Book Recommendations for and by Development Professionals

Every January I endure the same self-analysis as the majority of Americans. I look at potential areas of self-improvement and decide—no, resolve—to make changes.

One goal always seems to make my New Year’s resolution list: to read more. Reading is like working out. No matter how much you don’t want to do it, you always feel better once you have.

With that in mind, I asked several development professionals to recommend their favorite business-related books. Here’s what they said (and a recommendation from me, as well.)

1. Jim Husson, Senior Vice President for University Advancement at Boston College: Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra

Why you should read it: “This book comes to mind because my advancement management team colleagues and I decided to read a common text in preparation for our planning off-site last summer. This is what we chose. We had a number of new members on our team, and we were in a transition period, just coming off a long capital campaign. We felt that the idea of reading a book and discussing our takeaways would be valuable—if only to get us thinking in new and different ways about our work and the approach we need to take as leaders in the organization.

I found the book to be thought provoking, and I especially liked the notion that it is in thoughtful action that we move forward. It was reminiscent of a piece of advice from a book I read many years ago, The Knowing-Doing Gap, that has stuck with me: enlightened trial and error beats flawless planning every time.”

2. Sean Devendorf, Senior Director of Annual Giving at Tufts University: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath 

Why you should read it: “It’s a great collection of case studies and data on how and why ideas stick. It made me question conventional messaging tactics. It also forced me to consider how making the familiar foreign can help to shift the paradigm. Also, it is a good read that gives you tools to look at your own marketing through a critical lens.”

3. Sarah Sceery, Senior Leadership Gift Officer at Merrimack College: The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun

Why you should read it: “This is a good one! Braun shares examples and quotes from impactful leaders throughout the book, delivering a unique perspective on the success and failure of nonprofits. One of the most impactful takeaways was the importance of patience, acceptance, and openness. It’s a simple but easily forgotten concept: patience and actually embracing unexpected outcomes may bring you surprisingly successful results.

Two quotes that really resonate with me both professionally and on a day-to-day basis are:

  • ‘True self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends.’
  • ‘Change your words to change your worth.’

The second quote is especially important in our development work, interaction with donors, and overall communication.”

4. Chris Grugan, Senior Executive Director of Individual Giving at Harvard University: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Why you should read it: “As a manager, it is important to have a clear understanding of what motivates the people in your organization. It was always assumed that money was the primary motivator for employees. While money is important, once you have enough to live comfortably, it becomes less important. Pink argues that extrinsic motivators, like money, are less useful in jobs that require the kind of creative thinking and problem solving we encounter in development. Intrinsic motivation is far more important in jobs like ours. Pink writes about the three factors that drive all of us:

  1. Autonomy: People want to have control over their work.
  2. Mastery: People want to get better at what they do.
  3. Purpose: People want to be connected to the mission of the company/organization


I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. The times I have been the most engrossed in my work have been when I felt it had purpose, when I was learning something new, and when I was given the space to develop my own solutions. Once I finished this book, I was intrigued by the science behind the theories. I have continued to read about motivation and routinely use the lessons from Pink’s book in my work leading a large fundraising team at Harvard.”

5. Matt Chittim, Major Gifts Officer at Providence College (Me): #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness by Gary Vaynerchuk


Why you should read it: In July 2015, I posted an article listing five books that helped me as a frontline fundraiser. Since writing that post, this book has had a significant impact on me, personally and professionally. Gary’s insights into marketing, social media, behavior, pursuing your passion, and taking a practical approach in your business are simply amazing. I re-read and re-listened to this book several times and get more out of it each time. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who works in marketing or development.

Happy reading and fundraising!

Matt Chittim is a major gifts officer at Providence College, where he works with alumni and parents in Metro New York and southern New England. Matt is also the host of the Providence College Podcast. In his non-working hours, he is chasing after his two young kids, running, and following New England sports. You can follow Matt on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to the Providence College Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, StitcherGoogle Play, and Tune In.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments