Recommended Books

Book review (and special offer): The innovation workout by Lucy Gower

I was delighted to receive a copy of Lucy Gower’s new book the innovation workout. I’ve known Lucy for a number of years and in my previous role she ran a training session on innovation for my team.

Therefore I was looking forward to reading the book and seeing Lucy’s expertise in written form. Fortunately the book lived up to the high standards I expected. Here is my full review, along with a special offer from Lucy at the end of the article.

Book review: the innovation workout

Innovation is an over-used and often misunderstood concept within charities and fundraising teams. Every organisation I’ve worked for has wanted to be ‘more innovative’ without really taking the time to understand the problem(s) they wanted to solve. Another common mistake I’ve seen made is thinking innovation is solely ‘eureka’ moments - transformative ideas and events. In my opinion, fundraising hasn’t seen any serious, breakthrough innovation for over 20 years - as an aside, I’d argue even F2F fundraising was the bringing together of two separate existing ideas to create a huge change in how donors are recruited.

These mistakes lead to lost time and wasted effort. Fortunately this book provides a framework for looking at different types of innovation and understanding how you can create a culture where innovation flourishes and is conducted in a systematic manner.

The book is split into three parts

  • Ten steps to enhance your innovation skills
  • Ten innovation skills in action
  • Ten common innovation challenges

It can be read from start to finish or you can just flick to the section on a particular question or problem you have around innovation.

There are three things I particularly like about the book.

  1. The book is written in an easy to read style without using too much jargon. It is a pacey run through the principles, problems and opportunities related to innovation.
  1. It is packed full of practical examples from a range of industries and professions. It is not a book aimed solely at fundraisers or charities. By drawing on examples from all walks of life you get a wide perspective that gets you thinking and making connections. These are highlighted throughout the book along with links to see the examples online.
  2. The accompanying workbook is an excellent resource. It provides a number of exercises you can work through and run internally when you have an innovation problem you want to tackle. I’ve already used two of the exercises (on personas and facilitating an ideas session) on training that I have run. Both have been well received by colleagues.

Due to the style of the book it doesn’t go into lots of depth on any particular area. So if you want to know more about a certain topic, such as De Bono’s thinking hats tool, then you will need to read some of the further books listed at the end of the workbook.

Overall, if you are interested in innovation or need to run sessions on creativity, generating new ideas or problem solving then this book is for you. For me the best books are ones I go back to time and time again and use in my everyday work. The innovation workout will be one of those books.

Special offer:

Lucy is offering anyone who buys the book on Tuesday 10 November between noon - 13.00 UK the chance to join her on a free webinar (normally priced £25). Simply send Lucy your receipt and she'll send you the details!

You can buy the book on or


Sell the solution, not the process that produces the solution: two video examples from blind charities

I've just finished reading Jeff Brooks excellent new book The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand. It's chocked full of great advice, but there was section that led to an epiphany moment for me.

Brooks was talking about the importance of selling the solution and not the process to get to the solution when developing your fundraising offer. It was a real lightbulb moment.  It's something I've been guilty of in the past when trying to develop an offer. As Brooks explains:

“…it’s one of the most elusive things in fundraising: sell the solution, not the process that produces the solution. Someone who wants a cup of coffee wants the morning fog to clear from his head. He doesn’t care about what it takes to move that caffeine from coffee beans growing on a mountainside into his cup and then into his brain.”

He goes on to explain what this means in donor terms:

“To keep your solution in the donor’s realm, you must show the clear connection between the problem and the solution. It must not be the complex process that sets your organisation apart from Brand X Charity, but a simple and obvious connection. Simplicity is everything.

“If the problem is hunger, then the solution should be food. Even if the way you solve the hunger problem is through a complex process of economic empowerment, civil society, training trainers, or whatever it is. I’m not criticising your processes. They’re good, I’m sure. But they are outside the donor’s experience.”

The importance of this was brought home when I watched two recent donor recruitment videos for blind charities. As someone who works at a small blind charity we always look to the larger charities to try and copy learn from their ideas.

The first video is from the RNIB:


The second video is from Guide Dogs:


Which one do you think has the strongest fundraising offer? And which one is selling the solution and which one is selling the process to get to the solution? I think it's pretty clear and I'd put money on the Guide Dogs ad significantly outperforming the RNIB one.

