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January 2016

When No Is The Right Thing To Say

I'm guessing that between your computer inbox and your traditional mailbox, you probably receive 30+ solicitations a week right about now. By the time Thanksgiving is over and we head into the middle of December, that number will grow to become so unmanageable you'll probably wind up irritated at best, and possibly even irate. "Enough is enough!"


I'd like to suggest a different response.


Saying no to a solicitation for support is an absolute must in today's world. I know people who feel differently. They save every request they get in a big pile or the proverbial paper bag, and come the last week in December, they start writing checks: $5, $10, some for $35. You get the picture.


Some of you reading this are smiling right about now because you can't remember the last time you wrote a check that small - so for you it's more like $500, $1,000, $5,000. It amounts to the same thing. This kind of philanthropy makes you, the donor, feel like you're doing something, and at least you're not saying no. 


We would do better for others if we said no more often, counter intuitive as that may sound.


A recent article in Psychology Today talked about the power of no by saying the following: "There's a lot of talk, and a lot to be said, for the power of yes. Yes supports risk taking, courage, and an openhearted approach to life whose grace cannot be minimized. 



"But no - a metal grate that slams shut the window between one's self and the influence of others - is rarely celebrated. It's a hidden power because it is both easily misunderstood and difficult to engage."


Saying no in the realm of philanthropy means you're making a choice to say yes more thoughtfully, more meaningfully and more purposefully. No one has an endless pool of resources. No one. And once you start saying yes more purposefully, your next step might just be to look at not only who those recipients are, but how they align with the things you want to put your resources behind - the things you want to help make happen or help fix in the world. 


As the organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and a professor at the Wharton School of Business, explains: "No makes your yes more meaningful. It makes you more of a specialist, rather than a generalist in what you give to others."


The article referenced above goes on to make another important point: "The no that is an affirmation of self implicitly acknowledges personal responsibility." I like this point as it applies to our topic of philanthropy, but it carries tremendous risk. No can start to feel too good, and that would be very bad.


Whenever we say no, throw away the envelope or hit "delete," we must accept that some need is going to go unmet, some important project to help others will go wanting, and something that should get done will not get done. At least not right away. No has grave implications that should not be taken lightly. Still, if we say no in order to say yes more emphatically, I believe we will have accomplished much.


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