By Janine Vanderburg

A short reading list for nonprofit friends and changemakers

One of the things I always enjoy over the holidays is a little extra time to spend reading, and to create a list of must-read books for the upcoming year. If you’re putting your nonprofit reading list together, here are some that I’ve read in the last year that made a lasting impression as I try to understand and navigate the landscape we all work in.

  • Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal

You might not automatically turn to military strategy when thinking about how to more effectively run a social change organization but in this book General McChrystal explains that the Iraq War against Al Qaeda could not have been fought the way other wars had been fought.

To win, the multi-nation Task Force had to be nimble, making decisions on the ground and on the fly by small teams that were networked across boundaries and empowered to act quickly. In Team of Teams, he explores how these same principles can be used to make both businesses and nonprofits more effective. Working on collective impact in your community? This book has a lot of helpful lessons.

  • Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder, by Arianna Huffington

 In Thrive, Huffington makes a strong case for the need to redefine what it means to be successful. No one goes into social sector work in order to make a lot of money, so how do we define success?

Huffington says that striving for traditional success just might literally kill us. She writes that money and power may provide two legs of the stool of success but that no matter how strong those two legs are the stool is bound to topple without an equally strong third leg, which she defines as well being.

In social sector work, where money and power may not be much of a driving force, well-being is all the more important. Just as JVA relies on implementation science in all of its work, Huffington draws on cutting edge research to build the case for a more balanced and rewarding life. The book is full of concrete tips and strategies, including one that I’ve put on my New Year’s resolution list: Get more sleep!

  • Contagious: Why Things Catch on, by Jonah Berger

Named Best Marketing Book of 2014 by the American Marketing Association, this is a must-read book for everyone who is involved with communicating with donors or seeking to sway public or political conversations. If you are a changemaker who wonders why some social media messages go viral and yours don’t, this is your book. If you are a nonprofit leader who wonders why some causes grab the media’s attention, while yours don’t, again this is your book.

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering the questions that keep you up at night. Contagious combines groundbreaking research with powerful stories. And it’s a fun read.

All of the above links go to Amazon, but you can also read reviews and get these books at the Tattered Cover, either online or in person.

Happy reading.