I'm not saying the RNIB one is bad. I think it has some powerful statistics and explains the reality of what it is like to be blind. It just spends more time describing the process to the solution and lacks emotion compared to the Guide Dogs ad. To be honest, it's hard to compete with such a great offer as £1 per week to sponsor a puppy!

I'd love to know your thoughts.


Four non-fundraising books to help you be a better fundraiser

I've been catching up with some reading in the last month or so and wanted to share short reviews of  four books that I believe will help you be a better fundraiser.

If you've read any of them then do let me know what you thought or if you've got any other reading recommendations, then please share them in the comments.

Note: The titles all link to the author's blog or website and there is a US and UK Amazon link as well.

Difference: the one-page method for reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing by Bernadette Jiwa

This book is only one hundred pages, but it packs a powerful message about how to develop your brand and tell your story.

The book revolves around the premise that to be successful today you need to go beyond the traditional 'four P's' of marketing and develop products with heart and soul.

It provides a framework for re-defining your offer, creating experiences for customers and developing services and products people want - something that every fundraiser should aspire too.

Amazon UK             Amazon

The PR Masterclass: How to develop a public relations strategy that works by Alex Singleton

If your nonprofit could benefit from more publicity or needs to get an important message across then this is the book for you. Singleton shares his many years of experience in PR and provides a wealth of useful tactics and tips to help you stand out from the crowd and get noticed.

His advice applies to organisations of all sizes and budgets. I came up with five or six practicable PR ideas to implement immediately in own organisation off the back of the book.

None of what Singleton writes is rocket science, but it is amazing how often the basics get overlooked.

Amazon UK        Amazon

Jab, jab, jab, right hook: how to tell your story in a noisy world by Gary Vaynerchuk

I've enjoyed Vaynerchuk's other books, but this is possibly the best one of the lot. What I loved about it is he shares and critiques over 80 real life social media case studies to learn from.

Sadly the nonprofit examples in the book aren't particularly well received and it shows how much better we could (and should) be doing with our social media.

Again, after reading the book I came away with four or five instantly implementable ideas.

Amazon UK        Amazon

The elements of eloquence by Mark Forsythe

This is a beautiful book about the English language and the figures of rhetoric that make writing memorable. It has a lot of Greek terms but don't let that put you off. By reading the book  you'll learn why alliteration, rhetorical questions  and hyperbole (and 35 other examples) make for good writing. 

With examples ranging from Shakespeare and Dickens to the Cardigan's and the Carry On films, this book will show why certain phrases and poems stick and others are instantly forgotten.

I'm sure the best fundraising copywriters use many of these techniques automatically, but for the rest of us, I guarantee you will learn something new from this book.

Amazon UK         Amazon



Don't forget your fundraising fundamentals

I attended an excellent workshop by Jeff Brooks earlier this week. Jeff was in the UK to promote his new book and work with Aristos.

The session went through a series of fundraising 'truths' - things we know (or should know) around storytelling, design, calls to action and a series of 'stupid non-profit ads'.

These have been proven time and time again to work best in direct mail, yet it is amazing how many times we forget them and find excuses to ignore some of the things that we know work - the p.s., underlining, matched gift offers etc.

One of the big reminders for me was around fundraising imagery.

Jeff gave some tips on finding your fundraising icon. If you could show one image to portray the work of your organisation, what would it be? It's something I haven't worked out in my current role and I will be spending some time pondering (and testing) this in the coming months.

'The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications' is a quick, two hour read and is packed full of useful tips and reminders of how to do direct mail fundraising. You can get it on Amazon in the UK or US.

How 'Relationship Fundraising' changed my life!

My initial fundraising career was only meant to last a year or so.  After that I was meant to get a ‘proper’ job in law, but then I read 'Relationship Fundraising' by Ken Burnett and it got me hooked on fundraising as a career.

I remember buying Relationship Fundraising from respected fundraiser Peter Maple via Howard Lake’s Fundraising website in about 2001. At the time i’d been a Community Fundraising Assistant for about six months and as much as i’d enjoyed helping out at various events and activities, it wasn’t really intellectually stimulating and I couldn’t really see a long-term future for me.

Then I read Ken’s book.

I remember devouring it in the course of a day and then going back through it with a fine toothcomb and making notes and jotting down ideas.  By the time I’d finished the book for a second time I had about 12 pages of notes.  I eagerly went and presented them to my bosses at the time and it says a lot about their attitude and leadership that they didn’t tell me where to go, but encouraged me to introduce a number of my ideas.

