In this article, you will find a list of handbooks used by nonprofits and social movements. Use these examples as inspiration to write your own!
How to write a handbook?
The most important advice we can give you: do not try to reinvent the wheel!
Why? Well, experienced campaigners from across the globe have written thousands of guides about change-making. In fact, on Activist Handbook alone, you can find 450+ guides and links to 4.7K external resources. And we're discovering new materials every day.
When writing a handbook, focus on what makes your organisation unique. Explain how your employees and volunteers can operate in your specific context. For everything else, link to existing resources out there.
Are the existing resources out there not good enough? Improve them! Everyone can edit Activist Handbook.
List of handbooks
Specific examples of organisational handbooks
Permanent (e.g. workplaces, businesses, NGOs)
Crisp DNA is the handbook from a self-organising company of 35+ autonomous consultants. They do cool things with money and ownership!
Gini is a tech company in Germany. The Gini Handbook is particularly strong on decision-making, with useful sections on communication skills, personal growth, and feedback.
The GitLab Handbook is especially relevant for people working in remote teams — they have more than 800 staff in 50+ countries, and no central location.
OuiShare Handbook – structures and practices for the distributed OuiShare network
Hanno Playbook - a self-managing team of 8 designers with excellent documentation about the internal operations of their company
Software Mill is a fully-remote company of 50+ people. Their handbook is particularly good on decision-making and communication in a remote team.
Alcoholics Anonymous operate as an “upside-down organisation”. Their manual is an up-to-date summary of 80+ years of decentralised organising at scale.
The IETF is the principal body governing the development of the Internet. Their open, voluntary, self-organising principles are documented in the Tao of the IETF.
A Feminist Organization’s Handbook is a beautiful resource from the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. They explain how they work, with the expressed intention of helping others to learn from their experience.
Public Interest Research Center is a thinktank for civil society, helping social movements tell better stories. They’ve recently transitioned to a flat organisational structure. No handbook yet, but they published this excellent story about the transition.
Platform is an arts /education / research /activism org. No public handbook, but their Social Justice Waging System is impressive.
How to Start a Tool Lending Library is a toolkit hosted by ShareStarter.org, a site which they are seeking to convene a “Lending Library Alliance”, to promote the establishment of new Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries across the country and around the world by spreading the idea, inspiring the creation of new tool lending libraries, and providing the information and assistance necessary…
Transition Towns’ Essential Guide to doing Transition is available in many languages.
Valve Employee Handbook – Valve is a software company that works without bosses. They published their handbook in 2012.
Edgeryders is a unique online community and company, a kind of thinktank and mutual aid network. A lot of their work is done in public, e.g. see their Principles for collaboration and operations in Edgeryders. “No plan is the plan.”
The Borderland a collaborative community organized around an annual participatory event. It organizes itself using two processes: Dream Prototyping and Consensual Do-ocracy, also known as the Advice Process, influenced by Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations.
Outseta Operating Agreement - Outseta is a SaaS company with a fully distributed team that has adopted self-management. We’ve made our operating agreement public: how we make functional and financial decisions. We also published an overview of what self-management is, an overview to folks new to the subject.
350 Seattle – Structure resources for a campaigning org
Open Coop Governance Model designed for use in the Guerilla Translation co-op, as a model for others to remix
Scaling Agile at Spotify: explaining how Spotify’s 250+ tech staff coordinate across tribes, squads, chapters and guilds.
Bridge Foundry - a network of self-organized free programming workshops for underrepresented folks in different cities and different languages/frameworks. How to Organize a Railsbridge Workshop encourages anybody to create a workshop, and the Workshop Cookbook contains detailed instructions.
Root Systems - a small high-trust livelihood pod doing tech consulting and software development within the Enspiral network.
NeurodiVenture Operating Model – equipping autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people for collaboration for life. A NeurodiVenture is an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.
We Are Open coop - a member-owned consulting company in the UK
Temporary (e.g. campaigns, events)
Barcelona en Comú published How To Win Back The City, one year after a coallition of grassroots activists won the municipal elections.
How We Organize the Allied Media Conference (2017 edition). This zine was organized in 2013 by the Allied Media Projects to open source their methodology for convening what is now, in its 20th year, more than a 3,000 person conference themed around “media-based organizing” in Detroit, USA. The content of the conference is generated, coordinated, and selected in an impressively decentralized manner.
HOFFNUNG 3000 - a self-organized festival. How do we organize ourselves in our social, artistic & theoretical communities? HOFFNUNG 3000 was not simply a festival but more of a process of organizing a festival, a festival that creates itself. Through each and every participant.
Repair Cafe is a place to meet and fix things together. Their handbook is available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis.
Awesome Foundation Wiki. Awesome Foundation is a network of autonomous groups who make micro-grants to people working on awesome projects.
How to start a SOUP: a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects.
How to start a Food Not Bombs chapter: decentralised grassroots peace movement sharing free (vegan) food with hungry people.
Cosecha is a movement for US immigrants. They operate with a transparent strategy & structure.
Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge, the tactical guide from the Swedish Pirate Party
Ouishare Fest Toolkit- a guide to organizing a participatory festival.
Guide to the Extinction Rebellion UK self-organising system
Generalised lessons: toolkits, books, etc
More business like
Better Work Together – stories and tools from Enspiral (network of self-managing social enterprises)
The Toolbox Toolbox: a curated list of the best analogue and digital toolboxes and methods from companies, institutions and thinkers.
Re-humanizing the Workplace - the 12 Tools of Distributed Decision-making in the Participation Age; Chuck Blakeman
Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux is a really influential book sharing case studies of large organisations in different sectors, successfully operating without centralised management systems. Good wiki too.
Insights for the Journey – video series to accompany the Reinventing Organizations book by Laloux
Rebuild: the Economy, Leadership, and You – book and toolkit for builders of a better world integrating legal incorporation, roles and tasks, developmental practices, and how to build a new economics
Going Horizontal by Samantha Slade: practices for flattening organisational hierarchies
Repsonsive Org Playbook from Ed Elements – mashup of Holacracy, Design Thinking, Lean, Agile, etc. Includes “practice” templates.
Remote Only manifesto for companies that work without a central office.
Remote Starter Kit - digital tools to support remote collaboration
Self-managing organizations: Exploring the limits of less-hierarchical organizing – research paper by Amy C. Edmondson and Michael Y. Lee
Teaming by Amy C. Edmondson
Google’s Team Effectiveness Guide Psychological safety > dependability > structural clarity > meaning > impact
Why Employees are Always a Bad Idea - business book by Chuck Blakeman
HyperIsland Toolbox - a collaboration toolkit for innovation, team development
Liberating Structures – 33 meeting formats for inclusion and creativity
The Future of Work is Human - practices for holistic meetings, collective learning, innovation.
Beyond Empowerment: the Age of Self-Managed Organization business book by Doug Kirkpatrick from Morningstar: a pioneering self-managing company & the world’s largest tomato processers
One from many by Dee Hock (VISA)
Joy at work by Dennis Bakke (coined the Advice Process at AES)
Eckart’s notes by Wintzen (BSO) - Dutch
La belle histoire de FAVI by Zobrist
The second cycle by Lars Kolind
Maverick by Ricardo Semler
Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrsytal – how the US Army developed a networked management structure to respond to urban warfare in Iraq
A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business series by Ari Weinzweig at Zingermans
The Haier Model by Yangfeng Cao
Freedom, Inc.: How Corporate Liberation Unleashes Employee Potential and Business by Brian M Carney & Isaac Getz
Future of Management by Gary Hamel
The Decider App: compares 9 different group decision-making methods, by NOBL Collective
Remodel: a free toolkit that helps you explore and develop new business models for physical products – based on open source principles.
Transformative Scenario Planning by Adam Kahane
Creating Breakthrough Innovation (framework) distills five practices for breakthrough innovation, with an overarching theme of bringing “cocreation” into nonprofits, philanthropy, and community groups.
Autonomist Leadership (framework) - Autonomist Leadership is the name given to the non-hierarchical, informal and distributed forms of leadership found in emancipatory social movements, and, in particular, in networked social movements. This paper… sets out five principles that make it a distinct form of leadership.
BOSSA nova: Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space and Sociocracy
Inviting Leadership: Invitation-Based Change in The New World of Work
Open Space Beta: Beta transformation just got a hell of a lot less complicated
Team Tempo: book by NOBL Collective
Prototyping.Work: Collaborative platform full of practices, tips and guides to reinvent the way we work.
Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules. by L. David Marquet – the power of servant leadership
Peerdom Showcase: Learn from companies’ transformational journey through their organisational design map which they agreed to share.
Reinvent organization map - a tool for assessing organizational teal consciounness level
Planet Centric Design Toolkit - A toolkit for creating sustainable and responsible products and services that do good for both the planet and business
[Community Building Canvas]Since many organizations are moving towards a network-like style in the new work era, this tool could be of help on how to design a community around your ideas
[Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea] -
A manifesto on The Participation Age and how the Industrial Revolution wrecked work.
More community like
The Empowerment Manual: A guide for collaborative groups – excellent book by ecofeminist organiser Starhawk
New Economy Organisers Network share their toolkit for campaigners, activists & organisers.
Code for Canada’s Civic Tech Community Organizer Toolkit contains advice on how to start, sustain and grow a civic tech community group in your area.
Post Consensus Cooperative Decision-making, an excellent slidedeck from Doug Webb explaining some of the limits of consensus and where you can go instead
Rules for Radicals is the last book written by legendary community activist and writer Saul D. Alinsky about how to successfully run a movement for change.
Horizontalism: Voices of popular power in Argentina, an oral history compiled by Marina Sitrin, told by people in the autonomous social movements, occupied factories, neighborhood assemblies, arts and independent media collectives, to the indigenous communities and unemployed workers movements.
Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown: “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live”
The Tyranny of Structurelessness – classic essay from Jo Freeman explaining why organising with “no structure” can be more abusive than the worst boss.
Beautiful Trouble creative tactics for nonviolent direct action
Networked Change report “strategies and practices that made 47 of today’s most successful advocacy campaigns work… because of their ability to open up to the new cultural forces which favor open-ness and grassroots power.”
Campaign Bootcamp Resources for campaigners
Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. A chronicle of one of the most interesting social transformations in contemporary USA.
Sociocracy 3.0 – a free & open guide to developing agile, resilient, consent-based orgs
How To: Distributed Organizing guide for campaigners
Mobilisation Lab resources: online courses, articles, videos, podcasts, reports & guides for campaigners
How to Welcome & Engage People in Community Spaces by Danny Spitzberg
The Viable System Model, Jon Walker. How to design a healthy business: The use of the Viable System Model in the diagnosis and design of organisational structures in co-operatives and other social economy enterprises
Many Voices One Song introduction, learned lessons and implementation assistance for sociocracy basics from Sociocracy for All
The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications by Otto Scharmer
It’s vacant, take it! (zine) - 3rd edition (Fall 2013) of the Homes Not Jails squatting zine. While the guide comes from a group based in San Francisco, many of the tips would be helpful for anyone squatting regardless of their location. It includes tips on finding comrades/friends to squat with, finding a building, securing a squat, dealing with the law and/or property owners, and more.
How to organize a pirate kindergarten in your neighborhood. A little manual on collective care and parenting, starting from the specific experience of the self-managed nest Soprasotto in Milan.
Patterns for cooperative networks and associations. A typology of structures for cooperative association.
P2P Foundation Wiki. An international organization focused on studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices in a very broad sense.
Nesta Collective Intelligence Design Playbook - tools, tactics and methods to harness the power of people, data and technology to solve global challenges.
Recipes for Wellbeing - massive collection of practices to cultivate wellbeing on your own and in working teams
CommunityRule - a governance toolkit for great communities, featuring templates for many different approaches to decision-making.
Wise Democracy Patterns - a list of design principles for collective wisdom and healthy living systems, both human and natural.
Planning from Below: A Decentralized Participatory Planning Proposal - by Marta Harnecker. Set out in two parts; this book first demonstrates the importance of community participants working outside a hierarchy, to allow as much decentralization as possible. The second part of the book centers on the methodology of this process: the various tasks taken on by participants and how, in planning processes over years, they are carried out.
The Do-Ocracy Handbook: organisational types and legal structures by Mark Simmonds (UK legal focus)
FairShares model articles for multi-stakeholder limited companies, coops, and associations
FairShares Commons Extension of FairShares to full Stewardship based multi-capital commons company for regenerative ecosystems.
The following resources were reused in this article:
- The Handbook of Handbooks for Decentralised Organising by Richard D. Bartlett and others (licence: CC0 1.0 Universal, Public Domain Dedication)