Can' Say No?

by Sherry Heuser

Look around your office. Are your bookshelves a mismatched collection of unsold yard sale items, more likely to fall apart than last until next year? Is your desk chair a hand-me-down from a board member's office renovation that is so uncomfortable no one wants to claim it? Is the printer leftover from another company's upgrade, its ever-increasing offline time regularly causing frustration and delays? I'm a big believer in reusing and repurposing, but if your entire office looks like the rejected extras from everyone else's, it might be a symptom of "Can't Say No Syndrome".

We have all seen or experienced it: an overextended program director who reluctantly teams with a dedicated volunteer who steps in to assist staff-and steps on their toes in the process; a relenting development director who accepts an unsuitable, restricted gift from a longtime donor; a frustrated board that agrees to a new program that doesn't exactly line up with organizational plans but wants to appease a vocal contingent.

And all that furniture. We need a place to store our office supplies, but is it the best solution, or just the first one presented to us? Once you start receiving, accepting, and collecting, it can be hard to stop.

Don't worry-Can't Say No Syndrome is contagious, but it can be resolved. The organization needs help, funding, and materials, but consideration can be given to managing these so that they do not overwhelm or control the organization. When offers are presented, ask yourself: do they fit into the current activities and future plans, or are they miscellaneous and extraneous activities that distract staff and leaders from their work and detract from the organization's purpose?

By accepting support and resources that align with your mission and programs, you will strengthen the organization. Each addition builds, expands, and enhances the work accomplished, by broadening and deepening your volunteer base, donor connections, and programmatic impact. Be a gracious recipient, but also a savvy steward and knowledgeable leader. Know what you need and communicate it clearly, and be prepared to redirect well-meaning but inappropriate offers. Have a plan ready for donations of all kinds-time, money, and materials-and a "wish list" of your most-needed items. Educate your inner circle of volunteers, donors, and board members about your goals and what you need to get there. If you are specific, you are less likely to receive random clutter and more likely to garner valuable resources.

Bottom Line: Saying no can be difficult, but it also can be essential to maintaining integrity.

Sherry Heuser is president of Capability Company Consulting, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm supporting nonprofit organizations' searches for key hires.

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