Best Nonprofit Books for Servant Leaders
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40+ Best Nonprofit Books for Leaders, Board Members, and Staff

Being a life-long learner is vital for growing a nonprofit. After years of reading, we have put together our comprehensive list of the best nonprofit books. 

We categorized the best nonprofit books list by role and interest types. 

Personal Top Ten Nonprofit Books for 2020

Creating a best nonprofit books list requires perspective and introspection. And a lot of reading.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. These links, if used and purchases made, we may earn a small commission. We use these funds to help support NPCrowd.

Nonprofit books do not need to be specifically about nonprofits, but rather what we as nonprofit leaders can take and use from a variety of perspectives, frameworks, strategies, contexts.

Whether these books were new in 2020 or just new to us, these books impacted our nonprofit work, NPCrowd.com, and our mentoring of others. 

Servant leadership books are well aligned with our preferred style of leadership. Our list has a few of those on it. You’ll also enjoy our nonprofit leadership development and training guide as part of your reading.

Diversity and inclusion are top interests for many this year. Women leadership books are included and we recommend reading them as they provide perspective and actionable

Enjoy the list!

1. Traction – Get a Grip On Your Business – Gino Wickman

This year we were introduced to the Entrepreneurial Operating System. Starting with Traction – Get a Grip On Your Business, we read everything we could get our hands on. 

This framework is all about making decisions, solving issues, and moving your organization forward by predicting success in a 90-day world.

For one nonprofit, Stratop was too heavy, and 4DX, too light. EOS is an excellent in-between framework for making things happen. 

Strategy and processes can be difficult. Read this and then find a nonprofit strategy consultant to help.

If you are not satisfied with slow growth, pick up the Traction series. They may be the best nonprofit books for growth you’ll read this year.

2. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer – J. Oswald Chambers

As leaders, we will never be perfect. Great leaders likely feel like an imposter at times.

There is a need to remain humble and authentic. Leaders feel a need to be “authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial.” 

This is a 256-page quick read and is super encouraging as one in a category of servant leadership books we recommend.

Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Chambers may be the second best book about leadership for 2020 that we’ve read.

3. The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan

Donovan and Kaplan created an authoritative look at diversity & inclusion (D&I) issues. 

You will not only understand what diversity and inclusion look like, but you’ll also get practical day-to-day actions.

This is an excellent team read where you can raise awareness and set a new culture in place. We added it to our list of group reading nonprofit books.

4. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

Right, StoryBrand is not exactly new. But you must read the book to really understand the foundation of why StoryBrand is so effective. 

It will permeate what and how you communicate with your constituents. They are the heroes; you are the guide. 

It is amazing how much marketing is simply an organization blasting how great they are and why they are the hero to save their audience. It just doesn’t work.

5. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reiss

Today’s nonprofits need to be able to move rapidly in the right direction.

The Lean Startup inspires with an emphasis to “validate learning” as a means of moving quickly, adjusting, and keep moving.

It’s about testing your organization’s vision continuously and adjusting rapidly and often.

6. Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life by Ken Blanchard

In this follow-up to The Secret, our protagonist, Debbie Brewster finds herself mentoring her mentor’s son. As she learned in the previous book, she teaches the GROW model of leadership.

It is so fun to read a novel that implements a proven leadership model. 

We are huge fans of servant leadership books and this series is a must read.

7. 48-Hour Start-up: From Idea to Launch in 1 weekend by Fraser Doherty MBE

Why would a 48-hour startup book make the list? Easy, this is about taking an idea and executing it in a minimalistic fashion.

Why? Because taking an idea and doing it is where most people fail. Action is required, and this book breaks down the first 48 hours of doing. 

8. The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard

The first book in The Secret series is a novel that teaches the SERVE model of servant leadership. 

The narrative format is enjoyable and makes for an easy read that cements core concepts well. 

Read the entire series. It’s well worth the time.

The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard is our pick for the best book for leadership and management with new leaders in mind.

9. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kimberly Scott

Not the typical leadership book. This book is about being a great boss, which means communicating well with candor. 

In Radical Candor, Kimberly Scott demonstrates her seven-step methodology―listen, clarify, debate, decide, persuade, execute, learn.

This model is not about appeasing staff, but instead being open and honest in a way that helps staff be their best self. 

10. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

We all have habits: some good and some bad. 

In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides a framework for breaking old habits and building new ones.  

Through small (atomic) actions, new habits are formed, building new paths in your brain.

This isn’t just the author’s personal opinion. Atomic Habits is based on real brain science. 

Give it a read, and start creating new habits today.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear is our pick for the best book for changing habits, incrementally, bit by bit.

Bonus: The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

Julie has created a wonderful everyday reference for new leaders.

Specifically, this is a top pick women in leadership book for anyone who recently moved into a leadership role.

Zhuo covers management essentials from hiring and firing, managing people and managing time.

You’ll keep this beside your desk as a reference when needed.

Books for Nonprofit Leaders

  1. Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant
  2. Leadership In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  3. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Logan, King, and Fisher-Wright
  4. It’s Your Ship by Mike Abrashoff
  5. Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind: Leadership Lessons from Three Decades of Social Entrepreneurship by Alex Counts
  6. Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West
  7. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other Peoples Minds by Howard Gardner
  8. The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine
  9. Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand by Steve Robinson.

Books to Improve Nonprofit Culture, Volunteers and Staff

  1. How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Kegan and Lahey
  2. The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout by Beth Kanter and Eliza Sherman
  3. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  4. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  5. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
  6. Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships by Kim Christfort and Suzanne Vickberg
  7. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Books for New Nonprofit Leaders and Board Members

  1. The Little Book of Gold: Fundraising for Small (and Very Small) Nonprofits by Erik Hanberg
  2. Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, and Heen
  3. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo
  4. Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
  5. Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits Are Messy by Joan Garry
  6. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
  7. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni
  8. Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  9. Confident Leader!: How to Overcome Self-doubt, Influence Others, and Make Your Leadership Dreams Come True by Dan Reiland
  10. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  11. Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins
  12. Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals by Heyman and Brenner

Books for Nonprofit Teams and Group Reading

  1. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  2. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  3. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Books about Frameworks and Processes

  1. Traction – Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman [EOS]
  2. Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman and Mike Patton [EOS]
  3. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by McChesney, Covey, Hurling [4DX]
  4. Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr [OKR]
  5. Predictable Success by Les McKeown [StratOp]

Books for Nonprofit Productivity and Improvement

  1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  2. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
  3. Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath 
  4. Getting Things Done by David Allen (GTD)

Books for Nonprofit Leaders with a Biblical World View

  1. Development 101 – Building A Comprehensive Development Program on Biblical Values by Frank and Rodin
  2. The Five Levels Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
  3. The Genesee Diary by Henry Nouwen
  4. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Chambers
  5. The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert J. Morgan

Other Top Nonprofit Books Lists

We’re not here to monopolize. There are many other great lists of nonprofit books, servant leadership books and women leadership books.

Take a look at these other amazing lists and then read, read, read.

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