What Charity Executive Directors Should be Reading and Watching, Part 1

There is no shortage of great books to aid and inspire nonprofit executive directors to be better leaders. We’ve compiled a list that is by no means comprehensive, but it is a fantastic start. (and if you’re seeking to inspire your fundraising team and volunteers, these make great holiday gifts!). We’ve also included some recommended watching for the times when you just need to kick back a bit. AND we found so much great material — this is going to be a two-parter from us!


Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

From the back: 

Start With Why shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Why you should share it with your fundraising team: 

Adam Capes, the President and Chief Idea Officer of Getaway2Give, recommends this book to everyone working in the nonprofit sector. Simon’s work is all about passion and leadership, two crucial components of a great executive director. We love this quote from Simon: “What good is it having a belly if there’s no fire in it? Wake up, drink your passion, light a match and get to work.”

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie R. Crutchfield

From the back: 

Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant spent four years surveying thousands of nonprofit CEOs, conducting hundreds of interviews, and studying a dozen high-impact nonprofits to uncover their secrets to success. The secret? Great nonprofits spend as much time working outside their four walls as they do managing their internal operations. They use the power of leverage to become greater forces for good. This landmark book reveals the six powerful practices of twelve high-impact nonprofits, and tells their compelling stories. It also includes a diagnostic tool for nonprofit leaders who want to strengthen their application of the six practices.

Why you should share it with your fundraising team: 

This book will energize executive directors with its wealth of information about what practices really work, again and again. It includes research-based practical advice so that you, too, can run a successful and impactful nonprofit, and should be a charity-fundraising tome to review every year.


The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

From the back: 

The Ghost Writer introduces Nathan Zuckerman in the 1950s, a budding writer infatuated with the Great Books, discovering the contradictory claims of literature and experience while an overnight guest in the secluded New England farmhouse of his idol, E. I. Lonoff. The first volume of the trilogy Zuckerman Bound, The Ghost Writer is about the tensions between literature and life, artistic truthfulness and conventional decency—and about those implacable practitioners who live with the consequences of sacrificing one for the other.

Why you should share it with your fundraising team: 

Scotty McLennan, a lecturer in political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, recommends this one because it is a “wonderful illustration of the importance of balancing personal ambition with social awareness – of balancing individualism with community responsibility.”

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter

From the back: 

In this absorbing tale, you watch the timeless principles of servant leadership unfold through the story of John Daily, a businessman whose outwardly successful life is spiraling out of control. He is failing miserably in each of his leadership roles as boss, husband, father, and coach. To get his life back on track, he reluctantly attends a weeklong leadership retreat at a remote Benedictine monastery. To John’s surprise, the monk leading the seminar is a former business executive and Wall Street legend. Taking John under his wing, the monk guides him to a realization that is simple yet profound: The true foundation of leadership is not power, but authority, which is built upon relationships, love, service, and sacrifice.

Why you should share it with your fundraising team: 

Though this novel is about a business leader, what better describes a nonprofit executive director than having leadership that is “built upon relationships, love, service, and sacrifice?” The story is a great reminder of why you do what you do the way you do.


Ken Robinson on Passion

Sir Ken Robinson is the author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. He believes that everyone is born with extraordinary capability. So what happens to all that talent as we bump through life, getting by, but never realizing our true potential? (Note: He has a wonderful sense of humor. You will laugh!)

TED Talks for Nonprofits

We didn’t curate this playlist, but we recommend it! It features 30 TED Talks on a range of topics important to nonprofit leaders, starting with Dan Pallotta’s ‘The way we think about charity is dead wrong.’