The Quintessential List of Best Books for Fundraisers
What are the nonprofit fundraising and communications books you turn to, time and time again? What are those books that may have brought about a shift in thinking or a new way of doing your work?
These are the books that line my bookcase. What’s your favorite? And which books are missing from my shelves?
Donor-centered fundraising is the only honest way to sustainable fundraising. Ken Burnett’s book guides you gently toward understanding exactly what donor-centricity is and why it matters. A “must have” for your fundraising library.
"It’s Not Just About the Money" by Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels
This includes advice on moves management (sounds like a laxative!), prospect screening, engagement strategy, making "the ask," prospect pool, etc.
The very terminology of major gift fundraising has always struck me as a bit clinical and dehumanizing. And shouldn’t those transformational gifts be the continuing result of creating relationships that matter? You should not move donors through a formula—a process—one that amounts to thinking of donors as ATM machines. Enter Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels. Their company, the Veritus Group, has been transforming major gift fundraising for the past six years. And now their new book goes to the honest, deeper heart of what fundraising is all about.
Essential for every fundraiser who is serious about his or her work. There is simply no topic in fundraising right now more critical than donor retention. Think you know what you need to do? It’s more than merely crafting the best thank-you letter, more than your welcome kit, more even than that thank-you call. Roger Craver knows that, "Understanding how donors feel about your organization and what role they want you to play in their lives is the starting point for improving retention rates."
This book will give you new ways of thinking about how to experience your organization from your donor’s perspective, how to change your metrics and messaging, and how you can eliminate the guesswork in your donor retention program.
"Simple Development Systems" by Pamela Grow
Yours truly has written the quintessential book for small nonprofit organizations looking to grow and develop their fundraising—the right way. Loaded with recorded trainings, teleseminars, worksheets and templates, my book covers the non-sexy aspects of fundraising, including selecting your donor database, starting your monthly giving program, implementing planned giving and creating a donor-focused website. You’ll find chapters on creating a communications plan, storytelling, foundation grantseeking, online fundraising and more.
"Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value" by Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay
Will donor retention continue to be talked about while fundraisers continue looking for the quick fix? Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay show you how to sustain giving, campaign after campaign.
"Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications & Stronger Relationships" by Simone Joyaux and Tom Ahern
Your guide to developing a plan of donor communications takes you from the first gift to the final bequest gift.
"Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power" by Andrea Kihlstedt
What’s the best way for a shy fundraiser to make a face-to-face ask? What role does the analytical mind play? Knowing your own asking style—and those of your board members—has real potential to transform your fundraising and major gifts program.
"Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant" by Erica Waasdorp
I was five pages into Erica Waasdorp’s book when I picked up the phone to ask if she might present to my membership group. Monthly giving has the power to transform your fundraising. This book guides you step-by-step through the processes of developing and growing your program.
Marketing and Communications
"The Fundraisers Guide to Irresistible Communications" by Jeff Brooks
I am a huge fan of Emerson & Church Publishers for its no BS, succinct (most weigh in at around 100 pages) eminently readable guides. This one, from Jeff Brooks, is a gem that belongs on every fundraiser’s bookshelf.
Another Emerson & Church find, this 2006 guide is my go-to online fundraising resource.
Writing persuasively. Losing the jargon. This is still my go-to book whenever I’m stuck.
"Making Money With Donor Newsletters" by Tom Ahern
There’s real money to be made in mastering print. Lots of it. Master communicator Tom Ahern shows you how.
Still the bible for nonprofit direct mail fundraising.
"The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause" by Kivi Leroux Miller and Katya Andresen
This is the quintessential nonprofit communications guide.
"On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King
The best guide on writing to engage the reader. Immensely entertaining too.
"Storytelling as Best Practice" by Andy Goodman
This is filled with the best articles on storytelling from 13 years of Andy Goodman’s newsletter, Free-Range Thinking.
Mindset and Miscellaneous
"How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie
If I had to pare my bookshelf down to one, this would be it. It's the quintessential guide to fundraising and life.
"Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success" by Adam M. Grant, Ph.D.
This one is loaded with lessons for fundraisers, including, “Don’t shy away from connecting with your donors on a very real and personal level.”
"A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas" by Warren Berger
One of your most powerful forces for igniting change is, no, not necessarily more information—we’re bombarded with more information now than ever before—but the power of questioning. Are you asking the right ones?
"Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" by Seth Godin
There’s a reason why fundraisers have an average tenure of 18 months. Yes, there are a lot of dysfunctional organizations out there. But we fundraisers also have to figure out how to lead. "There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do."
"Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising" by Cheryl A. Clarke
As a former foundation staffer, I can attest to the power of storytelling in grant proposals. And yet even the most experienced grant writer often fails in this area. Cheryl A. Clarke guides you through the process, step-by-step.
"Donor-Centered Leadership" by Penelope Burk
Yes, donor-centered fundraising is the key to your organization’s long-term sustainability. But how, exactly, do you get from A to Z? This book, the basis for the Simple Development Systems membership program, shows you what it takes to hire, train and retain top people and build healthy, fully functioning nonprofits. It's a must-read.
"Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises" by Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson
Whining about our boards—it’s become an Olympic sport. I hate to break it to you, but in a healthy organization, it’s the job of the executive director and development director to firmly, but gently, guide your board in the direction of good fundraising. That doesn’t mean pulling in a consultant once a year for a pep talk at a board retreat. It doesn’t mean asking your board members to share a list of contacts. What it does mean is creating a consistent plan to implement short trainings throughout the year to bring your board members (and everyone else) on board. This book gives you the tools.
"Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully" by Susan Howlett
This is exactly what it says. In her gentle, common-sense style, Susan Howlett guides the reader step-by-step in teaching board members the joy of the profession.
"Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion Into Action" by Gail Perry
Who doesn’t love Gail Perry? In her own inimitable style, she provides activities and checklists that show board members that there is more to fundraising than the ask.
These are my favorite books. What book has made the most impact on your professional life?
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.