Eight Books Every Nonprofit Leader Should Have in their Queue

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By FleishmanHillard Staff

As part of our ongoing nonprofit lifestyle series, the team at FleishmanHillard, a global integrated communications and public relations agency, compiled the following short list of the best literature for developing leadership and communications skills in both your professional and personal life. Consider grabbing one of these titles for your next vacation or holiday read.   

Leadership & Communication

We often hear of born leaders, those with vision, passion and the ability to motivate others, common traits found in the nonprofit industry. Naturally strong communicators can be harder to come by, especially among those in philanthropy who do not seek the limelight. Both leadership and communication are critical when faced with the often limited resources and time available in the nonprofit space, and both benefit from focused practice and study. To improve your skills, as well as those of your team, check out these books below.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High 

Written by: Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson and Ron McMillan

Recommended by: Alex Baumann, managing supervisor

Read it to: Ensure the best outcomes when the stakes are high and opinions differ

Use this book to learn how effective leaders handle crucial and difficult conversations. At some point in your career, if you haven’t encountered this already, you’ll have one of these discussions. Many either fail to execute uncomfortable conversations effectively—or avoid doing so altogether—allowing issues to grow and fester, without resolution. The authors provide relatable examples of how successfully handling tough conversations directly impacted their ability to lead and grow their careers.  

For nonprofits, this book serves a magnifying glass on addressing challenges or issues with colleagues and partners, in order to foster strong relationships and long-term success.  

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it

Written by: Chris Voss

Recommended by: Elizabeth Romero, senior vice president

Read it to: Negotiate for what your nonprofit needs

Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss shares his life or death experiences that involved negotiation. The book covers nine effective principles Voss observed during these conversations that can be used to become more persuasive in professional and personal life settings.

While we hope you’re never in a life or death situation where you need to “talk your way out,” the tips and tools offered throughout the text arm nonprofit professionals with skills  to better communicate and ultimately secure needs, feedback and opportunities that can be easily lost in a fast-paced or restricted environment.

Make It Memorable

Written by: Bob Dotson

Recommended by: Beth Stevenson, vice president

Read it to: Architect the story and message of your nonprofit

Bob Dotson was a master storyteller and Emmy Award-winning television correspondent for NBC for more than 40 years. Compelling storytelling is important in attracting new donors, volunteers and driving the mission of nonprofit organizations. Dotson takes you inside the mind of a storyteller, someone who can look at a large amount of information and hone in on the elements that resonate and inspire others. He provides examples and explanation of how to tell stories in a simple, clear and compelling manner.

Using Dotson’s tips will help you identify the story of your organization and learn to tell it in a way that engages your most important supporters, and the media, when you seek to raise awareness. “Often they’re not spot news. Or hot news. Or hard news. But he makes them news. And Bob knows how to tell other pros how he does it.” – Mervin Block, writing coach

The Tipping Point; How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Written by: Malcom Gladwell

Recommended by: Jayme Owen, senior vice president

Read it to: Understand what drives public recognition and familiarity, and leverage it for your nonprofit

Malcom Gladwell’s book finds the sweet spot when an idea, trend or social behavior “tips over” and goes viral. The pages are filled with an interesting perspective given that Gladwell wrote this piece in 2002 and social media wasn’t around (Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006). “The Tipping Point” is relevant for nonprofits because so often organizations are competing for public recognition and familiarity to gain donations—part of how groups are able to become household names is to reach a tipping point with exposure and awareness. But getting there is the trick and Gladwell has some great insights on how to do it and when/why things go viral, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.


Nonprofits rely heavily on passion to motivate others and drive sustained momentum to affect long-term change, putting many employees and volunteers at risk for burnout. In addition to reminding staff to take time for themselves, the books below prompt individuals to remember why they pursued this profession in the first place—offering a natural and healthy way to recharge and rethink the work ahead.

The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

Written by: Mark Sanborn

Recommended by: Matt See, senior vice president

Read it to: Make yourself, and your relationships, better than ever

Mark Sanborn’s book straddles the line of self-improvement and leadership. Readers are taught to seize the opportunity to be extraordinary, touting the ability to reinvent yourself regularly—despite current life situations or circumstances. While readers are transforming their identity, Sanborn calls to memory the role of relationships, marking that relationships make teams and businesses great, not the business itself.

The call to action touches on four points: make a difference, create value, build relationships and reinvent when necessary.

10 Percent Happier 

Written by: Dan Harris

Recommended by: Alex Baumann, managing supervisor

Read it to: Learn how to calm your buzzing mind

Reporter Dan Harris wrote this approachable and enjoyable book about his experiences interviewing top religious leaders, and how their insights ultimately led him to a daily meditation practice. Harris believes a daily meditation practice can result in being 10 percent happier and through his book teaches how mindfulness and medication can elicit better responses in difficult and stressful situations.

Encouraging employees to take a few minutes to engage in the “free” service of meditation can save cost in the long-run and help recharge your team.

The Last Lecture

Written by: Randy Pausch

Recommended by: Beth Stevenson, vice president

Read it to: Reflect on what is really important in your life

This book arose from a lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University in which top academics were asked to reflect deeply on the matters of the world that they find most important. The academics were asked to present a hypothetical “final lecture” on what the wisdom they would impart to the world if it was their last and final chance to do so.

Facing a terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Professor Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” He later authored the book where he details the important life lessons he wanted to share with his young children before he passed away. The concept broaches the age-old question, “what’s the meaning of it all?” And offers a gauge to determine if your passion and profession are aligned. “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” – Randy Pausch

Being of Power 

Written by: Baron Baptiste 

Recommended by: Robin Shroyer, vice president

Read it to: Overcome your fears and live true to who you are

Baron Baptiste’s book, Being of Power, calls on nine practices to shift your line of thinking in order to act from a more empowered place. This self-improvement book includes tactics on everything from how to analyze your fears and let them go to how to navigate manufactured meanings you have previously prescribed to moments in your life.

Each page takes the reader on the path to clarity of what is wanted in their life and how to live more true to who you are. Baptiste is the creator of Baptiste yoga and while the book uses a lot of yoga anecdotes and stories from his workshops, this book is an easy read that anyone can relate.

FleishmanHillard is a global integrated communications and public relations agency with over 80 offices in 30 countries. To read more articles in the nonprofit lifestyle series, click here

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