The catalytic transfer hydrogenation reactions of a series of aromatic and aliphatic carbonyl compounds were investigated using divalent Ni(II)-diphosphine complexes, [L2NiCl2] (where L2 = 1,1-bis(diphenylphosphino)methane (dppm), 1,2-bis(diphenylphosphino)ethane (dppe), 1,3-bis(diphenylphosphino)propane (dppp), 1,1-bis(diphenylphosphino)ferrocene (dppf), and N-butyl-N-(diphenylphosphino)-1,1-diphenylphosphinamine (dppba)). This is a single-step reaction in the presence of potassium hydroxide and isopropyl alcohol to afford the corresponding alcohols. This protocol tolerates other sensitive functional groups like olefinic double bonds and also achieves high chemoselectivity. All the reactions were monitored by GC and GC–MS. The plausible mechanism is also discussed. The method reported in the present article is simple, cost-effective, and provides excellent conversions. Nickel-diphosphine complexes appear as a potential alternative to expensive transition metal complexes. © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.