Friday, October 04, 2013

The Art of Saying 'No'

SCA: A Culture of Yes

Being a member of a volunteer organization requires a 'Culture of Yes'. Nothing happens without someone donating their time, skills and knowledge to get a project done. From running a tourney to running an event, everything we do in the SCA is entirely dependent upon someone, and often many someones, saying yes and undertaking a great deal of work to make a project come to fruition.

We need to be respectful of our volunteers. We need to thank our volunteers and treat them well. We need to ask our volunteers to help in the right way and then provide them with the training and support they need to accomplish their volunteer position. We need to also graciously accept when volunteers decline and tell us they cannot help.

How to Say 'No'

Growing up as a Catholic, this was a hard thing to wrap my brain around. Twelve years of Catholic school and an Irish/German Catholic grandma (who scared the hell out of me) taught me to always say yes. I was told to do something and I did it. Sure, that makes sense when you are a child but growing up and shaking off that mantle of guilt is not as easy as you want it to be. I had to learn this. I'm still learning. Often, the life lessons in accomplishing this goal suck. It was a revelation the day I first said 'No, I'm sorry but I can't do your scroll." I walked away as if something heavy had been taken from me. It was liberating but I still felt guilty as all hell.

The key is knowing that you don't have to say 'yes'.

You are a volunteer. When you volunteer you are donating your time, your expertise and sometimes even your money. Nothing demands that you do this. No one should require you to give of yourself something that you don't want to give. Respect yourself, your skills and your time.

The SCA Litany of 'No'

  • If you have been asked to do something and you are already busy or overloaded: It is ok to say no.
  • If someone asks you to help and they are impolite or offensive: It is ok to say no.
  • If you have been asked to assist with something but have not been allotted enough time to complete the project: It is ok to say no.
  • If someone asks you to help with a project that requires spending money you don't have: It is ok to say no.
  • If someone asks you to help at an event the same weekend as a mundane engagement- from work to dinner with visiting family: It is ok to say no.
  • If you are asked to do something that you are good at but don't enjoy: It is ok to say no.
  • If you are asked to help and you don't want to work with that person on that project: It is ok to say no.
  • If you think that interpersonal drama may be the result of working on a project: It is ok to say no.
  • If you are asked to take an office that your are not comfortable with: It is ok to say no.
  • It is ok to say no.
  • It is ok to say no.
  • It is ok to say no.
  • Amen.

The Responsibility of Saying 'No'

You actually have to say no. It can be hard, but you can do it. However, you need to be respectful of the person who has asked for your assistance. If you are asked to lend a hand, don't let that request linger if you don't want to be involved. Be polite, respond quickly and be firm in your response. Just say "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can be of assistance there." You can give reasons why, if you want... but you don't have to. You can just be polite and say 'I'm sorry, but no'. 

How to Get a Yes

There are those who are shocked when they ask for help with what they think is a reasonable request within the SCA and they do not get volunteers. There are tricks to everything, and getting volunteers to assist you requires a lot of forethought, a touch of patience, a modicum of social skills and a giant dollop of gratitude.

If you have had trouble getting volunteers to help with projects, events and offices then keep reading but please do so with an open mind. The problem might not be every single person that says no. The problem might be in your approach, the perception of how you treat volunteers or in your request not being clearly conveyed.

Our Lady of Assumptions (Worst Saint Ever)

  • Assuming will screw you every time. Your volunteers will also suffer for your assumptions, but you will be the one left holding the weight of responsibility if you are in charge. You will find yourself with unhappy volunteers and a project of which you are not proud. They probably won't volunteer for you again in the future.
  • Your internal expectations cannot be met if your volunteers are not aware of them. No one can or should have to read your mind. Be open with your expectations. A volunteer who works hard and then feels that their work fell short of your expectations will feel like they have failed. They probably won't volunteer for you again.
  • Your project or event will suffer if your volunteers feel they don't have support or are not being appreciated. Those people will not volunteer for you again if you burn bridges.
For instance: Just because you have run a particular event for ten years and a particular person has always donated prizes for your tourney does not mean they will donate a prize this year. You still have to ask them. You still have to ask them politely. You also need to ask in a timely manner... a day to a week before the event is not a timely manner. Give people the time they need to achieve their goal, but only after they actually agree to help you.

Care and Feeding of your Volunteers

  • As a project coordinator you are responsible not only for your project but also for your volunteers. Take good care of them.
  • Ask if people are available to help in a timely manner. 
  • Ask people directly if you want their help. An all-call on an email list or Facebook is impersonal and won't get you a lot of results. Ask people via a phone call, direct email or face to face. Let them know why you have picked them and what role you would like them to fill.
  • Be understanding if people say they are not available to help. Thank them anyway just for considering your request.
  • Say thank you when someone offers or agrees to help.
  • Ask if your volunteers have questions and find them answers.
  • Ask if your volunteers need help and find them help.
  • Ask if your volunteers need training and find them training.
  • Find out what your volunteers want from their volunteer experience and help them achieve their goal. Do they want to learn? Do they want to provide a particular skills set? Do they want to meet new people? Do they want to be social? Figure out what your volunteers need from their experience and help them to have a good experience. 
  • Check in with your volunteers during the prep period for your project and also while the event or project is happening. They might need help so don't forget about them.
  • Avoid asking people who are 'high drama' to help you if you are not willing to accept them for who they are. 
  • Don't put 'high drama' people together on a project as it won't end well. Trust me.
  • Pair volunteers on projects carefully. Ask them if they are ok with working with someone and don't assume that everyone gets along... even among your own friends. 
  • Say thank you a lot.
  • Acknowledge your volunteers and make sure they get credit for their work.
  • Be willing to volunteer when other people ask for help, rather than always being the one in charge and organizing. Every so often you need to help mop a hall or wash some dishes rather than directing the project. Be seen as a good leader.
  • Don't ask anyone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself.
  • Happy volunteers who enjoy an experience will volunteer to help you again.
  • Hand out small tokens of appreciation or thank you cards to the people who help you. Be classy. They will remember it, and you next time you ask for help.

What Did I Miss?

Do you have something that has worked for you? A suggestion I have missed? A point I have overlooked? If so, please tell me!


Lana Tessler said...

I found the section on "how to help your volunteers" very useful - thank you! While some of this was stuff I had already thought of, some of it were things I hadn't considered and I just went and revamped my personal autocrat list. <3 Milenseda

Diane said...

I have read yoru article. I teach a class on how to find the fun again once it has been lost.
It covers a lot about how to say no, Dealing with Burn out, a bit about politics, family status changes (children growing up, divorce etc) and many many other things that can make a game not fun anymore.
It often turns into a useful support group session where I am simply guiding and mediating the discussions as needed.

I was wondering if you would mind if I incorporated your article into my class.
If you would send me your SCA name I would be able to include credit when I discuss this part.

Mesterinde Svanhildr Karlsdottir

Kristen said...

Svanhildr, you are welcome to use this article for your class. My mundane and SCA bios are below:

Kristen Gilpin is an illuminator, botanical illustrator, calligrapher, photographer, gardener, writer and foodie who has a penchant for butterflies, gin, strange fruits and antiquated art supplies. Originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Kristen resettled in Tampa Florida in 1997 and is now happy to call the sub-tropics her home.

Kristen is known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Baroness Maol Mide ingen Medra OL, OP and hails from the Barony of Wyvernwoode in the Kingdom of Trimaris