The Top 5 Nonprofit Management Books for New Organization Leaders

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Congratulations on the new job or promotion! You are now heading up a nonprofit organization. You’re excited, but as you settle into your new office, the pressure of living up to or exceeding established expectations settles in.

You may feel like you’re standing in the shadow of the success of your predecessor. You might wonder how you can possibly fill their shoes and blaze your own path to success.

Or maybe you’ve been tasked with saving an organization from a death spiral, and everyone is counting on you to turn the ship around.

top nonprofit management books for new organization leaders
Whatever the reason you are in this position, moving up the ladder to leadership is both an exciting and intimidating career step.

Luckily, there are hundreds of books out there full of experience and advice just waiting for you to pick through them. Of course, as a new organization leader, you won’t have time to fumble through hundreds of books.

I’ve made this easy for you and put together a list of five books you can read that will help bring you up to speed on what it means to be a nonprofit leader and on the skills you need to succeed in this position.

Each of these books is rated 4.5/5 stars or higher on Amazon and is listed in alphabetical order.

1. ‘Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Difficult Conversations book cover

Being a leader means making hard decisions, which result in even harder conversations. “Difficult Conversations” will teach you how to navigate these situations by exploring their structure and teaching you how to avoid defensiveness and how to shift to productive problem solving without falling into emotional traps.

Nonprofit leaders, especially new leaders, are faced during and after transition periods with hard decisions, such as priority restructuring and redirecting the focus of the organization. This book will help you navigate the conversations with staff and board members that result from these decisions and changes.

Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars

Amazon reader review:

“By far one of the best books I’ve read about communication, no matter what type of difficult conversation you’re having. It breaks down the conversation, especially what’s not explicitly expressed, and then gives you ways to communicate going forward. There are plenty of examples and ideas on how to communicate what feels vulnerable, but ultimately leads to better understanding overall.”

2. ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Getting Things Done book cover

I’ll never stop recommending this book. “Getting Things Done” is David Allen’s love letter to productivity and is full of advice and methods to help you boost your output each day in your personal and professional life.

New nonprofit leaders are faced with new tasks and responsibilities that can easily overwhelm any professional. David Allen’s book can help you overcome any task your new leadership position may throw at you, from technological upgrades to staff organization.

If you want to learn more about “Getting Things Done,” be sure to check out my colleague’s piece on how this book changed her life.

Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars

Amazon reader review:

“This is really THE book of task management. The basis of his approach is to write everything down, so that you’re not trying to remember anything in your head. It’s like cleaning up your attic (except the attic is your brain). I found that my productivity has probably doubled. I have also become a more jealous guard of tasks I’m willing to take on (unless they’re easy two-minute jobs, then no worries!)”

3. ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t

Good to Great book cover

“Good to Great” is an exploration into what it requires to take a company from being “good” to being “great” using case studies of companies such as Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae, and Walgreens. The changes these companies made to reach that new level include new leadership methods, technological advances, and revamped business priorities.

This book is perfect for the new nonprofit leader looking to take their organization to the next level, whether it be in fundraising or overall program quality.

Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars

Amazon reader review:

If you are a leader or desire to be one, this is a must read. [Jim Collins] speaks to much more than just trends, but to actual character. As a fairly charismatic person, I found it interesting to see some of the downsides of charisma. I really appreciated his approach to discussing the power of clarity and consistency. This is a classic and I can not recommend it highly enough.”

4. ‘Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership

Joan Garry

Joan Garry has created the blueprint for nonprofit leadership. As a previous nonprofit leader herself, Garry uses her experiences as well as others’ to guide you through sustainable fundraising methods, building and working with the perfect board of directors, and shining in the public eye as an organization to aspire to.

What better person to teach nonprofit leadership than someone who’s been there and done it all—including pulling GLAAD out of a financial crisis in 1997?

Amazon rating: 5/5 stars

Amazon reader review:

I particularly appreciate the honesty about mistakes both she and other people who have been in the nonprofit industry much longer than me have made … so often, how-to books are full of wonderful directives that it seems like you can only implement if everything is already going smoothly … her pep talks about getting everything together were really heartening.”

5. ‘Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Leaders Eat Last book cover

“Leaders Eat Last” is a book about sacrifice. Simon Sinek lays out a case for truly selfless leadership, which he argues will foster a “circle of safety” that encourages trust and cooperation between teams and their leaders.

Using leadership stories and some neuroscience, Sinek lays out a compelling case for putting your subordinates first at your job.

New nonprofit leaders are faced with the daunting task of rallying the organization to their cause, especially when replacing a beloved former leader. “Leaders Eat Last” will help you encourage a healthy work environment that inspires those under you to perform their best each day.

Amazon rating: 4.5/5 stars

Amazon reader review:

In ‘Leaders Eat Last,’ Simon Sinek explores our unique ability to work together and how leaders make that happen. Sinek examines the chemicals that course through our veins; the ones that tell us we are happy, sad, angry, or stressed. These emotions are the ones leaders must move with and against to create change.”

Other resources for nonprofit management

Once you’ve rifled through these books, the learning doesn’t end there for nonprofit leaders. That’s why the Capterra nonprofit blog is constantly adding new guides and resources to help you lead your organization to success in fundraising, program execution, technological advances, and public relations.

Looking for Nonprofit software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Nonprofit software solutions.

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About the Author

Nick Morpus

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Nick Morpus is a Content Writer for Capterra, a free resource that matches buyers and sellers of business software. He has a background in politics, economics, and journalism, which he dedicates his off-time to contributing his thoughts to other political sites. In his free-time he enjoys reading, drawing, photography, playing guitar, writing, and cooking.

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