From that moment on I was a professional fundraiser. 

I re-vamped our thank you letters, took responsibility for the database, looked for ways to recognise and thank donors and worked hard to implement as much of the theory and ideas in the book as possible. 

The book made me proud to be a fundraiser and showed me what a fulfilling, stimulating and enjoyable career it could offer me.

I haven’t always got things right, but Relationship Fundraising and Ken’s other books have been a compass pointing me in the correct fundraising direction for the past 10 years.

It still amazes me when I meet fundraisers who’ve never read or even heard of Relationship Fundraising.  Personally I don’t know how you can do your job properly as a fundraiser without being aware of the principles it teaches.

I’ve recommended the book to hundreds of people and shared my copy with numerous colleagues over the years and it still remains my favourite fundraising book out of the hundreds I have read.

This post is my contribution to the May Non-Profit Blog Carnival.  This month it posed the question: What Book Has Changed Your (Professional) Life?

10 Great Quotes from Denny Hatch

Denny Hatch's regular e-newsletter is a favourite of mine.  Topical, insightful and full of sound advice they are one of the few e-mails that I always read.

Denny has taken the best of the quotes, takeaways, quips, advice and truisms featured in his e-newsletter and compiled them into a fantastic book split into 99 categories.

These shorty pithy segments contain some great ideas and thoughts and can be used to challenge your staff, in presentations, for training and a whole host of other things.

Here are 10 of my favourite nuggets from the first half of the book.  Quotes are from Denny unless stated:


"Here's the secret of successful advertising: interrupting what's going on in the front of a prospect's brain with headline, graphics, copy and action that seize upon a lurking fear or desire and exploiting it."


When an agency is pitching potential clients, it's usually the high-powered agency president that glad-hands the prospect and does the razzle dazzle presentation.  Once the account is landed, the work is turned over to underlings.

Before hiring an agency, get to know the worker bees that will be assigned to your account.


Before trashing a brand, add up the dollars spent on advertising, marketing and P.R. over the years to build a brand.  What will it cost to make its replacement a household name?


"The seven key copy drivers - the emotional hot buttons that make people act - are fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation and flattery"
Bob Hacker, Axel Andersson

Customer Relationship Magic

"There is only one boss.  The customer(donor). And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending (donating) his money elsewhere."
Sam Walton

How to know customers

Once, every six months, have a brainstorming session to figure out innovative and inexpensive new ways to make your customers happier.

Direct mail letters

The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer's skill can make it.  Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd, but rather murmurs into a single ear.  It's a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.


After dashing off an email, but before clicking on 'Send' you might reflect for a moment on the consequences of your message appearing on the front page of every newspaper in the world.


"On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.  When you written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar."


Always hire A's.  In the first place, they are more fun to work with.  Secondly, they push you into excellence.

Book Review: The Little Big Things by Tom Peters

LittleBigThings Cover

Subtitled '163 Ways to Pursue Excellence' this book makes the argument that if you get the little things right then the big things will naturally follow.

Written by leadership legend Tom Peters, it's a must read for anyone who leads a team, is interested in customer (or donor) service and wants to get things done.

As the subtitle suggests the book is divided into 163 short, snappy chapters and is split into sections with names like 'Excellence', 'Opportunity', 'Attitude' and 'Customers'.

Although the book contains nothing profound it does offer lot's of great ideas, anecdotes and easy to action things that could make a difference for your organisation.

I think the book is best read in short bursts, such as on the bus/train on the way home, as Tom's excitable, energetic, urgent style can almost leave you feeling tired after a while!

As a word of warning: if you don't like liberal use of bold, CAPITAL LETTERS, !!!!!!!!, repetition, repetition, repetition, then this book probably isn't for you. 

However, I like it, as I think it reflects Tom's personality and sense of urgency over how important he sees the things he is talking about.

One of the main themes of the book (and something I believe in) is the concept of the leader as servant to their team.  Your direct reports are your primary customers - you make them happy and by default you will make your donors and external customers happy. 

Tom preaches about this a number of times in the book, along with empowering your team, managing by walking around and seeing more in others than they see in themselves.  All critically important things in my view.

'In Search of Excellence' was the first business book I ever read - my dad gave me a copy from his days working at Price Waterhouse - and I guess that the ideas Tom talks about have greatly influenced me over the years. 

Put simply, I'm a big believer in Tom and his ideas and I think this book is almost a manual on how to be a successful leader and fundraiser.

