Summer is a wonderful time to sit down with a good book. Personally, I read both for fun and to learn, and most years, I work through as many as 10 books in July and August.

This summer of COVID-19 provides an even better opportunity to read and grow. It’s a time to reflect on the many sudden disruptions to our lives and other changes that are still to come.

Why am I so passionate about reading?

If You Want to be a Nonprofit Expert, Then Read

When I was thinking about being a consultant almost 15 years ago, my first stop was the bookstore. I bought about a dozen books on how to be a consultant. One of the things I learned from those books — and I’ll never forget — is this:

If you read 10 books on any given subject, you will know more about that subject than 99% of people. (I can’t verify that statistic, but it has served me well over the years.)

So if you want to become an expert in nonprofit management or fundraising, simply select 10 books and commit to reading them this summer. Then, within a relatively short amount of time, you’ll know as much as most of the experts in that field.

Reading is especially useful for fundraisers. Not only does it make you a more well-rounded person, but it also provides you with a fountain of conversation-starters for just about any kind of donor.

2 Tips to Turn Any Non-reader into a Reader

If you’re not much of a reader, here are two suggestions that can really help you pick up the reading habit:

  1. If you’re not in the habit of picking up a book, start by downloading Kindle and add it to your phone’s homescreen. That makes ready convenient no matter where you are.
  2. Here’s one more tip to guaranteed to make your reading more fun.  If you don’t enjoy a book, don’t finish it. Just shake it off and move on to another.

Me, personally? If a book doesn’t capture my attention by the 3rd chapter, I move on.

Books to Boost Your Fundraising Skills

Let’s start with a few books to help kick your fundraising skills (and perhaps your capital campaign) into high gear.

Outliers — Malcom Gladwell

The number one way to become a better fundraiser is to ask for gifts. There’s no replacement for experience. That’s why I’m recommending “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell.

In this number one bestseller, Gladwell demonstrates exactly why “practice, practice, practice” is a popular, and true expression. If you don’t believe practice will make you a better fundraiser, then you must read this book.

A More Beautiful Question — Warren Berger

Another book I’ve been recommending for years is “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger. In it, Berger asks the question, “what would you do if you could not fail?” This book will help you think bigger and learn to take risks.

The book is filled with other useful questions you can use for a board retreat, including “how can we?” and “should we?”

Nickel and Dimed — Barbara Ehrenreich

Another book to consider this summer is “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. In it, the author chronicles her time working undercover at several minimum wage jobs around the country. She shares her experience, and that of her colleagues, as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, Walmart employee, and more.

Barbara shows that regardless of whether you live in rural and urban settings, it’s impossible to live on minimum wage. This book makes a great-conversation starter for so many donors and board members.

Books to Inspire and Overcome

If you’re in need of inspiration to overcome the odds, or if you need an empowering jolt of “anything is possible” thinking, I have two excellent books to suggest.

Educated — Tara Westover

You may have read it last summer when it came out, but if you haven’t read “Educated” by Tara Westover, you should. This is the remarkable story you’ve got to read to believe.

The Pact — Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Remeck Hunt

For some additional inspiration, read “The Pact” by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Remeck Hunt. This book tells the story (in their own words) of three African American men who beat the odds of growing up in Newark, New Jersey to become doctors.

My Personal Pick for this Summer

I’d like to leave you with my personal pick to read this summer. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Call me American — Abdi Nor Iftin

I just finished: “Call me American” by Abdi Nor Iftin, and I could not put it down. The story is a memoir of Iftin growing up in war torn Somalia and then immigrating to the US. In the end, Iftin gets his decades-long dream of moving to the US, only to learn it’s not the nirvana he dreamed of.

If you want to be transported to another world and take a trip in someone else’s shoes, this is a must-read. It’s also a timely read on how immigrants assimilate in this county.

So what’s on your summer reading list? I’d love to hear your recommendations. Please share them below in the comments.


  1. Laresa Griffin

    Thank you for sharing your list, Amy! I have been a during-vacation-only reader for way too long, but COVID-19 has helped (pushed) me back into reading more. I appreciate these suggestions.

  2. Kay Amland

    Amy- thanks for the great list of reads! I’m an avid reader. Mostly, I focus on personal development books because, when my EQ is high and I’m emotionally sound, I’m a much better leader, coworker, fundraiser, parent, friend, communicator, empath, etc. I’ve enjoyed books by Gary Chapman, Joe Vitale (Zero Limits in particular), David Goggins, Lenord Sax, Peter Wohlleben, Brene Brown, Charles Duhigg, Daniel Siegel, Christiane Northrup, Harriet Lerner, Meg Myers Morgan, Gavin de Becker, Martin E.P. Seligman, Rachel Hollis, Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis (one of my absolute favorites and you don’t need to be Jewish, although I am) and of course, a number of books related to my field of animal welfare.

    Currently, I’m reading The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Managing Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg (excellent tips for anyone) and The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware (not very exciting yet!)

    Books I’d recommend for you and Andrea:
    1) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (especially timely now)
    2) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck by Mark Manson (crude, but incredible read)
    3) How Children Succeed by Paul Tough (very eyeopening and reminds all of us how to get ahead, not just children)

    One final note: recommend to your followers to try Audible (or a related app). It’s the perfect solution for those who have limited time to read or prefer listening over reading. It’s been a Godsend for me!

    Thanks to you and Andrea for leading me through a very rocky road these past few months! I’m so grateful!

  3. Randa Cleaves Abramson

    Great endorsement for Call Me American. It was selected as the “Everyone Reads” book in our community near Portland, Oregon, so there were multiple discussion groups around town. Abdi also came and gave a talk. The group discussions were fascinating because there are many nations represented in our population so we heard first hand experiences to amplify what the book recounted.

  4. Martha Totten

    Most public libraries have downloadable books for free. In the Cincinnati area the apps are Overdrive and Hoopla. You can choose between ebooks and audiobooks and keep each for up to 21 days. Overdrive has a huge selection but you may have to wait for a book or to renew one. Hoopla’s titles are fewer but always available. All you need is a library card!

    • Stephanie Olson



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