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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

Saying No is the Key to Having an Impact

In the nonprofit world, we struggle with saying no. We hate to think that we might (1) hurt someone’s feelings, ruffle feathers or (2) fail to do something that could improve someone’s life.  This empathy and commitment to help are what make nonprofit professionals so exceptional. It’s what allows them to work long hours for less pay. It’s what inspires them to lend their time and talents to hard work, day after day. It’s also what keeps them working harder and harder but feeling like they’re not realizing the desired result of all that effort. It’s what burns them out.

Making a tough decision requires saying no to something or someone. It’s uncomfortable to choose. Uncomfortable to turn someone down. Uncomfortable to say no to a good idea or to stop doing something you’ve done for a long time. But it’s the ability to stay focused and commit to what you do best and what gives you the greatest return for your effort that ultimately results in the most impact for those you serve.

When you are overloaded with too much work or going in too many directions, you’re not focusing your time and your energy on the few things that make the biggest impact. You’re not fully engaged in the core of your work. You’re not leveraging your limited resources of time, energy, and money for the best return.

To get focused and to decide where to make difficult decisions and what to say no to, you have to pull up and take in the whole picture. If you want to leverage your resources for maximum impact, then you’ll need to be strategic and make choices. How, you ask? When the world is spinning and our communities need more help, not less.

Dedicate time and mental energy to asking:

  • What I am striving to accomplish? What is the impact my organization exists to make?
  • What 3-5 things are truly returning the most impact for my investment of time and energy and my organization’s resources?  Tip: Don’t mistake these for the things you like to do the most or your board members are most attached to.
  • What 3 things are not moving me or my organization toward our goals?

Once you have answered these questions, decide what you will say “no” to and how you will divest yourself of those tasks or commitments. Strategically allocate your limited time and energy to those things that drive you toward your vision and return impact for your investment. And stop burning fuel on the activities that don’t.