What is your favorite leadership book?


Our Nonprofit Leaders Bookclub is a great success! Every month we gather to discuss a pre-chosen book from the list below. Many books focus on leadership skills. Others encourage us to look at philanthropy in new ways. All provide plenty of insights that result in lively discussion!

Are you interested in participating in a book club that will expose you to new leadership ideas while incorporating the proven standards?

Contact us to discuss starting a facilitated book club in your area (or online).

Or READ MORE to view the list of books we are using as a starting point.

Each book title in the list is linked to its own page that allows for comments.

Please add information about any book, especially if you have read it or the reason why you are especially excited to read it.

Note that comments are allowed on this page if you want to recommend a book that isn’t on the list. 

Good to Great and the Social Sectors

by Jim Collins

You must own this book. It captures in just 40 pages (yes… 40… so you have no excuse not to read it) the recipe for taking a good organization to the next level. There are infographics that will totally stick with you as you go about your day. And I guarantee you – you will become way more intentional about the hires you make and the board members you invite to join you. 

From Joan Garry Consulting. 

The Spirituality of Fundraising

by Henri Nouwen

This small book is so packed with fundraising wisdom that it truly is a must-read for anyone involved in fundraising (even staff members of nonprofits). If the term “spirituality” turns you away from reading this book, a bookclub member recommended that you replace the word God with “tree.” Another helpful substitution, courtesy of a good dictionary, is to replace the word ministry with “service.” 

If you still don’t want to sift through the religious undertones, we have paraphrased some of the main points of the book in non-religious terms and would be happy to share our work and discussion questions we prepared. We just ask that you purchase the book before requesting our notes. Contact us for more on this insightful book.

Start With Why

by Simon Sinek

I first read this book several years ago and it has been a favorite since. I note the price sticker on my copy is from Dymocks, so I first read it in Melbourne, Australia.

It may be a dumb question, but I always ask people what they thought of it. I find that just because I love a book does not mean everyone else will. The first comment from a member of our nonprofit leaders book club was from someone who thought it contained too much theory and very little about how to do this. Another person did not like the first story about JFK or Hitler. She felt it started everything with deception. Fair comments and off went the discussion to what we could apply within our own organizations.

The Infinite Game

by Simon Sinek

Nonprofit as a business is an infinite game. Sinek’s latest book examines the difference between finite and infinite games. In the talk he gave to the GLS in August, Sinek explained how being able to identify what kind of game you are in can help you set your sights on the correct vision and mission for your organization. 

Sandra Page Billman

Big Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sometimes we need to read something that takes our head out of our “business” space and into a way of looking at life in another way. Although she is an author writing somewhat about the art of writing, in this book Gilbert presents an idea of what “magic” can do for us in our lives, regardless of profession. This book is completely different from Eat, Pray, Love, so don’t let her previous work influence your decision to read this book — it truly is magical.

Sandra Page Billman

The Art and Science of Donor Bliss

by Eric and Sandra Page Billman

Click here to read more about the book

We all want to be generous and experience the joy of knowing we have made a difference in the world. Amidst uplifting stories of philanthropy that illustrate the joy of giving, you will learn a purposeful approach to charitable giving and establishing a legacy that empowers you to be strategic with how much, in what ways, and to whom you give for long-term impact on the world.

The manuscript is now with the publisher! We hope to offer the book by the end of 2019.

Learn more about the joy of giving through our free gift – The 5 Steps to Impactful Giving. Contact us to receive your copy!

Think Bigger: And 39 Other Winning Strategies from Successful Entrepreneurs

by Michael W. Sonnenfeldt

Given that nonprofit leaders are also Social Entrepreneurs, a book about successful entrepreneurs seems to be a good way to learn more about being an entrepreneur in general. Not all chapters in the book will apply, but the book is an easy read with engaging stories. And the overall theme of Think Bigger is a good lesson for everyone — working in the social sector or not.

