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10 Books Every Nonprofit Leader Should Read

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Friday, December 9, 2016
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2016

My idea to publish a list of very useful nonprofit leadership books came from the class I teach at U Penn’s Annenberg School on Nonprofit Communications Strategy. Every year, I say to my students during the last class, “If nonprofit leaders – board and staff – read the same material you did this spring, the nonprofit sector would be infinitely more civil, impactful and effective.”

And so here you will find two lists. First, my top five nonprofit leadership books. Then what I’m calling “Honorable Mention.” I asked a few friends and clients to suggest a leadership book to me that was instrumental in helping them to become more effective nonprofit leaders.

Even if you grab only one of these and read it in its entirety, it will be a real investment in your professional growth and will help make the work you do even more remarkable.

And with no further ado…


1. Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins

You must own this book. It captures in just 40 pages (yes… 40… so you have no excuse not to read it) the recipe for taking a good organization to the next level. There are infographics that will totally stick with you as you go about your day. And I guarantee you – you will become way more intentional about the hires you make and the board members you invite to join you.

2. Give and Take by Adam Grant

This is bigger than just your role as a leader. It’s a book about who you want to be in the world. Grant identifies three kinds of people – ‘givers,’ ‘ takers,’ and ‘matchers.’ Those who give generously and freely of their time and expertise may not start out as the most successful but they end up at the top. They learn by solving others’ problems and they develop extraordinary social capital. This one is a great staff offsite read or a gift for your senior team or board chair.

3. Changing Minds by Howard Gardner

Gardner is a groundbreaking educator who teaches us that we each have multiple intelligences that lead to different learning styles and a diversity of skills across society. He understands how the mind works and thus what it takes to change a mind. This is the work of the nonprofit sector – to move someone to consider something differently so that it matters in a new way to them. Don’t be daunted by how long ago it was written. Trust me – like all good leadership books should be – this one is evergreen.

4. Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, and Heen

In my work as a consultant, I find myself contending with conflict. A LOT. Not just with those in opposition to the mission but within organizations themselves. Amongst staff members, between staff and board. This led me to become a certified mediator and also to this book.

First off, many of us are in the business of talking about difficult subjects (can you say Planned Parenthood or any organization that has to do with race, gender, politics, religion, homosexuality – just to name a few). Secondly, I find oh so frequently that managers simply don’t have tough conversations with staff and are reluctant to hold them accountable in ways that feel difficult.

This book teases out the WHY but then also is very actionable for both the internal and the external difficult conversations far too many folks avoid because of a lack of tools. Tools await you in this book.

5. Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath 

This is a must read. And an easy one. To me, the biggest takeaway for nonprofits is that leaders love their work and want everyone to love it. So they over-tell and try to cover everything. The Heath Brothers talk about cutting through the clutter and “the curse of knowledge” – we know so much about our organizations that we get into detail that listeners don’t understand. They say that we can’t un-know what we know so we have to transform how we communicate to those who don’t know about our work.


A quick survey unearthed five more leadership books you should know about. Heck, some of them are new to ME. I’m ordering them on Amazon right now.

6. Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Most leaders start by talking about what their organization does. But Sinek argues it’s not the what or the how that drives great staff candidates, five star board prospects or donors. It’s the why. Sinek gave a great TED talk if you don’t have time to read the full book.

Recommended by Dana Weeks at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.

7. It’s Your Ship by Mike Abrashoff

I’ve actually never heard of this one, written by the former US Navy captain of the USS Benfold. His practical recipe? Lead by example; listen aggressively; communicate purpose and meaning; create a climate of trust; look for results, not salutes; take calculated risks; go beyond standard procedure; build up your people; generate unity; and improve your people’s quality of life. Sounds like a great nonprofit leader to me.

Recommended by Kevin Jennings, CEO of the Arcus Foundation.

8. Getting Things Done by David Allen

One of the biggest productivity books of the last two decades, I’ve added this to the list. That said, I haven’t read it and feel skeptical simply because the subhead reads: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. It may seem unattainable in a nonprofit setting, but my oh my, isn’t it worth a shot?

Recommended by Mark Pelavin at the Union for Reform Judaism.

9. How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Kegan and Lahey

I am so ordering this book, which tackles the inherent human resistance to change. One reader wrote, “Most of the time, when confronted to change, a little voice inside us will tell us why not to change.” The authors write that this voice speaks with 7 tongues. One could even say that these “voices” make us immune to change. Luckily, for each of the 7 languages, this book offers a powerful antidote.” I’m totally intrigued.

Recommended by Parisa Parsa, the E.D. of The Public Conversations Project in Boston.

10. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Logan, King, and Fisher-Wright

A 10-year study of 24,000 people in two-dozen organizations revealed that within these organizations exist separate tribes. That’s certainly been my experience. This book is a unique look at high-performance organizational cultures. 

