Charity agile recommended reads

A selection of charity agile reading books arranged on a shelf
A selection of charity agile reading books arranged on a shelf

Our top charity agile reads

The people we coach often ask us for book recommendations.  Here are the books we find ourselves recommending time and again to people embedding agile ways of working inside their charities. 

We have organised the books into three buckets based on the value they bring:

  1. Books to help you build the case for change.
  2. Books about how to create strategic agility.
  3. Books on how to work in a more agile way, day to day.

1. Books to help you build the case for change

The ‘why’: Why our organisations urgently and radically need to change the way they operate in order to survive.

Front cover of Sense and Respond - Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden

Sense and Respond - Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden

Before technology kicked down the door and changed everything, our organisations could predict trends year on year and plan accordingly. “How can we give our supporters and users what they wanted last year…plus a little more?” Nowadays expectations and technology are changing so quickly we instead need to set ourselves up to sense our users’ constantly changing needs and respond to them. Sense and Respond is all about how to structure your teams, make decisions and manage people so they’re focused on outcomes, not outputs. We had so many eureka moments reading this book. 

Read it. Then give it to your manager. Then their manager.

Front cover of New Power — Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms

New Power — Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms

How many of us have been tasked with ‘creating a digital movement’? This book shows how new power movements like Extinction Rebellion have used transparency, crowdsourcing and trust to give those within it the power to create change in their own way. It shares tools and techniques you can apply in your work. It also shows that the most impactful movements need the freedom to move on their own. This requires our organisations to serve our users, not the other way round.

Challenging and brilliant.

Watch the TED talk for the headlines and read the book for tonnes of examples and tools.

2. Books on how to create strategic agility

Once you’re clear on the change you want to create, here’s how to refocus your organisation at a strategic level to enable more adaptability.

Book cover of Lean Impact - Ann Mei Chang

Lean Impact - Ann Mei Chang

This is the only book in this list which is specifically designed for purpose-driven organisations. 

We love how Chang talks you through how to innovate quickly and cheaply to deliver greater impact for the cause you serve.

It includes lots of case studies of how lean experimentation has delivered significant improvements in social impact. It also shares how to gather customer insight from service users, how to run rapid experiments in charities and how to iterate within a charity context. Get a copy here.

Book cover of the startup way by eric ries

The Startup Way — Eric Ries

We read and re-read this book when we were working out how to create the ecosystem for fundraising innovation at Cancer Research UK. It helped us to identify what was getting in the way of teams being more entrepreneurial. 

Eric Ries shares the mindset and methods to apply innovative ways of working to your organisation’s strategy. 

We think it’s best as an audio book.

book cover of the anti-racist organisation by shereen daniels

The Anti-Racist Organization - Shereen Daniels

If we want to create a more agile organisation we must include meaningful action to increase equity and inclusivity. This book shows how systemic racism is engrained into business structures, policies, and procedures. 

It then guides you through how to begin to authentically lead change. She also shares strategies for recognising systemic racism and how to begin to change workplace practices to create a more anti-racist and equitable environment.

We’re big fans.  Read more here.

3. How to work in a more agile way, day to day.

How to work differently day to day to create the change you want.

Book cover of Sprint — Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky & Braden Kowitz

Sprint — Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky & Braden Kowitz

In this book 3 brilliant Google brains share their process for taking a big organisational problem, build then test a solution in just 5 days. This is called a Design Sprint and it’s a great way to trial working differently to achieve what you’ve read about above.

This is an easy to follow guide so you can facilitate your own Design Sprint. Even if you don’t plan to run the whole thing this book brings to life the steps you and your teams can take to work differently. I regularly pull out individual exercises to run with teams. (It’s worth getting the physical book for all the visual diagrams.)

Book cover of Scrum — Jeff Sutherland

Scrum — Jeff Sutherland

Overlook Jeff Sutherland’s ego and frequent military examples to learn how to organise your team’s daily work to quickly deliver the most valuable things.

He brings to life what agile working looks like, shares the key principles in simple language and shares tonnes of stories of how it’s changed the world.

It’s an easy and engaging read that shows you the variety of ways that you can implement this particular agile methodology. Get a copy here.

Book cover of The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

This is the book that totally changed the way we (and the rest of the world) approach innovation. It inspired us to challenge how we had previously seen new ideas delivered in the charity sector. Instead, Ries shows how to test new ideas using quick cycles of learning. 

This book tells the story of how Ries built his famous ‘test and learn’ approach whilst also building a successful business. 

An oldie but a goodie. Get it here.

One final thought...

We hope that you find lots of useful ideas and tools in the books above. As most aren’t designed for the charity sector specifically, we are always on hand to help you apply your learnings inside your charity.

We would also love to know YOUR recommended reads that have helped you to embed more agile ways of working inside your charity. We’re especially keen to add more books written by women, LGBTQ+ people and people of colour. 

Happy reading!