I once had a philosophy professor at Luther College who spoke of his “read immediately list.” That is, a list of books he felt were so important that to die without reading them would be a tragedy. “Read immediately” was meant tongue-in-cheek, and as you might guess his list was so long that no one could ever hope to get through it in a lifetime. But that was not the point. The list itself was a kind of touchstone for his intellectual life.

I too have a read immediately list and, like him, mine has also grown beyond what I am likely to have time for, but what a glorious list it is. There are works of fiction, classics, philosophy, musicology, politics, history and all sorts of stuff, including books related to work. Here are five work-related titles that made a huge difference for me in 2020.

Ideas for Annual Giving – by Dan Allenby
book-cover-image-718x1024Dan Allenby has over 20 years of experience in annual giving, and the blog at the Annual Giving Network has become a staple for me. While an organization’s annual fund remains the cornerstone of any solid development effort, there are numerous challenges facing annual fund directors in the 21st century. In higher education, VSE data continue to show an uptick in giving, but a steady decline in alumni participation rates. In other words, fewer people are giving more money. That is not a sustainable trend. Add to that the prevalence of student loan debt that makes new donor acquisition difficult, and you have something of a perfect storm.

How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals – by Mal Warwick
51gi3wqkfdl-_sx380_bo1204203200_For over thirty years, Warwick and his organization have set the standard for successful direct mail appeals. He is widely regarded as the “go-to guy” for strategies and best practices when it comes to direct mail appeals. The book is now in its third edition, and has a slightly altered title, dropping the exclusive reference to direct mail. The preface to the new edition indicates that while there remains a focus on direct mail, the new edition acknowledges the shifting landscape of fundraising and includes sections on email appeals and online giving.

True to Life: Why Truth Matters – by Michael P. Lynch
41709f8hzelMuch to the dismay of many, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” to be the 2016 word of the year. This came at a time when America was grappling with one of the most divisive presidential elections of recent memory. The dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to, or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I bought Lynch’s book years ago but have not gotten to it until now, perhaps serendipitously. As truthfulness is so important in relationships, and alumni/development work is all about relationships, perhaps it is worthwhile to read some clearheaded thinking about the nature of truth and why it matters.

Deep Work – by Cal Newport
deep-work-cal-newportI started this as an audiobook last year, but got distracted by my job. [insert laughter here] But seriously folks, that is what happened. I got through just enough of it though to absorb the author’s impetus for writing. We live in an always-on, always-connected world, and that has created endless distractions. Email, social media, the internet, smartphones, all conspire to steal our attention. The greatest achievers in history, however, have been those who mastered the art of eliminating distractions in order to go deep into their work. Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and is an advocate of what he calls “digital minimalism.”

The Power of Habit – by Charles Duhigg
9780812981605Last year, several of the books I read referenced Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I am told that he has gone to great lengths to cull the best research in neuroscience and psychology in order to understand the complex relationships among cues, routines, rewards, and cravings and how these all work together to form and sustain habits, whether for good or ill. The essence of the book is that habits are the key to success. The way to better health, better relationships, or better anything is through cultivating the right habits, which most people know already. Where people fall short is in their understanding of the science behind how habit formation really works.

Question: What books are on your “must-read” list this year, and why? Leave a response below.

Posted by Mark Zobel PhD, CFRE

I help nonprofits accomplish their missions and achieve their visions for a better world through donor-centered fundraising and comprehensive development work.

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