Recently, I published a blog post about some of my accomplishments (and setbacks) in 2019.
One of the accomplishments was the fact that I read 46 books this past year—the most I’ve ever read in a year. That equals almost a book a week, and this year, I’m aiming for 52.
How did I read that many books and still retain enough information to apply to my work context? That’s some of what I’ll be covering in this post. I’ll also share my top 10 nonprofit marketing and fundraising books from 2019.
Let’s get to it.
Why Nonprofit Marketers Should Read More
I don’t know about you, but I often get stuck in my job. Marketing and fundraising is complex. You’re trying to figure out what you can possibly say in that email or appeal to tap into someone’s motivations and get them to give. There’s a lot to think about.
The answer, for me, has been to read. Here are four reasons why nonprofit marketers should read more:
- When I’m constantly reading, I get unstuck faster.
- I can move forward because I have a constant source of ideas. When I’m constantly reading, whether the books are related to my job or not, I have fresh ideas all the time. In the shower, while I’m walking, on my way to work.
- The market changes—fast. In 2019, the market changed so fast that a hip new social media platform like Tik Tok could go from “not cool” to “cool” in as little as four months. Things move fast, and nonprofit marketers need to stay on top of those changes.
- Technologies also change fast. Mobile devices and websites update every year. Same goes for how you should send email and the way people consume content on Instagram. If I’m not reading, it’s hard to keep up with it. On this point, blogs may be more effective than books since they come out faster. But I’m still reading about technology often in books.
How to Read Books Faster
Even if you’re convinced that reading is valuable, it can still be discouraging when you have a massive pile of books to read and no real hope of finishing them all. I’ve figured out a few things that have helped me consume more books in a year.
Here are my top four tips for reading more books, faster, and getting the most out of them:
- Read highly interesting or immediately relevant books. I’m constantly scanning my book wishlist, and I only read the books I’m interested in right now, the ones that address my challenges today. Back in my video game days, it was really helpful to have a manual that told me how a certain level would unfold step by step. A cheat sheet. Books are kind of like that. Not all the answers to life are in books, but many of them are. You just have to go find them.
- Don’t finish every book. I have an author friend named Stephen R. Graves who’s published a number of books, some co-authored with John Maxwell. He told me, “Not all books are worth reading all the way through. Many books are only worth two chapters. The reason there are 10-12 chapters is because they had to fill it out so they could charge full price.” I know many of you are achievement-oriented and will struggle with this concept, but ask yourself why. Why do we struggle so much with having to finish the book? Isn’t the point of the book to learn, to grow? If you can grow after reading just 1-2 chapters, isn’t that good enough? We need to rethink the amount of books we read and think more about what we’re learning from them. A book is only worth what you get out of it.
- Preview, read, and review. I previewed many of the 46 books on Audible before reading them completely. A few of them I want to buy and read the physical copies for, so I can underline them. For these, I will constantly go back and review them. But don’t feel that just because there are a few good things in the book that you have to go back and read it again or review it systematically to get the most out of it. I recommend previewing lots of books all the time, then choosing 1 out of 10 (or potentially 1 out of 5) and actually reading them. Then 1 out of 20 or 30 you can earmark for reviewing regularly and systematically because they’re just that good. With this strategy, I can go both wide and deep in my reading.
- Read more narrative-based books. I love biographies. You can learn so much from them, and you generally don’t have to review them because you remember the stories. I also like business fables, like those from Patrick Lencioni.
Top 10 Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Books
Not all of the top 10 books I read in 2019 were perfect, but I believe that even the ones I didn’t get a lot out of would provide value to the right audience. For that reason, I’ve added a “Recommended For” section below most of these reviews to help you decide if these books are right for you.
Note: These 10 are in no particular order.
1) The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause by Kivi Leroux Miller & Katya Andresen
This book was written a while ago and had some pretty practical advice for marketing in nonprofits (though nothing I hadn’t seen in blogs previously). I found the book to be . . . decent.
Recommended for: Anyone new to nonprofit marketing, whether you’re moving from non-marketing to marketing or marketing in a for-profit company to marketing in a nonprofit.
2) The Digital Fundraising Blueprint: How to Raise More Money Online for Your Nonprofit by Jeremy Haselwood
To be honest, I learned almost nothing from this book. Not because Jeremy Haselwood had nothing to say. I just think I’m more well-rounded in digital marketing for nonprofits, so there wasn’t anything new for me. However, I would still highly recommend it for certain people.
Recommended for: Anybody who’s been in marketing for a while and wants to get into the digital landscape for the first time OR someone new to marketing altogether.
3) The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter & Allison Fine
Even though this book is 10 years old, it was fantastic. I could tell the authors had a good maturity around social media because they had worked at Facebook or some other substantial Silicon Valley company and took their learnings about how social media worked into the nonprofit space. The cover looks dated, but the principles about how nonprofits can get into the heads of prospective donors and volunteers were powerful.
Recommended for: All nonprofit marketers.
4) Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good by Ann Mei Chang
This was another fantastic read. I would probably rate this one the highest of all nonprofit books I read this past year.
The reason is that Chang took the principles from The Lean Startup and applied them to the nonprofit space. This goes far beyond marketing and fundraising, although it certainly has chapters devoted to them. It talks about how to use the methodologies from startups to make nonprofits more effective—which is exactly what I talked about in my TedX Talk.
I no longer have to write the book on this: Ann Chang beat me to it and did a much better job than I ever could have.
Recommended for: All nonprofit marketers.
5) Managing the Non-profit Organization: Principles and Practices by Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker is the godfather of management. If you’re a Drucker fan, you have to read this book. In fact, the audiobook of this one is even more fun because it’s him getting interviewed about the nonprofit space in 2-3 different settings.
Because Drucker’s the one talking, you can get more than the words themselves. You can get his feelings behind the words. This book is full of “meat,” as they say.
6) The Non Nonprofit: For-Profit Thinking for Nonprofit Success by Steve Rothschild
I loved this book, partly because it’s not written by a consultant, like many of the other books I read last year. It’s written by a practitioner—someone who came from a successful career in the for-profit space and applied his success to the nonprofit world.
Even more helpful than his nonprofit growth strategies was what his nonprofit was doing to alleviate poverty and systematically prove that they were getting people out of poverty. Not just providing people with a temporary job, but moving them far beyond.
7) Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector by William F. Meehan III & Kim Starkey Jonker
This book was great, although it is written at a slightly more scholarly level than the others on this list. If you have a business background or degree, it’ll be no problem, but the authors definitely speak like they have MBAs. This is good, because it makes the language concise and direct, but it can also be intimidating for many nonprofit workers who don’t have formal education in business.
Recommended for: Those thinking about high-level nonprofit work who are not intimidated by business-rich language.
8) Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World by Scott Harrison
This was a fantastic biography, and in it I learned how Charity: Water (the poster-child for nonprofit marketing right now) is doing a lot of their marketing. They’ve driven their message forward not by taking nonprofit best practices but by using some of the best practices Scott learned as a club promoter, then innovating and trying things no one had thought to try before in the nonprofit space.
This story is inspiring, easy-to-read, and a great listen on audio, because not only is Scott a great writer: he’s also a great speaker.
Pencils of Promise is another favorite charity of mine. There are very few nonprofits I admire and emulate often, but this is one of them. It was great to read Adam’s story, how he got involved in Pencils of Promise, and the things they did to grow the charity.
10) The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni
Truth be told, this isn’t a nonprofit book. But of all the business books I read this past year, this one is by far the most helpful to nonprofits. Organizational health—that is, your company culture—is critical. This book is about what you can do internally in your organization to make sure your employees are happy, have clarity around their jobs, and know how they are connected to the purpose of the organization.
Honestly, I believe this matters more for nonprofits than for-profits—even though it was written for the latter. If you haven’t read anything by Patrick Lencioni, I would start here, because it’s a conglomerate of almost all his others.
Those are my top 10 books of the year. If you want to see the full list of 46 books I read (ranked), check out growthguide.co/2019.