Required Reading for Nonprofit Leaders

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These are six books are essential “must reads” for anyone leading nonprofits:

  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

Jim Collins has deservedly earned worldwide respect for his research and lucid writing. His books distill the core principles and practices of high performing organizations and provide clear cognitive traction points for applying them. Much to his credit, Collins and his team has posted his core concepts here. While no substitute for engaging in his writing, that page provides an excellent reminder for those who have read his books and an indication of all they have in store for those who have not read him yet.

Moving to Covey, et. al.: The Four Disciplines of Execution, widely known as 4DX, is the best guide to organizational execution we’ve found.  One read is all that’s necessary to absorb the sticky concepts in this book: 1) set a wildly important goal; 2) understand the lead measures to get there; 3) keep a compelling scorecard; 4) maintain a cadence of accountability.

While these books cover strategy and technical issues around design and execution, what remains is practical guidance on how to create the cultural and organizational alignment that’s the necessary foundation for effective design and execution. Yugoslavian American management guru Ichak Adize’s (YITZ-hak Ah-DEE-ZEEs) work provides a simple, clear framework for understanding different personality types and knitting them together into a team– and making sure management teams and governing bodies have all the necessary strengths and characteristics to succeed.

The final two works make clear the immense need to deliver this robust and effective management and organizational understanding to the social sector. Ken Stern’s powerful expose With Charity For All exposes the difficult truth that most charitable programs are plainly ineffective, and that the sector is primarily focused on presenting the appearance of social change, not the reality. In sum, it’s a searing indictment of the entire sector’s management and execution shortcomings.

Lastly, Dan Pallotta’s seminal work explains the source of all the problems that Ken Stern describes. He lays out why too many nonprofits live in ignorance and fear of the critical management concepts and strategies they need to survive and thrive.

In addition to these core texts, there are two periodicals we pay attention to on a regular basis:

If you know of seminal management texts or resources not listed here, please let us know. We’re not finished reading.

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