Janine Vanderburg, President/CEO, Joining Vision and Action

What are the top books for nonprofit executive directors?

There are thousands of books out there on all aspects of nonprofit work. Over time, these are the ones we turn to again and again, and recommend to nonprofit executive directors attending JVA’s Executive Director Academy.

Top books for nonprofit executive directors

Are these in your library?

Books on Nonprofit Fundraising and Money

Asking: A 59-minute guide to everything board members, volunteers, and staff must know to secure the gift

This really delivers on what it promises: A simple, quick to digest guide with scripts on how to ask for money. Buy one for each of your board members; you won’t regret it.

Donor-Centered Fundraising

Pricey but worth it. Of course we love it—it’s based on solid research about what works! If you want to understand what donors are thinking and what they care about, read this.

All the Way to the Bank: Smart Nonprofit Money Management

I worked with author Susan Kenny Stevens on a capacity building project through Rose Community Foundation. And loved the way that she could so easily talk about money and how important it was for nonprofits to understand their business models. Her book is the easiest-to-read and understand book we’ve ever read on nonprofit money management and one that I’ve shared with many nonprofit executive directors.

Books on Change

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

We’re all in the social change business, trying to make our communities better. And have to manage change within our own environments as well. It can be daunting, but the Heath brothers lay out the science of doing this in a highly entertaining read.

Books on Strategic Planning

The Non-Profit Strategy Revolution: Real-time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World

This book breaks down why traditional strategic planning no longer works, offers a fabulous alternative and comes with a CD of tools and checklists that you can use to get started.


The Best of Board Café: Hands-on Solutions for Nonprofit Boards

Is there an executive director anywhere that doesn’t have questions about his or her board? This gives you the 411 on almost every topic related to nonprofit boards in easy to read chunks.

Hiring for Attitude

We intuitively know that attitude trumps most everything else, but how do you hire for the right attitudes and cultural fit needed in your organization? This aptly named book is a very practical, how-to guide that will help you bring on the people you need to have impact. (Hint: The principles in this are also good for thinking about how you recruit board members and volunteers).

Strengths-based Leadership: Great leaders, teams, and why people follow

One of our core values is building on strengths. This book helps you develop your leadership style, based on your strengths. We’ve used it with boards as well, to help everyone leverage their strengths for more social impact.

It’s Okay To Be the Boss: The Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need

Disregard the off-putting title. If you haven’t supervised before and find yourself responsible for staff and volunteers, this guide will help you develop your management skills. If you have supervised, and find that that you’re not getting the results you hoped for, this book will help as well.

Books on Getting It All Done

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

So many things to do: How do you do them all? Well, you don’t. You focus on the wildly important goals, and this book is terrific on laying out a process for getting the most important stuff done across your teams. A client in Grand Junction introduced me to this book two years ago, and we’ve turned to it again and again for JVA and for our clients.


Have a favorite we should add to our list of top books for nonprofit executive directors? Add it in the comments below.