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Work with Nonprofits? Read these books

If we had a magic wand, we would bring together all the following people who work with nonprofits: board members, staff, volunteers, and financial supporters and stakeholders of all stripes (individuals, corporate officers, foundation staff, agency officials, and customers). We would have everyone commit the following six books to memory and then discuss the key issues they point to.  

  1. Jim Collins, Good to Great
  2. Jim Collins, Great By Choice
  3. Sean Covey et. al., The Four Disciplines of Execution
  4. Ichak Adizes, How to Solve the Mismanagement Crisis
  5. Ken Stern, With Charity For All
  6. Dan Pallotta, Uncharitable

Most top professionals love Jim Collins. His books distill the core principles and practices of high performing organizations and provide clear cognitive traction points for applying them. (Big bummer that he watered down his concepts for the social sector, however. But he deserves a Mulligan.)

Four Disciplines is all you need to know about executionRead it once, and you'll remember the core concepts immediately: 1) set a wildly important goal; 2) understand what lead measures you need to get there; 3) keep a compelling scorecard; 4) maintain a cadence of accountability. We love this book. The son of bestselling author Steven Covey, Sean Covey is the archetype of the American demigod, a star college quarterback and management genius. We wish we heard of him much earlier in life. We came up with a somewhat similar methodology ourselves after learning the hard way, and this book would have saved us thousands of hours of painful struggle. But better late than never. 

These three books are at the core of the Altruist methodology. We use them every day. They've proven their immense worth time and time again over the past decade with over a hundred clients. We are so grateful to these authors. They gave us the tools to help many thousands of people. 

Next up is the Turkish management guru Ichak Adize's (YITZ-hak Ah-DEE-ZEEs) amazing work on leadership. This is the best guide we've found on understanding and diagnosing problems with leaders and management teams. 

Ken Stern's powerful expose With Charity For All makes it clear why everyone in the social sector needs to read and follow these other books. It's a searing indictment of the entire sector's management and execution shortcomings. Read it and you will see why so many people are disgusted with the American Red Cross-- and far too many other nonprofits. 

Lastly, Dan Pallotta's seminal work explains the source of all the problems that Ken Stern describes.  He lays out why nonprofits live in ignorance and fear of the critical management concepts and strategies they need to survive and thrive. (Now if Dan would just read these other books, he'd be in much better shape when he dispenses his own management advice :-) 

On top of these core texts, there are really only two periodicals we pay attention to on a regular basis: 

Yes, HBR is pretty awesome (most of the time), but we are particularly fond of the First Round Review-- it's lucid, experience-driven, bleeding-edge advice from the front-lines of startups and venture capital, and the takeaways for nonprofits of all sizes are continuous and profound. 

Now, if you know of an amazing, incredible mangement text or resource that's changed your life and others, please let us know. We're not finished reading. 

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