Recommended by Glennda Testone, ED of the LGBT Center in NYC

Original post can be found here.

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How to Raise Serious Money For Your Nonprofit In the Next 30 Days

Posted By Charlotte Gill, Monday, December 5, 2016
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2016

It’s December, the month when many of you will try to raise money. A lot. For some of you, we’re talking a third (or more) of your total individual donations for the entire year.

In one month. Jingle all the way, indeed.

It’s really hard. The pressure to get every dollar in the door can become overwhelming. A bad December can be devastating to your organization, even if every other month had been flawless.

I’m here to help.

Today, I’m going to tell you exactly how you can raise significant money for your nonprofit in just thirty days.

My three-step plan does not include the lottery or bank robbery. Rather, it’s precisely what I’ve personally done at several nonprofits with great success.

If you follow this plan, you will raise money.

December fundraising is frantic. But my 3-step plan can help. I speak from experience.

At the time, I was the Assistant Vice President of Development at New York Law School.

By December 30th, the gift still hadn’t closed. I was headed out of town and had to beg an airline employee at LaGuardia Airport to please keep the gate door open for five more minutes so I could close the gift before I got on the flight.

Amazingly, she actually did it! I closed the gift.

A million dollars. Seriously.

To this day Delta remains my favorite airline.

So how did I do it? Let’s get right to it…


There’s no way around it. The next 30 days are going to be brutal.

Self-care, and preventing burnout in yourself and your staff is key. I’ve written before about how to avoid burnout. I strongly suggest you read the post. Take this very seriously.

Self-care and preventing burnout is as much for you as it is for your staff and clients, and publicly talking about battling burnout is a sign of strong leadership.

At the end of the day it’s only when the entire fundraising team is firing on all cylinders that your clients and other stakeholders that depend on your organization truly benefit.


There’s a simple formula I use. It goes like this:

Compelling story + Credible messenger = Fundraising success.

The “credible messenger” part is easy. As a staff member of an organization you deeply believe in and care about, you are as credible a messenger as it gets.

But many get hung up on the “compelling story” part.

Focus on your compelling story by drafting a Success and Story Cheat Sheet. The SSCS is your guide to the top messages you want to hit home with individual donors over the next thirty days. It’s 1-2 pages and has the following three items:

a) Five key program successes from the past calendar year: these include key points that show off your organization in the best light and demonstrate impact. Examples:

  • This year we fed hot, nutritious meals to 90,000 people who otherwise would have gone hungry.
  • Over the past 12 months, we placed 15 guide dogs with blind or partially sighted people that desperately needed assistance.
  • The City Council publicly recognized our award winning substance abuse programs and renewed funding for three more years.
  • Thanks to our incredible staff and board we moved our headquarters to a new expanded location near public transportation, so now it is even easier for our clients to receive services.

I like to have five key successes on hand so that no matter what a donor is interested in, I know that I’ll have a great success to share. These impact successes should be macro in nature and demonstrate the broad successes your organization has had with large groups of clients or stakeholders.

b) Two transformative client or stakeholder stories: Include two full stories demonstrating the personal impact of your organization. Unlike the key program successes you compiled above, these stories must focus on impact at the individual or family level.

You are looking to answer the question, “How has an individual or family been personally transformed by your organization?”

During the holiday season, donors are bombarded by asks for money. You will raise the most money, and cut through the noise, by telling donors and prospects about how your organization is transforming lives.

c) Three to five goals for your organization in 2016: Now that you have the tools to demonstrate how your organization impacted people in the past, also have on hand three to five ways the organization will continue or expand its work next year.

Let your donors and prospects know what you will accomplish with their gifts. Give them the opportunity to join with your nonprofit to assist even more people.

Once your SSCS in drafted, feel free to share it beyond the development staff. A two-page document like this can be incredibly valuable to your board, program staff, and volunteers. Each person who loves your organization will be talking to hundreds of people over the next 30 days who could potentially make an end-of-year gift to your organization.

These people are credible messengers, and the SSCC gives them the tools they need to deliver a compelling story.


OK, before you actually start calling prospects, I have a question first. Have you been cultivating relationships with your donors all year long? Or have you made them feel like a human ATM?

If you’re getting a sinking feeling right about now, it’s time for some emergency donor cultivation. While it’s late in the game, there is still time left to update your donors before making the ask. Go read the “ATM” article I just linked to. It describes what to do.

Got the cultivation stuff down? Now it’s time for good old-fashioned elbow grease. Get on the phones (or email if the donor prefers) and ask for a gift.

Obvious? Maybe. Then just do it!

