Reading Widely in the Nonprofit World
Updated: Jul 14
I believe leaders and entrepreneurs should be as widely read as possible. This versatility virtue is even more important in grant writing, where sifting through tons of research on everything from infant diapers to chronic homelessness to Lego’s is totally normal.
What I do? I subscribe to various blogs, email lists, YouTube channels, and research powerhouses. I listen to podcasts and hop on webinars. And my occasional plea to the local librarian “can you renew this one again?” reminds me that I still shortchange the attention books demand of me.
Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you. In so doing, you can’t help but grow in virtue.
-Karen Swallow Prior, "Good Books Make Better People"
Being widely-read in the nonprofit world does a few things:
Builds intuition. You learn to better speak the language of the industry you’re in. And, by extension, the language of the people you’re working with.
Sharpens writing. Good readers are good writers, able to pull from an ever-expanding repertoire of facts, illustrations, and really punchy vocabulary.
Broadens perspectives. Like the connection between reading stories and being a person of empathy, staying widely read broadens my understanding of the quirks and challenges facing nonprofits across the sector.
If you're not sure where to start, here's a few of my go-to nonprofit specific resources.
Like TripAdvisor, GrantAdvisor is my go-to for honest reviews on grantmakers. The crowdsourced website is fairly new in the philanthropy world. Reviewers can rate and leave honest feedback related to key areas like a funder’s timeliness, accessibility, and the average time spent on applications. It’s basically awesome. Reviews have helped me discover “I’m not the only one who had this experience” or whether to say “they’re not worth my time” to funders I had my eyes on. The hope is, too, that funders would see GrantAdvisor as a means of accepting feedback they would otherwise have no platform of receiving, and to break down some of the stiff-arming that can happen in Foundation Elitism.
NonprofitAF is a “no-BS approach,” so-dang-on-point, slightly irreverent blog and resource site of Vu Le, nonprofit specialist. There are days when pesky character counts or re-formatting entire budget spreadsheets or papercuts while stuffing envelopes make me wonder if I’m the only one going crazy. NonprofitAF reminds me that I’m not alone. Power dynamics are real. Burnout is real. But I can’t take myself too seriously. "There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.” #nonprofitunicorn
Amanda Pearce doesn’t know I’m saying this, but her consulting business FundingforGood is the best! I’m a big fan of their client approach. Mandy & co. are experts when it comes to becoming grant-ready and developing boards. Her team has tons of freebies on the website, relevant blog posts, and quick-listen YouTube videos that have helped me in my grant-seeking strategies.
MN Council for Nonprofits
Minnesota Council for Nonprofits is pretty standard in the MN nonprofit world, and certainly a go-to for me when it comes to nonprofit directories, resources, networking, and sector research. When I lived in the Twin Cities, I attended various network luncheons and the annual conference. I'm not a member, but certainly could be persuaded.
Nearly every website has some kind of free newsletter or updates for email subscribers. These are excellent for staying up-to-date on grant cycle announcements or relevant webinars. I subscribe to updates (for free) & check in on these platforms:
Facebook Nonprofit Happy Hour
Puget Sound Grantwriters Association
Minnesota Council on Foundations
The Grantsmanship Center
Local funders (like Southwest Initiative Foundation)
A few of my go-to podcasts (available pretty much everywhere) include...
Freakonomics Radio (The "hidden side of everything")
Planet Money (MPR explains the economy)
RadioLab (Documentaries in podcast form)
The Holy Post (VeggiesTales creator hosts conversations on evangelicalism & culture)
Pass the Mic (An arm of The Witness Black Christian Collective)
Books I'm reading? That's another post for later.
Reach out if you've got a great read I didn't mention. Or pick my brain about how to get in-the-loop on news in the nonprofit world.