If you want to start a charity, you need to be learning constantly. You’ll inevitably learn by doing, but it will save you a lot of heartache to also learn from others.
If you’re interested in potentially starting a charity or are already running one and want to continue improving your org, here’s what we at Nonlinear think will be useful to read.
We don’t recommend reading these in order or start to finish. Skim them ruthlessly, jump around to the ones that seem relevant to you, and try to really engage with the ones that are genuinely useful to you.
- Blog posts
- Why founding charities is one of the highest impact things one can do
- Should I start a charity now or later? Great blog post about the benefits of starting something now vs later.
- How to increase your odds of starting a career in charity entrepreneurship. This post also touches on how to get a low-risk taste of startup life to see if you’ll like it. TL;DR - do self-initiated projects with no oversight, ideally recruiting and leading a team of friends/volunteers to help.
- What traits make a great charity entrepreneur
- What Paul Graham looks for in a founder
- Which jobs will best prepare you to become a charity entrepreneur?
- Why top performers shouldn’t go to university. There are better ways to signal competence
- Why EAs in particular are good people to start charities
- Top 13 Tools for NGO Founders. Want to particularly highlight Upwork where it’s really easy to hire freelancers for innumerable small tasks that it’s not worth hiring a full time person for.
- Startup Playbook by Sam Altman. Probably the most information dense piece of advice for potential founders. Just replace every mention of “business” with “charity” and “profit” with “impact” to get the most out of this. This is true for most forprofit startup material
- Paul Graham essays, notably
- Charity Entrepreneurship’s resource list. Lots of good stuff listed here.
- Passive impact: how to set up systems that continue to have an impact with little to no ongoing work on your part.
- A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research by Animal Advocacy Careers. Blog post reviewing the evidence for different hiring and retention techniques, ordered by evidence base and effect size. I wish all research was done and presented this way.
- Charity Science’s fundraising research. Fundraising is a keystone skill for charity entrepreneurship. Charity Science systematically researched all the major fundraising methods and compared how well they worked. I’d pair this with reading at least one book on fundraising. Fundraising for Dummies is good, though probably not the best.
- Takeaways from EAF's Hiring Round by Stefan Torges
- Nice clothes are good actually. Most people spend too much time on fashion, but if you're reading this, you're probably not one of those people. Doing the 80/20 of fashion will make you a more effective entrepreneur in terms of fundraising, management, and outreach.
- There Are No Walls. Short post about how to see how many options you truly have.
- How to Start a High-Impact Nonprofit by EA’s very own Joey Savoie and Patrick Stadler. If you could only read one book, it’d be this one.
- Managing to Change the World. The best book on management Kat has ever read, and it just so happens to also focus on the particular issues charities face. Peter Wildeford wrote some good notes on it here.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. This is a classic for a reason.
- How to Make a Minimum Loveable Product. Technically a blog post, but should be read after Lean Startup, so put it in this section.
- Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street (summary)
- Atomic Habits by James Clear. How to be productive as an individual.
- Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland. How to be productive as a team.
- 4-Hour Work Week. Tim Ferriss is one of the most instrumentally rational people that Kat has ever encountered. Take his lessons, mix in a little EA epistemology, and cross-apply them to EA.
- Makebook. Ridiculously practical book about how to start something actually useful.
- The 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life. Your charity (or life) can be ruined if you hire or co-found with the wrong people. This is an indispensable book for avoiding unnecessary drama, especially for EAs where it's easy to be overly trusting and miss the warning signs.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel. A classic. The ideas of definite vs indefinite optimism are definitely worth learning about.
- Borrowing Brilliance by David Kord Murray. One of the biggest mistakes EA entrepreneurs do is re-inventing the wheel. This book is not only a manifesto on not doing this, but also teaches you how to creatively stand on the shoulders of giants.
- The Goal. A classic on how to optimize processes. Just replace profit with impact and factory with charity and it'll transform how you think about setting up your org.
- The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. An evidence based (for psychology) book on how stress is actually good for you under certain circumstances.
- Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Read it slowly whenever you're feeling overwhelmed. Very motivational, and can turn a bad month into an adventure.
- List of business books relevant to charity entrepreneurship. For-profits and non-profits have a lot in common. Just replace "profit" with "impact" and "customer" with "beneficiary" and a huge percentage cross-applies.
- Y Combinator startup school videos. Lots of great material there.
- Product Hunt. Critically important that you don’t re-invent the wheel. There are tools there that make it so you can have the equivalent of 100 employees of extra productivity. Make it a habit to regularly check new products here and ask people for recommendations.
Most people reading this will reasonably not read all of the above. In that case, consider reading summaries. For example, Blinkist and Shortform have summarised lots of nonfiction books, and audio format is available for most of them. Shortform is also nice because it makes it a lot easier to actually do the exercises in the books, which is where a massive amount of the value is.
Of course, the last thing we’d want is for you to procrastinate on founding a charity until you’ve finished this list. You should always have two parallel “departments” running in your life: learning and doing. Always be building. Always be learning.
Finally, if you’re here, that’s probably a pretty good sign that you should consider applying to be incubated by Nonlinear or Charity Entrepreneurship:
- Nonlinear provides career advice and coaching to aspiring AI entrepreneurs.
- Charity Entrepreneurship runs a near-termist incubation program twice a year. Learn more about their program here. Applications will be open in March.
If you want to hear about more opportunities like this going forward, subscribe to our newsletter.