Faculty Essays

Fundraising Reading List

Written by James Kolakowski on April 29, 2024.

Making time to study various aspects of fundraising can be an extremely valuable practice. In the first place, a lot of the ordinary, and some of the extraordinary, questions about fundraising have already been answered. This can save a lot of time and headache. Fundraisers are also a creative and competitive bunch, and bouncing ideas together throughout the literature can help to keep things fresh and exciting. And third, much of the fundraiser’s time is spent in sprints, followed by lulls. Always having a book at hand is a good way of filling in the gaps in the work day. 

Below are a few titles worth consideration. This list may be updated regularly.  


The Philanthropic Revolution, Jeremy Beer

*Beer makes a compelling case against philanthropy in this must read (and short) history of American charity. If you only read one book on fundraising this year, I suggest this one. It’s significantly more philosophical than practical, but I’d consider it essential reading for those in our field who want to understand why we do what we do.


The Forgotten Foundations of Fundraising, Jeremy Beer and Jeffrey Cain

*Beer and Cain give practical tips for managing a fundraising operation. Many elements introduced in “The Philanthropic Revolution” are continued here, along with specific suggestions. One point that stood out to me; the mean number of donor meetings that are asks is 39.5%. That is, less than 40% of meetings with top organizations include an ask for funds. Getting to know your donors is what’s most important. 


Designs for Fundraising, Harold J. Seymour

*This is considered one of the seminal works on American fundraising. Fresh out of the Navy, Seymour began his career in 1919 when he joined the staff of the Harvard Endowment Fund Campaign, which was the first large-scale attempt to raise money for higher education. This book is the “elder statesman” of fundraising praxis, full of high ideals, witty observations, and good sense. I particularly enjoyed his insight into how a fundraiser should be careful to present himself.


Philanthropy at Independent Schools (CASE), Helen A. Colson

*Written in 1996 this work is a bit dated, and sometimes humorously so, but the essentials remain. This book clearly, and accurately, describes the work of independent school fundraising. One takeaway from this book is that little of what we do is ever groundbreaking or unique, and that in itself can be a great comfort. 


A Development Handbook: Promoting Philanthropy at Independent Schools (CASE), Jeremy Jones

*Another “dated” fundraising book (1992), but still relevant. This is a compilation of essays on a broad spectrum of topics related to independent school fundraising. There’s something for everyone here, and the succinctness of the 1-3 page essays keeps it moving.  


Born to Raise, Jerold Panas

*I’d call this a fundraiser’s “pump-up book.” It’s a bit aggressive at times, but a fairly enjoyable overview of the common personality traits of a handful of highly successful fundraisers. Jerry Panas wrote a number of fundraising books and is among the top names in the literature. 


Next on the list…

The Quest for Belonging, Jeremy Beer

*A new Beer book set for release in July 2024. I’m not sure what it’s about exactly, but I’ve already pre-ordered it having read Beer’s other titles.


What books are you reading? Connect with me on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.