Run the list of your top prospects or donors that need to renew before the end of the year and start making calls. A few things that will make this easier:

  • Block the time on your calendar, and unless you need to meet with a donor, don’t allow a meeting to supersede your call time.
  • Block time with your Executive Director or CEO so that they can make calls.
  • Make sure your staff is blocking time for calls as well and be respectful of their call time. This time is absolutely critical to bringing in year-end revenue.

While I prefer talking to donors on the phone, if you can’t reach a donor by the middle of the month (or you know that they do not like to talk on the phone), move to a very personal email communication. Be sure to include the key points from the Success and Story Cheat Sheet and include a specific ask.

By following the above steps, you will raise significant money.

Will it be hard work? Yes.

Will it be worth it? Yes.

Please consider sharing any other tips you have to raise money during the end of the year push in the comments below.

Also, if you need some last minute inspiration, or want to bounce an idea off of me during this stressful fundraising season, please feel free to email me at I know how difficult these final weeks are and I’m happy to be a collaborator during this stressful time.

Original post can be found here.

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Ransomware Strikes MSP Twice In One Day

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In a recent survey of over 1,000 managed service providers around the world, 31 percent reported they had experienced multiple ransomware attacks against their customers in a single day. Here is one such story.

Careworx is an MSPmentor, top 100 global managed service provider (MSP) that delivers ServiceNow in a managed SaaS-based offering and enables companies to extend IT capabilities through co-managed helpdesk solutions, IT automation services and Managed IT solutions including Business Continuity and cloud services. The CareWorx Senior Care division specializes in technology solutions and managed services for the senior care market.

According to Michael Zeeb, Senior Systems Engineer at Careworx, Datto is their go-to technology for protecting the data of their customers. This loyalty continues to work in their favor, especially one recent day when two of their customers fell victim to ransomware.

One morning, the Careworx engineer received a call from a client who was unable to access any of the company’s critical business files. It turned out the files had been encrypted by hackers who were demanding a hefty ransom from the client in order to access the key to regain control of the files. A few seconds later, a similar call from a separate customer came through the Careworx support line. It was going to be one of those days.

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Do you know about #GivingTuesday?

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Which nonprofits are you supporting today?

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4 Key Stages for Measuring Your Media Outcomes

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Monday, November 21, 2016

What can media accomplish? What can it affect? These are questions funders often ask. Restating those questions from an evaluation perspective translates to: how can one measure the impact of media? To understand how to measure media, we must first understand the strategy behind media.


  • Draws attention to issues.
  • Improves understanding of issues and possible solutions.
  • Inspires people to care.
  • Motivates people to do something.
  • Connects people with solutions.

I previously spoke to these, diagramming the flow of media effect, where people move through various different states from awareness to action. Looking at the model, it is easy to think that one piece of content can affect change. However, it is rare that just one exposure to one piece of content affects change; rather it is the sum of multiple experiences – a subset of which is content. Savvy media professionals take into account the environmental factors in the development and distribution of their content, building on what is available, constructing multiple pieces of content for distribution, and developing a campaign for that distribution to affect their target audiences.

During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, NBC aired several commercials from Proctor and Gamble (P&G) in which athletes’ moms were featured as those who helped develop the inner strength of their children. The connection was to P&G’s products and the company’s role as a “proud sponsor of Moms” – a continuation of P&G’s commercials from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. This long-running campaign seeks to tie greatness to the support of moms; Proctor and Gamble’s products in turn provide needed support for a mom’s work. In this example, P&G is targeting parents – specifically moms of children who dream – a clear target audience. The content is tied to the Olympics, where P&G can spotlight the greatness of youth affected by the support of moms. They effectively connect how moms might feel about their relationship with their children and their hope for success with the excitement and emotions of the Games. Finally, their content ran concurrent to the Games on various platforms that moms might watch, including television and the Internet.

These campaigns often consist of a series of content that have various components, which include:

  • Background awareness and education content that makes people aware of the issue and possible solutions.
  • Strong, seminal pieces that build on the background content to bring the issue and possible solutions to the forefront.

The background content tends to be short pieces, enough to convey a thought or idea and little more. The seminal pieces tend to be longer, perhaps in the form of a documentary, news piece, or town-hall meeting. They build on the content already presented, bringing attention to those issues that have been rattling around in the background.

When and What to Measure

There is no magic formula for measurement, but rather it must be tied to the work and intended consequences. The work is really defined by four key stages: design, development, distribution, and reflection. Each stage has opportunities for measurement and can engage various associated methods.


What We Do: In this stage, before content is produced, the project managers, production staff, and other engaged individuals (possibly funders or key informants) consider what changes they want to affect in the audience and how they will construct their work. The focus is on building a draft campaign plan and an initial discussion of the types of content and topics.

What We Measure: Measurement here focuses on understanding what the audience currently knows, their attitudes, and likelihood of engaging in the issues of the campaign. Various methods can be used to collect the needed information. Often surveys are employed, but other more traditional methods include interviews and focus groups of audience representatives.


