Just Say ‘No’

What is it about Volunteer Managers and our frequent lack of ability to say ‘No‘?  Is it that we have all graduated from the school of ‘nicey nicey’ and we just don’t want to upset people?  Do we lack the confidence to turn down a gift of time?                                      

No‘ is a powerful word and one we as volunteer managers we should not be afraid to use.  Indeed I’d like to suggest we should be confident and comfortable using it.  It needs to be part of our everyday vocabulary.  Too often it isn’t.

For those of us working in the formal volunteering sector it is probably a word we don’t use often enough.  Too often when I’m training staff, and indeed volunteers, in managing and supporting volunteers one of the revelations for them is that they can say ‘No‘ to people who want to volunteer their time.  Some of you will be reading this and thinking this is nothing short of heresy.  Surely we should be enabling people to volunteer with us at every opportunity?

Let me make my case.  For me, volunteer management is all about making a good match between your volunteer’s skills, interests and abilities and the roles your organisation has available.  Where this is achieved it results in a fulfilling and rewarding experience for the volunteer and the organisation being able to achieve more.  Win win.   All the volunteers I’ve ever met want to feel that their donation of their ‘time and talents’ is helping the organisation make a difference (whatever that might be).  Not unreasonable really.  Surely that’s also our role for our organisation, why else are we there?  We are about recruiting volunteers that will make a clear and important contribution to our organisation and its work aren’t we?

If we can’t make use of a potential volunteers ‘time and talents’ then surely the right, fair and honest thing to do is to say so.  Too often we can get tempted into saying yes, taking someone on and trying to create a role for them to undertake.  Big mistake.  In my experience volunteers aren’t fooled by this and quickly realise what is going on.  When they do they usually leave and not with the most favourable impression.  They feel their precious gift of time was wasted, quite rightly.

Where we don’t have a suitable role that fits a volunteers time and talents then lets make sure we direct them to an organisation that we think can.  When someone steps forward and says they want to volunteer I believe whole heartedly we should make every opportunity to find something rewarding and fulfilling for them to do.  If that’s not with your organisation then let’s signpost them elsewhere, to somewhere where they really can put their time and talents to best use.  Surely as volunteer managers we owe it to each other, and those stepping forward to volunteer to do so.     

No‘ is also a word we should use when we are not convinced the person who wants to volunteer is the right person for our role/the team/ the organisation.  As a volunteer manager one of the key tools in our kit bag for ensuring we, and our organisation, does not have problem volunteers to deal with is getting our recruitment and selection right.  Key to this is the confidence and ability to say ‘No‘ where you don’t feel that person/their skills is the right fit for the role/organisation/the team.  After all, recruitment is simply about getting the right person with the right skills in the right role.  Not one of these, but all three and where we don’t have all three we owe it our organisations, and indeed the volunteers, to say ‘No‘.

So let’s get comfortable just saying ‘No‘.

2 thoughts on “Just Say ‘No’

  1. Thank you Alan for bringing this subject forth.I wish I was better at saying ‘no’ to volunteers, and to a large extend I agree with you. However I feel it is important to ask, what we should say ‘no’ to.As I read through your post I get the impression, that an organization can recruit the right volunteers by matching their attitude and their skills with the the roles in the organization. This perspective is tempting, since everyone obviously wants to save time and resources by getting both the right attitude and the right skills by hitting the bull’s eye first time!New trends in Human Resource Management reminds us that it is never possible to recruit people with the right skills. For two reasons. First of all you never really know what skills the person in front of you posses. Secondly a voluntary job is not a fix entity – it is dynamic, changeable, and affected by the surrounding society. Under the banner ‘Hire for Attitude – Train For Skill’ they succeed the old saying ‘Hire For Skill – Fire For Attitude’. It is far more valuable to hire people with the right attitude since they will be loyal to your organization, engaged in the cause and the work, and motivated to learn new skills.For these reasons I find it difficult to say ‘no’ to volunteers that do not fit with the job descriptions in the organization. Saying ‘no’ to the right attitude with the wrong skills could be a major failure.In my experience some of the best, respected and effective volunteers are those who have the right attitude not skills. We should say ‘Yes’ to attitude and care less about the skills, as these can be gain more easily than attitude.Frederik/Ingerfair Consulting/Denmark

  2. I agree to a certain extent.  Sometimes it takes so much discernment when you feel like you should say no, but saying yes might be exactly what the person needs to grow and change and get their act together.  “‘No‘ is also a word we should use when we are not convinced the person who wants to volunteer is the right person for our role/the team/ the organisation.”  This is true, but we must not be too hasty in making that decision because it might result in damage down the road.  I remember working with a young man who wanted to get involved with chickasaw tribal preservation, and I was almost too hasty in dismissing him as a qualified candidate, but giving him an opportunity to volunteer was exactly what he needed to turn his life around.  Great article though and it brings up an extremely important topic! 🙂

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