UK Amazon Link below:                  Get it in the U.S.A here.

Book Review: Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun

Public speaking is often listed as one of people's worst fears, but Scott Berkun's new book is packed full of advice that would help even the most nervous of public speakers overcome their anxiety.

Quite simply this is the best book on public speaking I have ever read.

Written in a friendly, confident and funny way the book combines practical advice, anecdotes and photographs that cover every aspect of speaking in public. From preparation and planning to setting up the room and dealing with hecklers the book covers everything you need to know on planning and delivering presentations.

Whenever I read a book I mark interesting pages/passages and by the time I'd finished this book the book was full of turned pages that I will go back to!

One of my favourite chapters goes through preparing a fictional talk on cheese. It is great to follow Scott's thinking of how he approaches a talk, plans what he is going to say and how to come up with a winning title.

I think the key lesson is one that I've learnt the hard way (I'll save the story of my first ever public talk for another time) - the only way you'll give an interesting and well received talk is to prepare, plan and practice, practice, practice. That may not sound like rocket science, but it is amazing how many presenters don't do this. 

The book also contains a great section on research and recommended further reading and I've already downloaded a number of articles from Scott's blog.

I appreciate that this seems a bit of a gushing review. I usually like to include some constructive criticism, but the only thing I can think of is that it would have been good for them to include colour photos rather than black and white.

Whether you are seasoned presenter or have to do a presentation for the first time then I'm confident that this book contains something for everyone.

Book Review: We - The Ideal Customer Relationship by Steve Yastrow

In the latest Mal Warwick newsletter, Adrian Sargeant writes an in-depth article called 'Building Donor Loyalty', which emphasises the problem fundraisers have in retaining donors and offers some reasons why we aren't better at it.

Steve Yastrow's book offers ideas and tactics to help overcome this problem.  It makes an articulate and powerful case to treat customers (in our case donors) better and, in turn, improve business.

Through a series of case studies, anecdotes and research Yastrow provides a framework for moving from transaction based interactions with customers to creating memorable encounters that help build sustainable relationships.

The 'We' in the title is a plea to see your relationship with your donors in a different light:

"A We relationship is substantially different from an Us & Them relationship. A We customer sees the relationship as collaborative and mutual; he thinks "We" when thinking about himself and your company. This customer sees your company as unique and, therefore, not interchangeable with the competition.  And you see the needs of each We customer as distinct from the needs of all customers. You go beyond using each other to accomplish things and actually see your relationship as one in which you do things together."

I particularly like Yastrow's emphasis on creating memorable encounters.  It is a theme I have taken up in my own organisation.  Every time you have an interaction with a donor then you need to ensure that interaction enhances the relationship (or at worst doesn't make it worse).  This simple but powerful statement is a good starting point for all your donor care and marketing efforts.

Some of the case studies and examples in the books are a little cheesy and lack the detail I would like to see, but overall I'd recommend the book for anyone who is in a customer facing role and looking for a framework to build their retention round.

Book Review: Superfreakonomics by Levitt & Dubner

At first glance you might ask what a book on economics has to do with fundraising.

However, as well as being a fascinating and sometimes controversial read, there are a number of useful lessons for fundraisers in Superfreaknomics.

Like the first book, the authors use economic and data analysis to challenge conventional thinking on a wide range of subjects.

Of particular interest will be the chapter on altruism, which looks at lab and real world studies on altruism.  Sadly (for charities) they conclude that people may not be quite as altruistic as we are led to believe.

The other key lesson is not to rely too much on hunches and to try and back up your thinking and reasoning with clear data analysis.  Don't make the mistake many people do and manipulate your data to fit your theories.

I see and hear this often when people undertake new plans without any clear plan on how they are going to measure results and collect data, which often gives people an easy out if things don't go as well as they hope.

The book will help you understand the importance of data and it's interpretation and help avoid these traps.

It is an insanely addictive and thoroughly entertaining book.  It really makes a dry subject like economics interesting.  It deliberately takes a controversial view on topics like global warming, prostitution and suicide bombers and has attracted criticism for over simplifying arguments and ignoring alternative views. 

However, although the authors may occasionally go for the cheap laugh and make slightly tenuous/tongue in cheek conclusions I don't think the book is any the worse for it.

Overall I'd highly recommend Superfreakonomics.  If only my economics classes at uni had been half as interesting, then I might not have dropped it after a year!