Resolution: Permission to Say No

January 25, 2018

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Written By: sara

By Sara Luke


This January, the DBD Team is making resolutions to help us be better. Today Sara gives herself permission to say “no.”


A sign-up sheet is my nemesis. I shudder when I see the well-intentioned church member coming toward me, arm outstretched. And I should know better than to open the email begging for volunteer coaches.

There’s a teeny-tiny little word that seems to be absent from my vocabulary: no.

This affliction has meant that on any given year I will simultaneously hold the title of soccer coach, Girl Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, church elder, room mom, political campaign committee member, field trip chaperone, coordinator of casserole drop-off for the family who just had a baby, wife, mother, sister, daughter, full-time employee of Donor By Design.

I’m tired and no one is getting my best.

I say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty or because of the misguided belief that no one else will do it. (Worse yet, no one else will do it as well as I will.) I say “yes” because I love to be in the middle of activity and people getting things done. I say “yes” because I just don’t know how to say “no.”

Despite countless articles that address this very issue and the stern and caring, “you’re stretched too thin,” I hear from my husband, I still struggle.

But this year, I’ll resolve to do better.

I’ll call on that memory last Fall when I said “no” to joining the PTA, knowing that the moment I stepped foot in the first meeting I’d surely be committee chair for something. It was obnoxiously freeing. And the school didn’t crumble because I said “no.” Really. My good friend (the PTA President) is still a friend despite my overly polite decline to her request. Imagine that.

In my career working with non-profit organizations, I’ve been surrounded by people who have the same affliction. They are do-gooders – and doers – to the core. Every day, these wonderful people and organizations are faced with opportunities to do more – to innovate new programs, serve new populations, and address growing community needs. The natural tendency is to say, “Yes, we must do this. There is a need and our organization is the one to address it.”  And in doing so, resources are stretched paper-thin, staff is exhausted, money is scarce, and everything becomes mediocre.

While it’s not easy to say “no” when there is clearly a need, saying “yes” might mean your organization and those you serve suffer. If “no” feels wrong, then perhaps the right answer is “not this year” or “not alone.” Reevaluate resources and priorities and see if it fits in the plan next year (or the year after). Consider partners in the community who can share the load. Or maybe the right answer really is, “nope. This one’s not for us.”

In the end, we all must resolve to say “no” to save our time, energy and resources for the opportunities that are our best “yes.”

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One response to “Resolution: Permission to Say No”

  1. jon jon says:

    Thank you for this important reminder Sara. I love the idea of “not alone” as an alternative to yes.