The Common Good

Seven Top Reads of 2013

The past few months have flown by in true whirlwind fashion (my co-worker Katie aptly describes the professional whirlwind here). And as the hours tick down to the end of 2013, I find myself facing a bit of a personal whirlwind, surrounded by boxes, bins and far more hangers of clothes than I’m happy to admit. I am thick in the middle of a move, in what I’m calling my boomerang return to D.C. and Sojourners, after a three-year hiatus in the great Northeast.

As I pack up all my belongings, it’s becoming clear that books dominate an absurd amount of bins and boxes — turns out I have a penchant for the printed word (if moving isn’t a compelling argument for a Kindle, I surely don’t know what is). Therefore, it feels appropriate and timely to reflect on which of these titles affected me most this past year. As the director of Major Gifts (and newest member of the team), I’ve been particularly consumed with thinking through resource distribution, stewardship, and the power of the purse, so it is with this lens that I share my top reads of 2013.

Buying For Impact: How to Buy From Women and Change Our World by Elizabeth Vazquez and Andrew Sherman — Perhaps my most oft used quote of 2013 came from this book: “The easiest and fastest way to invest in women is to simply buy from them.” There has been an exciting boom in attention given to the power of investing in women as a fundamental business and economic growth strategy — everyone from the head of the World Bankto top CEOs seem to be in agreement.And as Vazquez and Sherman persuasively show, if everyone who talked about women’s rights and empowerment backed it up with his or her wallet, we could truly change the game for millions of vulnerable women and children. It’s a powerful call to leverage our purchasing power, alongside our charitable endeavors, to reflect our values — because only then do we truly enter into a more equitable and dignity-oriented kingdom.

Delivering Happiness:A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh — Before reading this book, I had very little knowledge or interest in Zappos. And while I have yet to make my inaugural purchase from the company, my respect and admiration for the its mission and business acumen runneth deep. Zappos is revolutionizing what it means to be a for-profit company that believes in doing right by its employees and customers. The product may be shoes, but what the company is really selling is the power of customer service, purpose-driven work, and relationships above profit. Plus, Tony writes in an engaging way with laugh-out-loud anecdotes and insightful reflections on life (and doubles quite well as road trip entertainment, if you get the audio book version!).

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink — As someone who has recently worked in sales, I found this book particularly resonated with me. New York Times bestseller Daniel Pink presents the startling, yet simple truth that while statistics say one in nine Americans works in sales, in reality the other eight do as well. His baseline argument is that no matter our field of work, we’re all selling something — whether it’s an idea, movement, or physical product. Viewing salespeople as icky and slick, or as Pink cheekily describes as “the white collar equivalent of cleaning toilets — necessary perhaps, but unpleasant and even a bit unclean,” no longer holds true. The book provides an accessible road map to making one’s message clearer and more persuasive, balancing a healthy dose of social science with practical application, all bound into one hardcover.

The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fund-Raising by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey Walker — This book has indeed transformed the way I speak and think about my work around fund raising. Gone is the narrative that fund raising is a merely transactional relationship, one that breeds unhealthy power dynamics and feeds an intense fear of asking/being asked for support. It is replaced by the power of creating a community of engaged partners eager to provide the resources necessary to transform and achieve lasting social change. McCrea and Walker show how fund raising is truly an art of connection and an invitation for more people to join you in a mission and vision (which describes exactly what I love most about my job at Sojourners). They also offer a refreshing approach to creating this community of support, through hosting Jeffersonian dinners — dinner parties with a twist. A must-read for anyone interested in practically and passionately unleashing more resources for the causes they care about.

The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen — Although this book was taken from a speech renowned Christian author Henri Nouwen gave more than two decades ago, the message resonates today (and in fact, was a perfect complimentary read to the Generosity Network, filling in the faith components not addressed in that book). Nouwen’s fervent belief that fund raising is a necessary piece of kingdom building, as important as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry, is one that can profoundly alter how the church and people of faith approach money and resource distribution. He builds on this idea, sharing in the introduction that “fund-raising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission ... [it] is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.” This scripturally centered and concise reflection is just the encouragement that many Christians need to enter into more authentic partnership and community around money and resources.

To Whom Much Is Given: Navigating the Ten Life Dilemmas Affluent Christians Face by E.G. Jay Link — This resource further explores common challenges that arise for wealthy Christian families and individuals. Those with money know firsthand how one’s fortune can either build or destroy; as Link points out, it can teach or it can corrupt; it can provide a sense of security or a sense of entitlement. I am heartened by the dedication of both Link and the organizations he founded, Kardia Family Wealth Counseling and Stewardship Ministries, to working with affluent Christian families aroundmaximizing their God-given resources and potential, and addressing the spiritual and emotional components of planning that are lacking in secular financial and estate planning. It is a good reminder that Christians should resist transferring some of the most important decisions — what we do with the material treasure God has given us — to financial planners and investment bankers who have little to no knowledge or concern for the conviction that all we have on earth belongs to God.

The Bible (Poverty and Justice version) — This would be an incomplete list if I didn’t include the Bible on here as one of my go-to reads for the year. Those active in the Sojourners network are likely familiar with how The Poverty and Justice Bible highlights almost 3,000 verses in the scriptures to show that God has something to say about injustice and oppression. As the description declares, a quick glance is all you need to see that God cares about the poor — a lot. And so must we. This book has influenced much of our work at Sojourners this fall, including providing the script for our #FaithFilibuster during the government shutdown and inspiring an action alert that led to the successful delivery of the Bibles to every member of Congress (alongside a standing offer for anyone who donates $100 or more to receive a copy!). This is one book that continues to provoke reflection and application, no matter how many times I thumb through it.

While there are many more books and resources I could recommend from the stacks that surround me, I’d prefer you read less of my words and more of the extraordinary authors highlighted above (plus if you’re anything like me, seven recommendations are more than sufficient to decorate your night table for the next couple of months). Not to mention there are a few more empty boxes and overflowing bookshelves calling my name.

Kaitlin Hasseler is director of Major Gifts for Sojourners.

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