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The Volunteer Manager's Ultimate Reading List

What books should be on every volunteer manager’s shelf? We asked our community of volunteer leaders to share the books that have supported them throughout their unique roles. The resulting list of their recommendations has been curated for volunteer managers just like you! 

So, whether you’re searching for practical guidance, career growth, or powerful stories, there’s a book on this list that’s just what you’re looking for. 

Happy reading!

Books on Leadership

For volunteer leaders at all levels, learn to lead your supporters with confidence, intention, and open-mindedness.


Lead from the Outside: How to Build your Future and Make Real Change

Stacey Abrams

Lead from the Outside is a powerful manual for anyone who exists beyond the structure of traditional white male power: women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and millennials ready to make a difference.

Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors that Lead to Big Impact  
Shawn Hunter

Shawn Hunter’s latest book, Small Acts of Leadership, is a guide to strengthening oneself to make the greatest impact in the community through twelve critical competencies. 


Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience
Laura Morgan Roberts, Anthony J Mayo, David A. Thomas

This important collection of essays shines new light on the dynamics of race and leadership in the workplace. Contributions from top scholars, researchers, and practitioners in leadership, psychology, and sociology offer a range of perspectives and encourage new and necessary dialogue for all leaders. 

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Simon Sinek

This New York Times bestseller examines why some work teams thrive while others fail. Drawing from diverse examples and true stories, Simon Sinek has created a must-read for every leader.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
Daniel Coyle

Author Daniel Coyle outlines the three key skills that cultivate a solid group dynamic in this New York Times bestseller. The reader will learn specific strategies for promoting learning, collaboration, and trust at their organization, while also harboring innovation. 

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
Herminia Ibarra

Renowned author and professor Herminia Ibarra invites leaders at all levels to learn through action. With a mix of insight and outsight, Ibarra helps leaders evolve by redefining their roles and changing the way they think. 

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-A** Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Kim Scott

Kim Scott teaches readers how to build a cohesive team and create a culture of compassion. This book is essential reading for any leader, boss, or manager. 

Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead
Charlene Li

Author Charlene Li is an expert in disruptive leadership and digital transformation. This resource will help the modern leader navigate the new open world of social media. While intended for businesses, these lessons certainly apply to nonprofit and volunteer program leaders. 



The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You
Julie Zhuo

This handbook is chock-full of essential insights for new and experienced managers alike. Use practical recommendations and real-world examples to learn how to manage confidently, even in moments of doubt. 

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Smarter and Faster
Michael D. Watkins

An international bestseller, The First 90 Days gives new leaders proven strategies for a smooth transition, including overcoming common pitfalls. Each chapter offers practical tools, checklists, and self-assessments for volunteer leaders.

Books on Volunteer Management

These books speak specifically to volunteer managers. Learn modern strategies for recruiting and managing happy volunteers. 

 The Volunteer Project: Stop Recruiting, Start Retaining
Daren Kizer, Christine Kreisher, Steph Whitacre

For volunteer leaders who feel overworked and understaffed, this book outlines four essential strategies for retaining volunteers. While the book was written for youth ministries, it’s a useful resource for any volunteer program stuck in the cycle of volunteer recruitment and turnover. 

Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers
Nelson Searcy & Jennifer Dykes Henson

Written for churches but applicable to any volunteer program, this book offers practical guidance on creating a culture that attracts and keeps volunteers so you can grow your program and boost impact. 

The Idealist’s Survival Kit: 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout
Alessandra Pigni

These 75 concrete self-care reflections will help workers, activists, and volunteers achieve fulfillment. Give yourself, your staff, and your volunteers the tools needed to prevent burnout and rebuild motivation. 

 

Books for Growing Your Program

Build capacity and grow your program with these up-to-date insights on fundraising.

The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need
Ellen Karsh & Arlen Sue Fox

Writing grants is an essential skill for any community organization. Read interviews with nonprofit leaders, funders, and policymakers to learn all about how to write winning grants with this comprehensive guide.

The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fundraising
Jennifer McCrea, Jeffrey C. Walker, Karl Weber

McCrea et al. offer fresh perspectives on fundraising and employ new strategies for activating resources. The book empowers organizations of all sizes through a practical, people-centered approach to leveraging social capital.  

Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change
Morgan Simon

Learn all about the economics of social change and get inside the mind of impact investors looking to make sustainable, transformative investments in communities. 

 

Books for Building Community

Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back
William Macaskill

An intelligent voice in philanthropy and nonprofit work, William Macaskill proposes that most of our ideas about altruism and making a difference are wrong. From his years as a researcher at Oxford, Macaskill guides the reader towards how they can do good, better.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters
Priya Parker

Author Priya Parker takes readers on a journey of human togetherness. Parker invites us inside events of all kinds to show what works and what doesn’t. Volunteer managers and event organizers can apply the book’s expertise to their own volunteer gatherings, fundraising events, and more. 

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have an Extraordinary Impact
Dan Heath & Chip Heath

Most positive moments are guided by four powerful elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. Explore how specific experiences can change us and how we can create these moments for ourselves and others.  

How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century
Hahrie Han

Why are some organizations better at keeping people involved in activism than others? Learn from successful civic associations to build power and inspire action within your own organization. 

