Top 7 Books for Nonprofit Readers

Whether you’re just getting started in the nonprofit space or have been working with nonprofits for decades, everyone needs a boost of inspiration, knowledge, or new ideas every once and awhile.

Here at Whole Whale, we keep a giant spreadsheet of our favorite books, but only a select few get the ultimate “10” ranking. Below are seven of these top ranking books that have informed and inspired our staff for years. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

  1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Authors: Dan and Chip Heath

If you are trying to create change within your nonprofit organization, then this book is for you. Dan and Chip Heath explain why humans think change can be so hard at times (changing an unhealthy habit) and so easy at others (getting married) via The Elephant and The Rider. Their idea is that every human has two sides to them — the emotional side (The Elephant) and the rational side (The Rider). Dan and Chip promise that if we can teach The Rider to send The Elephant down a well-prepared road, then change is more likely to happen.

  1. Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

Author: Mario Morino

This is Whole Whale’s favorite book for leaders or employees trying to bring a data-driven culture to their nonprofit. Morino argues that as our nation dives deeper into crisis and debt, it’s going to become even more necessary for nonprofits to have clearly defined goals, a method for attaining those goals, and a method for measuring them. The more rigorous nonprofits are at measuring outcomes, acting on that data, and learning from mistakes, the greater impact they will have.

  1. Who – A Method for Hiring

Author: Geoff Smart and Randy Street

This is our go-to guide for hiring and what we used to develop Whole Whale’s hiring process. Smart and Street’s book is the perfect companion for any nonprofit HR leader ready to rethink the hiring journey. They guide you through easy, tangible steps for hiring “A” players and solving easily preventable “who” problems. Whole Whale has personally found huge hiring success through this method.

  1. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Author: Gary Vaynerchuk

Vaynerchuk’s social media “thriller” should be on the to-read list for any nonprofit marketing or communications employee struggling to get their audience to take action. He shares that engaging the audience over time (jabs) is the key to getting them to act or donate in long run (right hook). But that’s not all — it’s not good enough to create great content. You need great content tailored for each platform. Vaynerchuk will teach you how to do it.

  1. Viral Loop: The Power of Pass it On

Author: Adam L. Penenberg

Struggling to get your nonprofit off the ground or keep your audience growing? Wondering what makes something “go viral”? Then this is the perfect book for you. Penenberg dives into the genius of companies like Facebook, Google, and YouTube, who are experts at creating viral products. He argues that if you create something that people need, want, or desire, then the growth will take care of itself.

  1. The Lean Startup

Author: Eric Ries

Reis’ book is perfect for the nonprofit entrepreneur or the seasoned leader ready to shake up their approach and adopt a more agile system. The Lean Startup will teach you how to build a nonprofit that is wildly successful by taking lessons from lean manufacturing: rapid experimentation, “validated learning,” measuring actual progress, and many other methods that will help you shape and shift your nonprofit to what your “customers” actually want.  

  1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Author: Daniel H. Pink

If the cause alone is no longer motivating your employees, Drive is the book you need to start reading ASAP. You already know that money isn’t the main motivating factor for your employees (they are working at a nonprofit, after all!), but do you know what it is? Pink dives into the research to find what really brings satisfaction at home and at work — and it’s not what you think. After explaining the three elements of motivation, Pink offers techniques to put them to action on yourself or your employees.