Sandra Page Billman

Radical Candor

by Kim Scott

Recommended by Kate Barber, Manager of the Richmond Innovation Center, she said anyone who is a boss or has a boss should read this book.

Give and Take

by Adam Grant

This is bigger thanjust your role as a leader. It’s a book about who you want to be in the world. Grant identifies three kinds of people – ‘givers,’ ‘ takers,’ and ‘matchers.’ Those who give generously and freely of their time and expertise may not startout as the most successful but they end up at the top. They learn by solvingothers’ problems and they develop extraordinary social capital. This one is a great staff offsite read or a gift for your senior team or board chair.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

Changing Minds

by Howard Gardner

Gardner is a groundbreaking educator who teaches us that we each have multiple intelligences that lead to different learning styles and a diversity of skills across society. He understands how the mind works and thus what it takes to change a mind. This is the work of the nonprofit sector – to move someone to consider something differently so that it matters in a new way to them. Don’t be daunted by how long ago it was written. Trust me – like all good leadership books should be – this one is evergreen.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

Difficult Conversations

by Stone, Patton, & Heen

In my work as a consultant, I find myself contending with conflict. A LOT. Not just with those in opposition to the mission but within organizations themselves. Amongst staff members, between staff and board. This led me to become a certified mediator and also to this book.

First off, many of us are in the business of talking about difficult subjects (can you say Planned Parenthood or any organization that has to do with race, gender, politics, religion, homosexuality – just to name a few). Secondly, I find oh so frequently that managers simply don’t have tough conversations with staff and are reluctant to hold them accountable in ways that feel difficult.

This book teases out the WHY but then also is very actionable for both the internal and the external difficult conversations far too many folks avoid because of a lack of tools. Tools await you in this book.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

Made to Stick

by Dan & Chip Heath

This is a must read. And an easy one. To me, the biggest take-away for nonprofits is that leaders love their work and want everyone to love it. So they over-tell and try to cover everything. The Heath Brothers talk about cutting through the clutter and “the curse of knowledge” – we know so much about our organizations that we get into detail that listeners don’t understand. They say that we can’t un-know what we know so we have to transform how we communicate to those who don’t know about our work.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

It’s Your Ship

by Mike Abrashoff

I’ve actually never heard of this one, written by the former US Navy captain of the USS Benfold. His practical recipe? Lead by example; listen aggressively; communicate purpose and meaning; create a climate of trust; look for results, not salutes; take calculated risks; go beyond standard procedure; build up your people; generate unity; and improve your people’s quality of life. Sounds like a great nonprofit leader to me.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

Getting Things Done

 by David Allen

This book helped me to think differently about how I organize my work (as did Daniel Pink’s When, but that concept is an entirely different discussion). That said, I continue to play with different ways to think about what I do to organize files, both paper and digital. I think Allen’s best contribution is in helping us to go through our files and determine how and what to toss and then how to organize what we keep. Simon Sinek may say that organizing is an Infinite Game, so maybe a book like Allen’s just help us to play the game a little bit better.

Sandra Page Billman

One of the biggest productivity books of the last two decades, I’ve added this to the list. That said, I haven’t read it and feel skeptical simply because the subhead reads: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. It may seem unattainable in a nonprofit setting, but my oh my, isn’t it worth a shot?

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work

 by Kegan & Lahey

I am so ordering this book, which tackles the inherent human resistance to change. One reader wrote, “Most of the time, when confronted to change, a little voice inside us will tell us why not to change.” The authors write that this voice speaks with 7 tongues. One could even say that these “voices” make us immune to change. Luckily, for each of the 7 languages, this book offers a powerful antidote.” I’m totally intrigued.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits Are Messy

by Joan Garry

I wrote the book I wish I could have read with my board chair in my first ED job at a very messy nonprofit. It’s written for all nonprofit leaders – staff and board. It’s funny, honest, intensely actionable, and based on my own decades of experience working in the nonprofit sector as an Executive Director, a board leader, a volunteer, and a donor.

Recommended by Joan Garry Consulting

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