 

Books for Understanding Community Challenges


$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Emerging from two decades of research, Edin examines extreme poverty and income inequality in America through the heart-wrenching stories of real families. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author examines the caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite

Author and activist Ashton Applewhite delivers a manifesto on aging and age discrimination in a culture obsessed with youth.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
Jessica Bruder

Bruder takes readers on a journey across America to discover the “dark underbelly of the American economy,” portraying the compelling stories of nomadic, older Americans unable to retire but unable to find regular employment. 

Notes of a Native Son
James Baldwin

Considered one of the greatest nonfiction books of all time, Baldwin’s compilation of essays considers what it means to be Black in America. Written in the late 1940s, Baldwin’s words remain just as powerful and important today. 

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

Named one of the most influential books of the decade, Between the World and Me is a literary exploration and personal account of America’s racial history. Written in epistolary form, Coates confronts the nation’s troubling past and offers a “transcendent” vision for the future. 

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
Naomi Klein

Award-winning journalist Naomi Klein argues that solving the climate change crisis will require bold action; massively reducing greenhouse gas emissions is humanity’s best chance at reducing inequality, fixing broken democracies, and rebuilding local economies. This Changes Everything is now a motion picture. 

The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth
Tim Flannery

This book is endorsed by scientists and policymakers, The Weather Makers is a history of climate change, as well as an urgent warning and a call to action, with approaches for preventing a disastrous future. 

The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Michael Pollan

A fascinating exploration of food and agriculture in America and the oft-unknown social, economic, and ecological consequences of what we eat. 

Books to Give and Inspire

Get inspired or motivate your volunteers with these moving and evocative stories. P.S. These books make great gifts for your volunteers and colleagues!

Unbowed: A Memoir
Wangari Maathai

Nobel-prize-winning environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai inspires readers with her story. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted over three million trees across Africa through networks of rural women. She was elected to Kenya’s Parliament and appointed the Deputy Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources—a fascinating read on a truly extraordinary woman. 

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

President Barack Obama deemed this book “essential reading” for anyone who wants to understand—and change—history. Nelson Mandela was one of the great moral and political leaders of his time, and his story of struggle and triumph can inspire action, passion, and benevolence in us all. 

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation
Anna Malaika Tubbs

Most are knowledgeable of the profound impact Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin had on the nation, but few know the source of such greatness. This novel tells the story of three mothers—activists and teachers themselves—who shaped the men that shaped American history. 

The Art of Happiness
Dalai Lama

Nobel Prize winner His Holiness the Dalai Lama contemplates how to overcome self-deprecation, insecurity, anger, and defeat on our path toward happiness. With co-author and psychiatrist Dr. Howard Culter, he investigates the complexities of relationships, loss, and inner peace. Infused with nearly 3,000 years of Buddhist teachings, this novel meditates on the common experiences of all humans.

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
Eleanor Roosevelt

A simple guide to leading a fuller life, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt shares her philosophy on living. Discover her keys to a more fulfilling civic life, including how to be a public servant, how to find the best in people, and how everyone can participate in politics. Roosevelt’s original better-living guide is a window into the First Lady herself and offers a wealth of timeless wisdom.

The Happiest Man on Earth
Eddie Jaku

Eddie Jaku was just a teenager when his world was ripped away from him by Nazi Germany. Spending over seven years imprisoned in Auschwitz, Jaku survived against unbelievable odds. At one hundred years old, Jaku now describes himself as the “The Happiest Man on Earth.” Read this autobiographical account of how gratitude, tolerance, and kindness can shape one’s life.

Omoiyari: The Japanese Art of Compassion
Erin Niimi Longhurst

Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of community and helping others.  This spirit is reflected in several unique words like ‘Mottainai’ (want not waste not) and “Omoiyari.’ Omoiyari describes a selfless and compassionate way of being in the world and anticipating the needs of the people around you. This book helps the reader embody the principles of omoiyari and other Japanese principles to live a more impactful life.

Endurance
Alfred Lansing

Hailed as one of the greatest stories of heroism in the modern age, Endurance chronicles Ernest Shackleton's grueling attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914. As the reader uncovers the details of this fateful voyage, their ideas of willpower and perseverance will be forever changed.

 

Books for Children

Read aloud and inspire children to get involved with these beautifully written and illustrated picture books. 

The Mitten Tree
Candace Christiansen

Beneath this story's playfulness lies a clear message: pay it forward without expectation. This is the perfect bedtime tale of kindness, generosity, and intrigue for the up-and-coming volunteers in your life.

Thank You, Omu
Oge Mora

In this heartwarming story of generosity and community, a strong female role model named Omu feeds her aromatic soup to the community. The toddlers in your life will be enchanted by the unexpected rewards of sharing in this wonderfully illustrated children’s book. 

A is for Activist
Innosanto Nagara

This ABC book is written and illustrated for the next generation of community activists, environmental protectionists, and LGBTQ+ and civil rights advocates. Conveying a deep message in an accessible way, this book will have your children inspired for the future.

The Man Who Planted Trees
Jean Giono

A parable for all ages, the short story is equal parts hopeful and moving. Protagonist Elzéard Bouffier planted one hundred acorns a day in a desolate region in France, transforming a barren landscape into a forest full of life. The story shows the power that one person has to make a change.  

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