What We Do: In the development stage, the production staff is considering and putting together content for distribution. The ideal content will depend on the baseline understanding of the audience from the design phase—using known industry methods for development of content for specific platforms—and the desired changes; multiple pieces of content are created, targeting the various levels in the media flow. Content may include background pieces that build a knowledge base or seminal pieces that pull information together in a more dramatic manner.

What We Measure: Measurement of the preliminary content often focuses on each piece’s individual effects with audience representatives viewing the material and providing feedback. Data collection can be in the form of pre-/post-tests (i.e., having people state their views or thoughts before and then after being exposed to the content), interviews, and focus groups. Rarely are the audience representatives exposed to multiple pieces of content with the goal of assessing the cumulative effects; that typically occurs with the actual audience in the next stage. The focus of this stage is quality of content and whether it has the expected individual effect.


What We Do: In this stage, the developed content is shared with the audiences. It is here that we focus on:

  • Dosage – How much content is being exposed to the audience?
  • Engagement – How involved is the audience with the content?
  • Effect – Are the audience members moving through the various points of the flow?

Media professionals are now concerned with learning whether the audience is experiencing enough of the content to affect change.

Audience impact can be happening at various levels within the flow. It is here where adjustments can be made to the amount and how the content is shared. Tracking where the audience is within the flow and providing feedback to the distributors, helping them identify what content should be disseminated. It is also at this stage where it might be decided that new content needs to be developed due to the responses of the audience, sending the process back to the development phase.

What We Measure: Here measurement reflects the interest to tie the content to possible changes in the audience. Often engaged in surveys, the more general audience is asked how much of the content they have experienced and where they sit in the flow. The audience is asked this on a periodic basis, allowing for the assessment of trends, moving from a baseline of having no exposure to the content to the completion of the campaign.


What We Do: Occurring at the completion of the campaign, the funders and developers of the content ask whether the campaign had its intended impact. If the processes of evaluation, data collection, and analysis have occurred in each of the previous stages, the probability of having a good outcome is pretty high at this point. It is at this stage where the media professionals and key stakeholders look at the results of the work and have an opportunity to learn from the overall experience, informing future campaigns.

What We Measure: Depending on what has been collected throughout the campaign, trends in audience knowledge, views, and activities might be considered. More likely, these are measured at the end of the campaign and compared to the audience’s baseline. More interested parties might dig deeper into the data, assessing what factors within and external to the campaign drove these changes.

Why is this Important?

Evaluation at all of these stages is helpful and in some cases critical to the success of the campaigns. The most often conducted assessment, and frankly most critical, is the baseline and post campaign comparison, assessing the effectiveness of the campaign. However, this assumes that the media developed will have the expected impact. This can have disastrous consequences. As seen in research on the effect of the well-known “This is Your Brain On Drugs” campaign, where funds went to media to promote the dangers of drug use. Rather than having the intended impact of driving youth away from drug use, there is evidence that the effect was opposite. By engaging in better testing in design and periodic assessments during the distribution phase, the funders and content developers could have caught the issues earlier and adjusted the content to better affect the audience.

AT&T’s “It can wait” campaign—an effort to discourage and reduce texting while driving—is an example of an attempt to use evaluation in a more proactive manner. Measuring changes in attitudes, changes in behavior, as well as changes in the uptake of the content, this campaign stepped beyond the pre-test/post-test structure. While the longer-term outcomes appear to not yet be affected and may not ever be affected by AT&T’s campaign, AT&T is conducting surveys, focus groups as well as using social media analytics and data available from states to assess whether there is an effect.

However, the process of capturing this data, including a representative population to initially assess the content in the design phase, is expensive and often not funded. Instead, both the funder and proxies within the organization developing the content are often used.


For you and your organization, when you consider or implement media campaigns, it is important that you do as many of the following:

Stage Task Question(s) to Ask
Design Develop clear goals and outcomes for the campaign, informed by an assessment of the target audience. What are you trying to achieve and with what audience?
Development Inform content development through the engagement of a representative group from your target audience. How did my test participants respond to the content?
Distribution Evaluate the progressive effect of your content on your target audience during the campaign and adjust your content as needed. Is the campaign moving as expected? What needs to be changed / improved?
Reflection Take the time to reflect at the end of the campaign as to lessons that could be learned. What should we do next time?
Across all four stages Invest in adequate resources to engage representatives of your target audience and assess effects of the campaign. Will your content make the difference you intend it to?

If you engage in these behaviors, you will have the information you need to increase the likelihood that your media campaign will be successful.

In the next series of blog posts, we will go more deeply into each of the steps. We will discuss measurement and how evaluation can provide you with the information you need to observe your impact, identify opportunities, and improve the chances of affecting change.

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