people, that's what our brain does… and then we move on. And that is exacerbated with the pace at which we are all operating today." Fuller and her co-authors provide worksheets and other tools that will help you retrain your brain and confront bias within yourself and your workplace.

Social Media

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine
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Leading successful awareness campaigns and fostering meaningful donor relationships are a cornerstone of nonprofit success. But technology changes the way we interact each day, which can make networking feel like trying to hit an ever-moving target.

Beth Kanter, a 35-year nonprofit veteran who focuses on training organizations to utilize technology, co-wrote The Networked Nonprofit as a guide to help improve your aim. Kanter and Allison H. Fine offer practical ways for nonprofits to harness social media not as a gimmicky requirement but as an authentic tool that can create mutually beneficial partnerships.

In their review of The Networked Nonprofit, the Dyson Foundation says the book is "not about platforms or gadgetry, but rather about changes in people's behaviors and expectations around charity…," which is why it has maintained status as a leading book in its field for over a decade.

Team Building

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
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Teamwork should maximize efficiency and create a better result through collaboration, but a team can easily be derailed by clashing personalities or unclear goals. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable shares a fictionalized account of one such team.

Created by the highly-pursued speaker and founder of The Table Group, author Patrick Lencioni, the book details five common problems experienced by struggling teams and provides ways you can get your staff on track. Answering questions for The Growth Faculty, Lencioni says teams have to "know each other and be comfortable being real with each other. That's the foundation of true performance-based teamwork."

Lack of Trust, Avoidance of Accountability, and other pitfalls can be navigated by a leader who is willing to be vulnerable and keep team members focused on the success of the company rather than their personal stake.


Magnetic Nonprofit: Attract and Retain Donors, Volunteers, and Staff by Jeremy Reis
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If you're looking to increase buy-in for your organization and retain those donors or staff to build lasting relationships, Magnetic Nonprofit: Attract and Retain Donors, Volunteers, and Staff is your roadmap.

Written by Senior Director of Marking for Food for the Hungry Jeremy Reis, this book will help you attract the people your organization needs most—and help them stick. Reis outlines six attributes utilized by some of the largest and most successful nonprofit organizations around the world—characteristics like Thankfulness, Transparency, and Timeliness.

The book is full of practical applications of these attributes and is one of the best-selling books for nonprofit management, and it is recommended by Mike King, president, and CEO of Youthfront. King says Magnetic Nonprofit "is one of the best books I've found on attracting donors—and accomplishing the even harder mission of retaining donors."


Community Reading List

We asked, and you answered. Here are 10 more suggested reads by our LinkedIn community:

The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynne Twist (affiliate link). "It focuses on what we do have, be that money, talent, or time… reframing our beliefs about what we do have and becoming better stewards." — Wendy

Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good by Ann Mei Chang (affiliate link). "I really liked Lean Impact by Ann Mei Chang. Great illustration of pivots and the idea of increasing impact without having to dramatically increase resources." — Michelle

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't and Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer by Jim Collins (affiliate link). "Over five years, Jim Collins and his research team have analyzed the histories of 28 companies, discovering why some companies make the leap and others don't." Learn distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great in this book. — Samantha

How to Be Great at Doing Good:Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World by Nick Cooney (affiliate link). "It's a great perspective about philanthropy and the things we should take into consideration anytime we get involved whether when giving or granting." — Elsa

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation by Tim Clark (affiliate link). "For internal and external community building." — Amelia

The Future is Trust: Embracing the Era of Trust-Centered Leadership by Rick Kitagawa and Lisa Lambert (affiliate link). "Excellent read for the core of human relationships." — KellyAnn

Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential by Dan Pallotta (affiliate link). "Uncharitable goes where no other book on the nonprofit sector has dared to tread. Where other texts suggest ways to optimize performance inside the existing paradigm, Uncharitable suggests that the paradigm itself is the problem and calls into question our fundamental canons about charity." — Calista

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek (affiliate link). "The Infinite Game resonated with me, which truly challenges the difference between leadership and management. This book speaks my language, playing the long game, truly working on the success and development of leaders, and focusing on ethical decisions, a true investment; I recommend a read." — Jeramy

The Nonprofit Challenge: Integrating Ethics into the Purpose and Promise of Our Nation's Charities by Doug White (affiliate link). "I would recommend anything by Doug White, especially for people interested in fundraising." — Paul Konigstein. Read more from Paul in "Is It Worth Switching Careers into the Nonprofit Sector?"


Impact Opportunity would like to thank Andrea Zieger of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm, for her work in writing this article.