Last Saturday (November 1st) was National Book Lovers Day, one of two book lovers days each year to encourage people to read.  This got me thinking about some of my favorite professional books. 

I love reading and there are many, many great books for nonprofit professionals that I cherish (including Gail Perry’s Fired-Up Fundraising, Kivi Leroux Miller’s Nonprofit Marketing Guide, Nonprofit Sustainability:  Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising, anything written by Jerold Panas, and so many, many others).   

I thought I’d write about a few of my favorites that don’t often make the top fundraising or nonprofit book lists because they are not written for nonprofit professionals, yet, they’ve been very helpful to me in my nonprofit career.  If you’re looking for a good read, pull-up a comfy chair and try one of these:

The Progress Principle:  Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (2011) by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. I love this book.  It’s not written for nonprofits.  It’s written for leaders.  All development directors are leaders—if they’re not leading a department, they’re probably providing leadership to a development committee. 

The basic premise of the book (in brief) is that people are intrinsically motivated.  The book makes a welcome challenge to the typical HR premise that employees respond best to carrots and sticks.  In fact, carrots and sticks can be de-motivating.  Instead, what is most motivating to employees is progress forward in meaningful work.  The book outlines how to create and nurture a positive, constructive work environment and how to reduce the things that hinder employee progress.

As someone who has never liked being “incentivized” by, for example, a board of directors (“If you make this goal, there will be this reward”) and who has often felt a little insulted by these types of inducements [Me:  You guys don’t think I’m already motivated to try as hard as I can to reach that goal?  You guys think I need this incentive to give you my best?”], I very much appreciate the book’s argument and find that, for me personally, it holds water.

Anyone wanting to know how to keep a team motivated (board, staff, or other volunteer), this is a great read.

A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen (2010).  This book transformed how I look at wealth and wealthy people which has strengthened my ability to do major gifts work.  Whether you are religious or not, you’ll find wisdom and nourishment in this very small, deceptively simple book.  It’s a quick read, but it changed me.  How many books can you say that about?

Also not written specifically for nonprofit organizations:  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (2002).  This book, written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, and their team, is one I have loaned to many, many staff members through the years.  When I am faced with having a difficult conversation, I pull this book out and review.  The book outlines a step-by-step process whereby people with differing opinions about important issues can discuss their varying points of view to find common ground and purpose and better ways to understand one another. 

I believe this book is so helpful and important that it should be required reading for all people, not just those working for nonprofits.

What are your favorite professional books? What has guided your career development?  I’m always looking for a good read – make a recommendation.

Happy Reading!