Hardy Smith’s Recommended Reading for Nonprofit Leaders

Books: These are books that I have personally read and recommend as being beneficial to anyone working with nonprofits, associations, and volunteer-based organizations. Some are considered classics by nonprofit professionals and others reflect the most current trends affecting nonprofit performance.


  • Stop The Nonprofit Board Blame Game (2021) by Hardy Smith (How to break the cycle of frustrating relationships and benefit from fully engaged boards)
  • Firing Lousy Board Members (2014) by Simone Joyaux (A must for anyone working with volunteer board members.)
  • The CEO and the Board (2023) by Kurt Senske (The Art of Nonprofit Governance as a Competitive Advantage)
  • Transformational Governance (2015) by Beth Gazley and Katha Kissman (How Boards Achieve Extraordinary Change)
  • The Handbook of Nonprofit Governance (2010) by BoardSource (Great resource regarding governance issues and implementation of governance best practices.)
  • Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully (2010) by Susan Howlett (A manual that identifies the obstacles that keep leaders from fulfilling their fundraising responsibilities.)
  • BoardSource Governance Series (Second Edition 2009) (A six-book series)
  • Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by Richard T. Ingram
  • Legal Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by Bruce Hopkins
  • Financial Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by Andrew S. Lang
  • Fundraising Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by James M. Greenfield
  • The Nonprofit Board’s Role in Mission, Planning and Evaluation by Kay Sprinkel Grace, Amy McClellan, and John A.Yankey
  • Structures and Practices of Nonprofit Boards by Charles F. Dambach, Melissa Davis, and Robert L. Gale
  • The Nonprofit Board Answer Book-A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (Second Edition 2007) by BoardSource (Contains the most-commonly asked questions on board governance.)
  • Boards That Make a Difference-A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations (Third Edition 2006) by John Carver (Examining the entrenched beliefs and habits that hobble boards and how to replace them with innovative governance approaches.)
  • The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence (2006) By Jim Brown (Helping leaders understand the keys for boardroom excellence.)
  • Taming the Troublesome Board Member (2006) by Katha Kissman (A blueprint for avoiding and resolving the challenge of disruptive board members.)
  • Good Governance for Nonprofits (2007) by Fredric Laughlin and Robert Andringa (Developing principles and policies for an effective board)


  • Membershift (2023) by Sarah Sladek (Why members leave and the strategies proven to bring them back)
  • The Upswing (2020) by Robert Putnam & Shaylyn Romney Garrett (How America came together a century ago and how we can do it again)
  • The End of Membership as We Know It (2011) By Sarah Sladek (Ideas on associations can and should change their thinking and their models.)
  • Better Together (2003) by Robert Putnam & Lewis Feldstein (Collection of case studies on successful community and civic engagement.)
  • Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert Putnam (Essential reading for understanding membership, volunteer involvement, and community engagement trends.)
  • Millennium Membership (2000) By Mark Levin. (How to attract and keep members in the new marketplace.)


  • Innovation for Social Change (2023) by Leah Kral (How wildly successful nonprofits inspire and deliver results)
  • Think Again (2021) by Adam Grant (The power of knowing what you don’t know)
  • Race For Relevance 10th Anniversary Edition (2021) by Harrison Coever and Mary Byers (Five radical changes for associations)
  • Race for Relevance – 5 Radical Changes for Associations (2011) by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers (A no-nonsense look at today’s realities and how associations operate and what they need to do to remain relevant in the future.)
  • Red Teaming (2017) by Bryce Hoffman (Red Teaming is a military process utilized to stress test plans before implementation to identify weaknesses and potential fail points. The author shows businesses, including nonprofits and associations, how they can benefit from this contrarian approach to planning.)
  • Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition (2015) by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne (How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant)
  • Tough Cookies (2011) By Kathy Cloninger (Provides insights of initiative to revitalize and rebrand Girl Scouts.)
  • Facilitating Breakthrough (2021) by Adam Kahane (How to remove obstacles, bridge differences, and move forward together)
  • Strategic Planning, Understanding the Process (2011) By BoardSource (Proven advice and practical tips and techniques culled from BoardSource’s vast library of governance materials.)
  • The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy (2011) by Michael Wilkinson (CEO leadership strategies. The secrets of facilitation)
  • The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution (2008) by David La Piana (Challenges traditional strategic planning.)
  • Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation (2007) by Carter McNamara. (Good resource for understanding strategic planning process. Also has very useful outlines, worksheets, and checklists.)
  • Reinventing Strategy (2002) by Willie Pietersen. (Using strategic learning to create and sustain breakthrough performance)
  • Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations (1997) by Bryan Barry (Provides a guide for developing, implementing, and updating a strategic plan.)
  • The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Nonprofit Organizations Workbook (1993) by Peter Drucker (A proven self-assessment tool for all nonprofit leaders.)
  • Strategic Thinking, Building Your Planning Foundation (1996) by George Morrisey (An essential guide for strategic thinking for associations and nonprofits.)
  • Morrisey On Planning: A Guide to Long-Range Planning (1996) by George Morrisey (Chock-full of imperative information for successful strategic planning.)
  • Morrisey on Planning: A Guide to Tactical Planning (1996) by George Morrisey (An essential volume that offers all managers and professionals hands-on tools they can use to develop meaningful short-term results through tactical planning techniques.)
  • Creating Your Future, Personal Strategic Planning (1992) by George Morrisey (A practical guide to help professionals (within organization and/or independent contractors) use strategic planning for their own professional success and satisfying personal life.)
  • Make Change Work (2013) by Randy Pennington (Disruption and uncertainty are constants that every organization must be prepared to deal with. How-tos are shared for developing ability to anticipate change and how to position for best response.)


  • Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion for dummies (2022) by Dr. Shirley Davis (How to create a culture of inclusion, and how to  develop, lead, and sustain DEI change initiatives)
  • Black Box Thinking (2020) by Matthew Syed (Marginal gains and the secrets of high performance)
  • Engine of Impact (2018) by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker A compelling look at why so many nonprofits fail to realize their potential.
  • Measure What Matters (2018) by John Doerr (An account of how organizations like Intel, Google, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have successfully used collaboratively developed OKRs (objectives and key results) to identify priorities, guide decision making, and measure progress toward established goals.)
  • The Undoing Project (2017) by Michael Lewis (How the Noble Prize winning work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky altered the perception of reality.)
  • The Real Madrid Way (2016) by Steven Mandis (How values created the most successful sports team on the planet.)
  • Ego Is The Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday (How ego can be obstacle to success and destroy what success has been achieved.)
  • Creativity Inc. (2014) by Ed Catmull (An incisive book about creativity in business and leadership.)
  • A Leader’s Gift (2014) by Barry Banther (Five qualities that aren’t things leaders have but rather things they give away, freely and frequently, to everyone they lead in the workplace.)
  • Forces for Good (2012 updated edition)  by Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant (The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits)
  • The Gold Mine Effect (2012) by Rasmus Ankersen (Crack the secrets of high performance)
  • No Excuses! (2010) by Brian Tracy  (The power of self-discipline)
  • A Sense of Urgency (2008) by John Kotter (Key tactics for increasing urgency as well as exposing complacency)
  • New Power (2018) by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms (How anyone can persuade, mobilize, and succeed in our chaotic, connected age)
  • Bull’s-Eye (2015) by Brian Tracy (The power of focus)
  • The Power of Habit (2014) by Charles Duhigg (Why we do what we do in life and business)
  • The Collaborative Organization (2012) by Jacob Morgan (Takes readers from the starting gate to the finish line of creating and executing a profit-driving, growth-focused strategy.)
  • Best Practices Are Stupid (2011) by Stephen Shapiro (Lessons on how to stay consistently one step ahead of the competition.)
  • Building Strong Nonprofits, New Strategies for Growth and Sustainability (2010) edited by John C. Olberding and Lisa Barnwell Williams (Identifies new opportunities to define the future of philanthropy.)
  • Switch-How To Change Things When Change Is Hard (2010) by Chip and Dan Heath
  • The Energy Bus (2007) by Jon Gordon (Great advice for finding positive solutions to negative situations.)
  • Mindset (2006 by Carol Dweck, PhD (The new psychology of success)
  • Good to Great and the Social Sectors (2005) by Jim Collins. (Written to accompany ‘Good to Great’ with a specific focus on social sector organizations.)The Tipping Point (2002) by Malcolm Gladwell (Thought provoking. Provides understanding of the why and how some ideas and causes are accepted and spread by the masses and others aren’t.)
  • The Paradox Principles (1996) by The Price Waterhouse Change Integration Team (How high-performance companies manage chaos, complexity, and contradiction to achieve superior results)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) by Stephen Covey (Powerful lessons in personal change)


