This year is the 30th anniversary of when I began working in the voluntary sector (if you count volunteering in a Barnardo’s charity shop instead of going to a year’s worth of art history lectures!). So by now I thought I would know what the third sector needs.

It seems I was wrong, as I found out when I saw the results of 5000+ searches on Amazon over the last month. I have been running adverts on the site to promote my book (which you must know by now is available here etc!). I had carefully chosen search terms that match the topics covered in the book. I could have saved myself the bother – of the 50+ words and phrases I selected, only four have really matched what people were looking for!

Amazon search term Number of impressions % of sales
Funding, fundraising 3016 60%
Governance, board, trustee 661  
Philanthropy 518 30%
Leadership (mission-drive, sustainable, non-profit) 509  
Organisational development 317 10%
Monitoring, evaluation, performance 203 10%
Organisational sustainability, resilience 56  

It’s no surprise that the most common search is for books relating to funding – my advert has appeared over 3000 times in response to people looking for that. We all know that times are tough for charities, social enterprises and public bodies. But to outperform other hot non-profit topics like governance and leadership by a ratio of 5:1 was really surprising.

So, if times are tough, isn’t it surprising that people don’t seem to be looking for information on organisational sustainability and resilience? I’m not sure. Surveys on the state of the sector (whether from membership bodies like NCVO, SCVO, CCPS and ACOSVO or funders like those in Scotland’s Funders’ Forum) have identified sustainability as the number one challenge for some time now. And mostly, this is the word that is used to describe the challenge of having fewer resources to meet increased demand, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of language.

Instead, our experience of leading efforts to explore and understand the issue over the last five years is that people do indeed think that funding and fundraising are the answer.

I don’t think that’s wrong, but I think it’s only partly true. It’s easy to think of examples, perhaps from your own career, of organisations that have had plenty of funding but were unsustainable because of toxic management practices, ineffective governance, poor morale, lack of staff training and support…and so the list goes on. Money is a very important part of sustainability, but it’s certainly not the only one.

Where does the money come from? From relationships, from knowledge of the sector, from staff skills in identifying needs, spotting opportunities. It comes from having compelling evidence of need, being able to show impact and effectiveness. It comes when we involve our partners and participants. And it requires us to innovate and improve, getting betterall the time. Which is why I have changed my advert and book description to help more people are searching for ‘funding’! Once they’ve got the book they can learn more about five capabilities of sustainable organisations listed above and why money alone won’t solve anything.

Other learning from promoting the book

It sells much better in paperback than as a Kindle ebook.

Paperback to Kindle ratio 10:1

It sells well overseas. So far we’ve shipped to Europe and Africa, but the book is doing particularly well in the US.

UK to US ratio 1:1

What people are not looking for! The search terms that returned fewest hits.

(US and UK spellings used)

  1. board development
  2. budget management
  3. charity management
  4. charity support
  5. collaboration
  6. consultation
  7. governance
  8. growth strategies business
  9. impact measurement
  10. improvement
  11. marketing for nonprofit organizations
  12. marketing strategy
  13. mission driven leadership
  14. non-profit board
  15. non-profit financial
  16. non-profit leadership
  17. nonprofit management books
  18. organisational change, development and transformation
  19. organizational capabilities
  20. organizational survival
  21. outcomes
  22. partnerships
  23. performance measurement
  24. performance measurement and control systems for implementing strategy
  25. policy innovation
  26. proving and improving
  27. public sector
  28. stakeholder management
  29. stakeholder theory concepts and strategies
  30. strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations
  31. strategy development
  32. sustainable organizations
  33. sustaining change in organizations
  34. third sector management
  35. third sector organisation
  36. understanding voluntary organizations
  37. voluntary organisation