Best Books for Nonprofit Fundraisers

April 28, 2014

What are the nonprofit fundraising and communications books you turn to, time and time again?  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 shelf? (Note: contains affiliate links)

Donor Communications

Fundraisers Guide to Irresistible Communications.  Jeff Brooks.  I am a huge fan of Emerson & Church for their 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.

The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising Thousands (If Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars With Email.  Madeline Stanionis.  Another Emerson & Church find, this 2006 guide is my go-to online fundraising resource.

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money: The Art, the Science, the Secrets.  Tom Ahern.  Writing persuasively.  Losing the jargon.  This is still my go to book whenever I’m stuck.

Making Money with Donor Newsletters.  Tom Ahern.  There’s real money to be made in mastering print.  Lots of it.  Master communicator Tom Ahern shows you how.

Revolution in the Mailbox: Your Guide to Successful Direct Mail Fundraising.  Mal Warwick.  Still the bible for nonprofit direct mail fundraising.

ThTree of knowledge.e Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause.  Kivi Leroux Miller, Katya Andresen.  The quintessential nonprofit communications guide.

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Boost Your Sales with Powerful Sales Letters, Based on Madison Avenue Techniques.  Dan Kennedy.  I wrote my first appeal letter using this book.  No one is better than Dan at getting into the head of your customer/donor. And when I look back on it now, 11 years after the fact, I actually don’t cringe in embarrassment. Or the results.

On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.  Stephen King.  Best guide on writing to engage the reader.  Immensely entertaining too.

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.  Lisa Cron.  Katya Andresen says “The book is chockablock with original, sharp and accessible advice that could make all of us far more powerful at telling our stories.”  A must for your storytelling library.

Storytelling as Best Practice.  Andy Goodman.    Filled with the best articles on storytelling from thirteen years of Andy Goodman’s newsletter, free-range thinking.

Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits. Julia Campbell. Whether you’re a seasoned storyteller or you’re just beginning to test the waters, Julia Campbell’s book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, is a necessary guide, and it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. She delves into the timeless concept of storytelling, an already-invaluable tool for nonprofits from all walks of life, and then adds additional layers of both relevancy and usefulness through providing a reasonable roadmap for digital navigation.


It’s Not Just About The Money. Richard Perry, Jeff Schreifels. Moves management (sounds like a laxative!)…prospect screening…engagement strategy…making ‘THE ask’…prospect pool…
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? Not moving 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, It’s Not Just About The Money: How to Build Authentic Major Donor Relationships, their new book, goes to the honest, deeper heart of what fundraising is all about. (Added June 2, 2015)

Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life. Roger Craver. Essential for every fundraiser who is serious about their 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 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.”
Retention Fundraising 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. (Added June 2, 2015)

Simple Development Systems.  Pamela Grow.  Yours truly has written the quintessential book for small nonprofit organizations looking to grow and develop their fundraising – the right wayLoaded with recorded trainings, teleseminars, worksheets, and templates, unlike many ‘how to’ guides, SDS covers the ‘non-sexy’ aspects of fundraising, including selecting your donor database, starting your monthly giving program, planned giving, and creating a donor-focused website.  You’ll find chapters on creating a communications plan, storytelling, foundation grantseeking, online fundraising, and more. Combine SDS with our Basics & More™ fundraising fundamentals courses, and you’re well on your way to success.

Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value.  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.  Simone Joyaux, Tom Ahern.  Your guide to developing a plan of donor communications that takes you from the first gift to the final bequest gift.

Relationship Fundraising:  A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money.  Ken Burnett.  Donor centered fund-raising is the only honest way to sustainable fund-raising. Ken’s book guides you gently towards understanding exactly what donor-centricity is and why it matters. A “must have” for your fund-raising library.

Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power.  Andrea Kihlstedt.  What’s the best way for an introverted fundraiser to make a face-to-face ask?  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.  Erica Waasdorp.  I was five pages into Erica’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.

Mindset and Miscellaneous

The Power of Giving | How Giving Back Enriches Us All.  Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon share how to create abundance at home, at work, and in your community.

How to Win Friends & Influence People.  Dale Carnegie.  The quintessential guide to fundraising and life. Every MGO should have this one.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.  Adam M. Grant, PhD.  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.  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?

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – A 30-minute Summary & Analysis: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  Exquisite.

Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results. By Jack Mitchell. Whether you like it or not, you’re in the relationship business. And, as both a fundraiser and a donor, I’m not gonna sugarcoat this: a lot of you make it really hard for donors to like you. Your job is to provide exemplary donor service. It’s as simple as that. Hug Your Customers just begins to name the many ways.

Linchpin.  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.”

Wearing the hat of small shop development director means that you officially hold the title of communications director/webmaster/grantwriter/event planner/major gift fundraiser/stewardship coordinator/copywriter/individual giving manager…  Let’s see. What did I forget? Oh, that’s right. You’ll also be called upon for design work. Do yourself a favor and get yourself the Idea Index: Graphic Effects and Typographic Treatments. This handy dandy little book, combined with Canva, will turn even the most graphically challenged into a passable designer. Promise. (Added June 3, 2018)


Storytelling for Grantseekers:  A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising.  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 grantwriter often fails in this area.  Clarke guides you through the process, step-by-step.

Organizational Health

Donor-Centered Leadership.  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.  A must read.

Board Training

Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises.  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.  Susan Howlett.  Exactly what it says.  In her gentle, commonsense style, Susan guides the reader step-by-step in teaching board members the joy of the profession.

Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion Into Action.  Gail Perry.  Who doesn’t love Gail?  In her own inimitable style, she provides activities and checklists that show board members that there is more to fundraising than the ask.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Ahern May 23, 2018 at 2:16 pm

A. Thank you, Pam! 3 mentions? I blush. B. Probably my favorite (i.e., most useful) read in the last year is The Choice Factory, Richard Shotton. Subtitle: “25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy.” Gifts, especially first-time gifts, are often impulse purchases. This book BLEW my mind. Intensely practical. Another recommendation: DOLLAR DASH, The behavioral economics of peer-to-peer fundraising; Katrina VanHuss & Otis Fulton. We know they gave. WHY did they give?

Pamela Grow May 25, 2018 at 10:09 am

Oooh, thanks, Tom. I have not read The Choice Factory, but I’ll have to pick it up. Dollar Dash is a great one. Thanks for commenting.

Glynis Corkal May 31, 2018 at 11:47 am

Time to update my library! I have some of these books, but I need more of them! Thanks for the concise set of recommendations! I might add Penelope Burk’s Donor-Centred Fundraising to the list, Harvey McKinnon’s Hidden Gold (another monthly giving book) & his 11 Questions Every Donor Asks.

Pamela Grow May 31, 2018 at 1:30 pm

I’m surprised that I don’t have Donor-Centered Fundraising on this list, Glynis. Thanks for that. Same with Harvey’s book, which I used to create my first tiny monthly giving program back in 2008 or so. Thanks for weighing in.

Jeremy Haselwood November 1, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Hey Pam, you have some great books listed here! I’d love for you to add my new book, The Digital Fundraising Blueprint, to this list. I wrote it to help provide base-level knowledge to nonprofits about how to raise money online.

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