  • Who Comes Next (2020) by Mary C. Kelly, PhD & Meridith E. Powell, MBA (Leadership succession planning made easy)
  • Wisdom From The Wild (2021) by Julie C. Henry (The nine unbreakable laws of leadership from the animal kingdom)
  • Your Path To Nonprofit Leadership (2022) by Dr. Patton McDowell, MBA, CFRE (Seven keys to advancing your career in the philanthropic sector)
  • The Culture Code (2018) by Daniel Coyle (The secrets of highly successful groups)
  • A Coach and a Miracle (2017) by Jim Johnson (Life lessons from a man who believed in an autistic boy)
  • Managing In The Gray (2016) by Joseph Badaracco (Timeless questions for resolving your toughest problems at work,)
  • Players 1st (2015) by John Calipari (Essential insights from a coach who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest program builders in all of college basketball.)
  • Power Cues (2014) by Nick Morgan (The subtle science of leading groups, persuading others, and maximizing your personal impact)
  • What More Can I Say? Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It (2015) by Dianna Booher (An essential nine-point checklist for success in the art of communication and persuasion—for building solid relationships, and for increasing credibility in the workplace.)
  • The Way of the Seal (2015) by Mark Divine (The fundamentals of leadership success outlined in eight powerful principles.)
  • Team of Teams (2015) by General Stanley McChrystal (New rules of engagement for a complex world)
  • Start (2013) by Jon Acuff (Punch fear in the face. Escape average. Do work work that matters)
  • Make Difficult People Disappear (2012) by Monica Wofford (An excellent resource for understanding the difference between difficult and different.)
  • Start With Why (2009) by Simon Sinek (How great leaders inspire everyone to take action)
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (2007) by Marshall Goldsmith (Individuals working their way up the leadership ladder often use approaches that will ultimately limit their success. Adopting new interaction techniques will likely be needed to reach true leadership potential.)
  • Made to Stick (2007) by Chip and Dan Heath (The anatomy of ideas that stick and how we can make them ‘stickier.’)
  • Words That Work (2007) by Dr. Frank Luntz (It’s not what you say, It’s what people hear)
  • Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2005) by Patrick Lencioni (Tools for getting teams up and running quickly and effectively.)
  • Group Alchemy (2012) by Deborah Pruitt (The six elements of highly successful collaboration)
  • The Carolina Way, Leadership Lessons from A Life in Coaching (2004) by Dean Smith (good for development of leadership and teams)
  • Contagious Leadership (2002) by Monica Wofford (Provides 10 steps for turning managers into leaders.)


  • Get That Money, Honey! (2022) by Rhea Wong (The no-bullsh*t guide to raising more money for your nonprofit)
  • Prospect Research for Fundraisers (2013) by Jen Filla & Helen Brown (Practical understanding of prospect research, prospect management, and fundraising analytics.)
  • Little Black Book of Connections (2006) by Jeffrey Gitomer (Explains value of relationships, how to develop them, and how to maximize them.)
  • The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards (2006) by Jerold Panas (Helping boards adopt the right approach and the right habits.)
  • Fundraising for Dummies (2006) by John Mutz & Katherine Murray (Good resource and tips for developing successful fundraising efforts; used in several college-level curriculums for nonprofit related studies.)
  • Cause Marketing (2006) by Joycelyne Daw (Great for sponsor relationships.)
  • Little Red Book of Selling (2005) by Jeffrey Gitomer (Help for people who make sales.)


  • Measuring the Networked Nonprofit (2012) by Beth Kanter & Katie Delahaye Paine
  • Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding (2011) by Jocelyne S. Daw & Carol Cone (A hands- on guide to help your nonprofit build its brand.)
  • Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions (2011) by Guy Kawasaki (How enchantment can transform situations and relationships.)
  • The Networked Nonprofit (2010) by Beth Kanter & Allison H. Fine (How nonprofits are utilizing social media for expanding involvement and increasing their impact.)
  • The New Rules of Marketing & PR (Second Edition 2010) by David Meerman Scott (How to effectively use social media, blogs, news releases, online video and viral marketing.)
  • I See Your Name Everywhere (2008) by Pam Lontos (Gives how-tos for creating publicity.)
  • The 7 Marketing Mistakes Every Business Makes and How to Fix Them (2003) by Terri Langhans (7 common mistakes that every business makes when they market their products or services.)
  • Purple Cow (2002) by Seth Godin (Stimulates creative thinking and effective marketing ideas)


  • Willie’s Way, 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing, and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty (2005) by Phillip Van Hooser (A customer service guide with commonsense wisdom that translates into simple, practical applications.)


  • The Resilient Sector Revisited (2015) by Lester Salamon. (The new challenge to nonprofit America)
  • The State of Nonprofit America (2002) edited by Lester Salamon. (A comprehensive assessment of the state of America’s nonprofit sector)
  • Nonprofits Made Easy (2006) by David Bangs Jr. (Helps non-profits become and stay financially solvent by applying traditional business practices to the unique challenges of a non-profit organization.)
  • Managing the Nonprofit Organization (1990) by Peter Drucker. (A recommendation that’s on almost every list of must-reads for nonprofit leaders.)


  • Horseshoes vs Chess (2021) by Dave Adkisson, CCE  (A practical guide for Chamber of Commerce leaders)
  • The Magicians of Main Street (2014) by Chris Mead (America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945)


  • Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, A Guide for Charities and Foundations by Independent Sector
  • The Principles Workbook: Steering Your Board Toward Good Governance and Ethical Practice by Independent Sector and BoardSource
  • Volunteering in America – 2018 Report by Corporation for National & Community Service. (A comprehensive annual report on volunteering statistics in the United States. See link: http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/)

Hardy’s Tips for Nonprofit Success

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